Danielle Broadway is an English Literature MA student at California…
It would seem that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is web-slinging its way into the multiverse, and some unexpected consequences come with it. The highly anticipated Spider-Man: No Way Home directed by Jon Watts (Spider-Man: Far from Home) and written by Chris McKenna (American Dad!) and Erik Sommers (Community) takes viewers on an all-new adventure.
Taking place where Spider-Man: Far From Home left off after Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) dies and the world, especially J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) through the notorious Daily Bugle, has its eyes on the newly revealed identity of Spider-Man: Peter Parker (Tom Holland).
When Mysterio tells everyone that Peter’s the one behind the mask, the 17-year-old’s already complicated life seems like it’s about to get even more complicated as his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), and his oddly young and attractive Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) also have their lives turned upside down.
While Spider-Man being scrutinized by the media is nothing new, in Spider-Man: No Way Home each web gets a little more tangly. Peter’s life instantly isn’t his anymore as his privacy, personal space, relationships, and future are all at risk from the new fame and blame for Mysterio’s death. People take sides, and many of them aren’t on the side of the superhero teen.
Mistakes are made when Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) tries to cast a spell to make mostly everyone forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man and eventually audiences are greeted by some familiar faces like the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), and Electro (Jamie Foxx) and others. Fortunately, younger Spidey has some more experienced radioactive arachnid bite victims to help him through.
That’s right, as the trailers have already suggested, the iconic Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield versions of Spider-Man arrive to help Tom Holland Spider-Man save the day.
While there’s a heartfelt message at its core and even some shocking twists, Spider-Man: No Way Home is merely satisfactory after being a long-awaited film for many franchise fans with high hopes that their favorite friendly neighborhood hero would soar high. Yet, the film just didn’t swing high enough.
The Strange Problem
The crux of this film’s shortcomings is that of lacking character development and overall sense. Doctor Strange is undoubtedly prideful in his abilities, but to do this big magical favor for Peter when most heroes that the wizard has met (Iron Man, Captain America, Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, etc.) have had their identities revealed or were never concealed in the first place is weird. It’s a complicated and emotionally traumatic gig for sure, but nothing exceedingly rare after the Avengers very publicly saved the entire world.
Sure, Peter being a superhero teen can make things messier for him as he transitions into adulthood, but resorting so quickly to a reckless plan instead of troubleshooting things seems like it’s not up to snuff with Strange’s usual consideration. This is probably where all the Mephisto theories came from, as it’s strange for Strange to do such a thing.
Major Pros and Cons
Forgiveness is a major factor in the film, and it truly does have some resounding moments, but they’re just that — moments. The growth of most characters feels stunted and superficial, with the exception of Tom Holland as Peter Parker. The shoutout to classic actors and characters is fun but fails to take advantage of the many opportunities to use each chess piece on the board to make something that’s more than a mere blast from the past.
It pays homage to the Spider-Man tale that many fans know well, which only leads to so much contentment and a lot of predictability. For Spider-Man: No Way Home, it’s not about the big rewards, it’s about the little ones. The trailers tell a decent chunk of the story, so it’s the little but charming easter eggs and surprise characters that keep things most interesting.
They are the decorative sprinkles on top of a somewhat generic cake. When the movie captures the smaller deviations from what many audiences know well from the previous versions of Spider-Man, that’s when the true intrigue sets in.
While Doctor Strange is ultimately the one who steps out of character to catalyze some of the chaos, he also adds magical elements that never existed in Maguire or Garfield’s Spider-Man movies. His ability to manipulate the multiverse is the hook that offers a possible payoff in future Marvel movies. Yet it doesn’t make up for most of the mundane elements of the film or even the major plot holes that come with it.
Empathy and second chances are inspiring lessons that show both so-called heroes and villains in different lights, breaking down the dichotomy between them. The movie seems to want people to value those who have made mistakes rather than labeling them as irredeemable. This message comes back to the famous phrase of Uncle Ben’s: “With great power, comes great responsibility.” These are positive themes but far too similar to the other Spider-Man movies instead of taking a unique spin on them.
The action scenes are decent, but nothing to rave about with the exception of perhaps one showdown. Even the new Spidey lineup is just okay when they’re finally assembled. There’s no moment in which it seems that all is lost or that there is something enormous at stake, even when it seems to be what’s supposed to be conveyed.
The stakes don’t seem very high, as the opportunities to solve the villain problem never appears to be far away. Although the protagonists actually have a lot of control, they choose the hard yet more compassionate road. So, in essence, most conflict is a result of relinquished control and alternative options. Forgiveness and fault seem to be in constant war.
The Final Verdict
The film is satisfying, but not as special as it could have been if the lineup of beloved characters had been handled with more care and creativity. It had moments of intrigue, fun, and uniqueness but was weighed down immensely by the lack of character development from everyone but Tom Holland as Spider-Man. All of that on top of Doctor Strange’s odd decision made the film feel a bit disjointed and awkward. The themes of forgiveness, empathy, and second chances come through with noteworthy intention. However, the overall feel of the movie is like another Spider-Man movie drizzled with a hint of supernatural magic and multiverse set-up.
Spider-Man: No Way Home will be shooting its webs into theaters on December 17, 2021.
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Danielle Broadway is an English Literature MA student at California State University, Long Beach. She has been published in Black Girl Nerds, LA Weekly and Medium, is a writer for CSULB’s the Daily49er, is a managing editor for Watermark, her school’s academic literary journal and is an assistant editor at Angels Flight • literary west. She’s an activist and educator that is inspired by her family to make social change both in the classroom and beyond.