One of the most anticipated movies of the year, Spider-Man: No Way Home is the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to officially step into the multiverse. The end of Spider-Man: Far From Home saw Peter Parker as a wanted man, his identity made public after Mysterio framed the titular superhero for murder. Directed by Jon Watts from a screenplay by Chris McKenna and Eric Sommers, No Way Home has the simultaneous responsibility to continue developing Spider-Man’s personal story while also advancing the overarching narrative of the MCU and it succeeds for the most part. No Way Home is Spider-Man’s most intriguing & fun story yet. Though the multiverse looms large, the film’s thoughtful in its focus on Peter’s journey.
Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is trying to live a normal life, but finds it difficult to be a regular teenager now that his dual identity has been publicly outed. He’s wanted for murder and must defend himself against the allegations — which, thanks to Mysterio’s well-edited video, are pretty damning. Peter’s life, to put it simply, is turned upside down. The only way he thinks will fix the mess and make things normal again is to use magic. To do that, Spider-Man goes straight to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who aids him by attempting a spell that will erase Peter’s identity from the minds of the world. Naturally, things don’t go according to plan and the spell opens the door to the multiverse, which sees Spidey’s nemeses from other universes — Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) from Spider-Man 2, Electro (Jamie Foxx) from The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) from Spider-Man — turning up to fight him.
Before No Way Home, everyone from Tony Stark to Happy (Jon Favreau) treated Peter like he needed to be taken care of; in Mysterio’s case, manipulating Peter and targeting him as though he was less intelligent was the name of the game. In Spider-Man: No Way Home, however, Peter has a deeper sense of responsibility for his actions and is more capable of making decisions. This pulls him out of the shadows of his mentor and into his own spotlight. He’s less reactionary and more of an active participant in his own journey. The MCU is finally taking Spider-Man more seriously and it’s a breath of fresh air to watch as he tries to problem solve and clean up the messes he creates. There is a sequence where Peter figures out how to get out of a situation by using geometry and it’s a reminder of how smart he is without having to rely on the gadgets and tech given to him in previous movies.
Thanks to Peter finally taking matters into his own hands, No Way Home is able to fly higher than any of the previous Spider-Man entries in the MCU. The film ponders what kind of hero Spider-Man is and who he aspires to be — is he someone who takes ownership over his choices? Does he help people who are in need or does he leave them behind? These questions play heavily into his storyline, adding gravitas to his journey as a hero who is trying to forge a path for himself. No Way Home feels more like a Spider-Man movie. It’s a bit corny yet endearing, heartfelt and incredibly fun — which is as it should be.
What would have made the film stronger, however, is Peter getting his own villain rather than solely having to fight the ones from the past (as good as it is to see them back). The film lingers too long on setting up all the multiversal characters, but it’s only once all the information and introductions are out of the way that the plot really gets going and doesn’t let up. All that said, the heart of the film lies with Holland’s Peter and the relationships he’s forged with Ned (Jacob Batalon), MJ (Zendaya), and his beloved Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), all of whom have plenty to do. The multiverse concept seems like too much to handle at first, but No Way Home maneuvers through how it all works and the reasons behind it surprisingly well; there are a few scenes dedicated to exposition, but it never overpowers the story or gets to be nonsensical.
Perhaps what makes the film so much fun and engaging is that there’s a balance — the lighthearted tone gives way to more emotionally heavy moments, but it always swings back without being jarring. Watts packs the film with a lot of action, with one particular sequence offering stunning visual effects (by Chris Waegner), as well as masterfully choreographed stunts by George Cottle and Hugo Duran. Spider-Man: No Way Home goes all in but doesn’t forget to stay rooted to the titular character’s personal story, which is fraught with themes surrounding identity, power, and taking action. At long last, Peter steps up in a big way and it greatly strengthens the film.
To be sure, the No Way Home will be most fun to those who have already seen all the previous Spider-Man movies — viewers who have watched Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy and The Amazing Spider-Man films will be most satisfied not only for the reappearance of their villains, but because the emotional beats and depth laced into the film stem, in part, from the antagonists’ backstories. The connection and understanding of the previous movies’ plots are essential. Knowing where the previously non-MCU villains come from also elevates certain character dynamics and the meta humor (of which there is plenty). Spider-Man: No Way Home is ultimately a joy to watch, with spectacular action, a lot of heart, and a grounded hero’s story that paves the way for exciting things to come.