Review: 'Spider-Man: No Way Home' (2021) Dir. Jon Watts
The third entry in the MCU 'Spider-Man' trilogy, and 27th overall in their timeline, sees multiverses collide which opens the doors for heroes and villains, new and old, to clash...
Thrust into a world where everyone now knows his super alter-ego, thanks to the efforts of supervillain Mysterio, Peter Parker (Holland) now must try to protect those closest to him including girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and best friend Ned (Batalon) from danger.
Seeking out Dr Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) for help in eradicating his secret identity from the minds of everyone, Peter accidentally disrupts Strange's spell and causes an inter-dimensional rift that opens up the threat of multi-verses colliding.
Peter and Strange must now not only protect those close to them, but battle villains the likes they have never seen before including Doctor Otto Octavius (Molina) and the Green Goblin (Dafoe), all from different parallel universes and who want to kill the Spider-Man for good...
The third outing for Tom Holland's Peter Parker / Spider-Man helps round off his MCU "Home" trilogy but also steps-up to honour and respect the Spidey films that have come before and what is to come. The Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy of 2002-2007 with Tobey Maguire, and the Marc Webb The Amazing Spider-Man double-bill of 2012-2014 with Andrew Garfield are both front and centre here in this brave splicing of franchises created by the multi-verse potential, teased in the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Safe to say for a cinematic legacy lasting nearly twenty years and going through so many incarnations, Spider-Man has always managed to find new and old fans through the various takes on the hero via talent on and off camera.
Here, director Jon Watts returns to his MCU franchise to close-out his trilogy with a no-holds barred look at what has come before and what will happen after in this ultimate web of Spider-Man cinematic lore that serves both as fan service, narrative development and sheer popcorn munching big screen entertainment. Yet this film is so much more than that, and doesn't offer up anything without a consequence, or a hefty emotional weight. That is the most endearing and bold traits of the MCU and their decade long arc; our heroes and villains face consequences and deal with emotional highs and lows so we, as audiences, feel them too and feel part of this immersive journey.
Multi-verses collide with spectacle and wonder. While this is Spidey's film, it's hard not to relish the fantastical and mind-bending wizardry that Benedict Cumberbatch's Dr Strange conjures up that really make this a spectacular adventure.
Tom Holland's Peter Parker / Spider-Man takes the steps and choices to become a hero who matures. While still a kid, Parker deals with juggling the superhero lifestyle with his personal one, suffering setbacks and risks that are affected by his red and blue suit. Holland has been able to create a very "youthful" character you can believe is full of naivety, energy and cultural excitement, but here in No Way Home he also adds far more than what we could expect in his portrayal, really becoming someone who can carry such a trilogy (and character) on his shoulders alone. Holland helps us see just how tragic, lonely and fragile the character of Peter Parker really is in this world of super-heroes he has yet to fully comprehend.
Holland is joined by Zendaya as MJ and Jacob Batalon as Ned, returning as the girlfriend and best friend and who are swept up in the perils and pitfalls being close to a superhero who half the world hate and half the world love. While their relationships are fluidly carried over from Homecoming and Far From Home, this instalment enables them to, like Holland, deliver more than just sweet romance or comedy. They all get to step-up and face life choices, consequences - that pivotal word again - and sacrifices when forced. You live their relationships, and feel invested all the more for following these youngsters over many years.
It's this sort of emotive and engaging writing from Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers that has not just created a powerful and exciting trilogy, but helped unite franchises that compliment each other and honour the twenty year timeline.
At 2hrs 25mins, this is a long story to tell, but because there's so MUCH to tell! Not succumbing to the clutter of previous entries that swamps the core motives and themes, the MCU team now know how to handle many characters and how to let them all shine and add to the story without being there for decoration. Due to a spell by Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange going awry thanks to an over-eager Parker, universes collide and Spider-Man's greatest foes arrive to find "their" Spidy. So it's left to our Peter Parker to fend off the likes of Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin, Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus, Jamie Foxx's Electro, Thomas Haden Church's Sandman and Rhys Ifans as Lizard. It's one step away from a new Sinister Six, but we don't get that far, and thankfully so. Packed full of villains, yes, but since the team are catering to audiences who (hopefully) have experienced all the previous live-action films, we don't need tons of exposition and backstory. We just get stuck into the action!
Each villain brings their own arcs to live out, be it for good or bad purposes. And as this film is all about second chances, it's down to Spider-Man to see if he can help our villains find their own second chance. But it's not going to be easy. From a frantic bridge battle, a brutal apartment block fight and Statue Of Liberty showdown, we are treated to visual effects galore to bring these heroes and villains to life as if they jumped from the comic book. There is no beat lost to seeing the likes of Dafoe and Molina back as their iconic screen villains, and it's impossible not to have the "spider-tingle" of nostalgia hit, but also enjoy their new motives and plot points. They're not here for just fighting; they're here for a reason.
And it really works. The brakes are tapped now and then to stop things getting too out of hand, and as with most of this film, things are focused down a lot more. The characters and locations are contained to just one main area across New York so we don't lose track of who is where, and what is happening. It allows you to simply sit back and go along for the ride. And that's the most important thing - sit back and go with.
The action is bombastic and explosive as you'd come to expect now in the genre, but the word consequence crops up again. Few actions here have no consequence, so everything feels important or dangerous or thrilling - from Peter having to protect the likes of Marisa Tomei's Aunt May and Jon Favreau's Hogan now along for the ride, the stakes have never been higher, especially with so much villainy around. But the team will always have you guessing just what will happen next, and that's the beauty of it. You never really know what will come next.
Cumberbatch helps link the wider MCU with his appearance, but you never feel you've missed out if you haven't seen some of the TV shows which again shouldn't be a concern to the narrative. It's safe to say his inclusion in these films allows the creative team to let rip with some truly mind bending visual effects that are the pinnacle of super-hero escapism. It's these moments and more that helps so much to this outing for Spider-Man that it will be fascinating to see where he spins his web next.
Where one trilogy closes, another film door opens. 'No Way Home' champions everything about Spider-Man with an emotional and exciting outing that will tick the boxes for casual and hardcore fans as one of the greatest and accomplished MCU films yet.
'Spider-Man: No Way Home' is a co-production between Columbia Pictures, Marvel Studios and Pascal Pictures