With great power comes great responsibility and the bigwigs at Marvel seem to be aware of this. In a sense, this studio is the Doctor Strange of Hollywood, pulling off neat magic tricks and creating an enjoyable illusion from which there’s no escape. But if your reward is films like Spider-Man: No Way Home, then really, there’s not much to complain about. Apart from fitting in perfectly with the head honcho’s grand scheme involving the multiverse, the film also packs the humour and action unique to the web-slinging superhero while also being surprisingly emotional.
The film begins from where it ended in Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019), with Peter Parker (Tom Holland) dealing with his identity having been revealed. The Daily Bugle’s J Jonah Jameson (JK Simmons) goes to town with it, and this takes a toll not just on him but also on his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and best friend Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon). Parker, in the absence of Tony Stark, seeks the help of Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and a spell or two later, all hell breaks loose, quite literally, causing multiple universes to collide and bring in those who know Peter Parker from other universes. What does it mean? Multiple Aunt Mays? Multiple MJs? No such luck for our Peter Parker. He gets Dr Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Max Dillon/Electro (Jamie Foxx), Dr Curt Connors/Lizard (Rhys Ifans), and Flint Marko/Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), all villains from the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb-directed Spider-Man films. All these talents explode with quality in a way that might even threaten the Avengers: Endgame film.
Dafoe aces as the scientist and Oscorp CEO-turned-villain Green Goblin who suffers from split personality. Molina and Foxx add unpredictability to the screenplay while the rest, well, they play their parts. The story distances them from their villainy, partly anyway, and allows them to travel with Parker, who believes in empathy and second chances. This is a film that beyond all the action and drama, shows an eagerness to dig into the psyche of characters. It taps into people’s sense of moral ambiguity and discusses mental health, and this really sets it apart from not just previous Spider-Man films, but also MCU in general. The problems are universal, or in this case, multiversal, and yet, the solutions are fascinatingly personal, rooted, and emotional.
While Spider-Man: No Way Home excels at these new ideas, it also remembers to cash in on ideas that the older Spider-Man films were good at: the action and humour, mainly. Apart from referencing the older films and the many characters from them, No Way Home also pays homage to several other classics like the Star Wars films, Goodfellas and The Equalizer. Director Jon Watts, who also directed the first two films of the current franchise, leaves no stones unturned when it comes to fan service, and thankfully, they all exist organically within the story and doesn’t feel like lip service. We see Spidey in a black and gold suit, and we see him again with Strange’s Cloak of Levitation, a callback to an episode from What if?. There’s even a reference to Miles Morales, the first black Spider-Man.
Parker, in the current franchise, has always been a confused teenager, prone to mistakes that he tries to later rectify. This occurs in No Way Home on a much larger scale and while Parker is pushed into being a bystander in many scenes, he does bring in vulnerability and determination to this character. He might say that he’s the “most famous person in the entire world and yet, broke”, but the character’s riches concern all the love he earns. Holland, along with Zendaya and Batalon, put up a brilliant show right from the get-go and deliver their best even in the third act where the spotlight rarely shines on them. Without giving away too much, let’s just say it’s a tremendously satisfying final act.
Throw into this mix the cheeky Strange along with his bag of tricks, and we get a method to all the madness. When Spider-Man and Strange end up in a tug of war in the mirror dimension, it makes for some stunning visuals and VFX work. No Way Home is also a reminder of how much has changed technologically from the old Spider-Man films. If Spider-Man 2 (2004) saw Octavius’ mechanical tentacles being controlled through puppetry, today, of course, it’s all CGI.
At a time when superhero fatigue is growing, and the Villeneuves and Scorseses are loudly critical of this genre, No Way Home shows that a friendly neighbourhood hero can manage to have his own film with a story that’s unique and yet, brings into fore plenty of nostalgia from two decades ago. The film comfortably earns itself a place among some of Marvel’s best work, including Avengers: Endgame and Black Panther.
With great power comes great responsibility and while Stark and Uncle Ben might have loved to see how responsible Parker has become, I couldn’t, while walking out of the theatre, stop wondering about what Stan Lee might have felt about all the evolution his characters have witnessed, and the fantastical journeys they are set to go on.
Director: Jon Watts
Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Jamie Foxx
Rating : 4/5