Despite the character’s near-universal appeal, executing a successful third entry of a Spider-Man franchise has so far eluded Sony. From Sam Raimi’s financially successful but critically panned 2007 effort, to the planned but cancelled Amazing Spider-Man 3, there seems to be almost a curse attached to a third solo outing for the wall-crawler from Queens.
Of course, these two iterations didn’t have the benefit of help from Marvel Studios. After the character was recast just one short year after The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Tom Holland’s version of Spider-Man arrived with a splash in Captain America: Civil War. After two more team-up films and two solo outings with Sony and Marvel sharing co-production credits, the third solo film has launched, and it would appear as though the aforementioned curse has been broken.
We pick up right where left our characters in Far from Home. After a dying Mysterio reveals Peter’s secret identity to the world, the MCU’s version of J. Jonah Jameson – a clever update on the blustering newspaper editor as an obnoxious, Alex Jones-esque “news” host – declares Spider-Man public enemy no. 1. After a brief arrest and consulting with a lawyer, he’s cleared of any criminal wrongdoing. However as said lawyer eloquently puts it, “there’s still the court of public opinion.” Many are convinced of Mysterio’s version of events, and Peter is unable to go about his daily life. Moreover, after his friends are rejected from college because of their association with him, Peter decides to take action.
Seeking the help of Dr. Strange, the plan they formulate ultimately backfires, and unfortunately results in the multiverse we saw established in the Loki series being opened up. Strange manages to close the rift in short order, but a few individuals manage to make it through. Fans of the character will be familiar with these faces, as villains from both prior versions of the character begin to show up. Peter is then given the task of rounding them up and returning them to their respective universes.
Balancing the continuity of the MCU, the long-anticipated return of fan favourites, and crafting a story that is a satisfactory Spider-Man focused narrative is on paper quite a balancing act. However, after capably helming the last two solo entries in the franchise, director Jon Watts really steps it up a notch in this film.
I think a lot of fans – me included – were worried about the notion of bringing back so many iconic characters. Especially when a lot of the complaints about both previous franchises revolved around “villain bloat” with both Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 suffering from a perceived problem with too many villains. No Way Home ambitiously elects to double the amount in either of these films. The result is as you’d probably expect a bit of a mixed bag. The standouts include Willem Dafoe’s return to the role of Green Goblin. As Goblin has always been Spidey’s arch-nemesis, bringing him into the new continuity was going to be interesting, and the blow he manages to deal at the end of the second act is one that will be felt long past the end of this particular film. Dafoe plays the character as well as he always did, with a kind of mad glee and a glint in his eye.
Another stand out of the returning rogue’s gallery is Alfred Molina as Doc Ock. This may be biased as Spider-Man 2 is still my favourite Spider-Man film, but seeing the character again was awesome, and Watts finds a clever way to continue his arc from the 2004 classic. Jamie Foxx is also given a lot of focus as Electro, in something of a redemption for the character’s less than well-received first go-around. Less better served are Rhys Ifan’s Curt Connors and Thomas Hayden-Church’s Lizard and Sandman, who are essentially benched by the film’s choice to focus on the other three. They do get some moments but fans of these two villains may be disappointed.
Emotional & Fun
Ultimately, Spider-Man: No Way Home is a surprisingly emotional outing for Holland’s web-slinger. Spider-Man has always been defined by a few characteristics, like the notion that not everyone is the last son of a dying alien race, or a billionaire orphan, but anyone could be in the right place at the right time and get bitten by a radioactive spider. Another defining trait is the character’s sense of responsibility, and his willingness to self-sacrifice for the greater good. Watts explores these facets of the character in a grounded, uncharacteristically serious manner for Marvel. This helps to lend some stakes to the impressive but expected third act CGI climactic battle sequence.
Despite this dive into the more emotional aspects of the character, this is still a Marvel movie, so there are plenty of light, fun moments as well. The banter between the villains from each universe is well-written, and Jacob Batalon’s Ned and Zandaya’s MJ are given more to do in this film than they have previously in the franchise. However, this is a film about Spider-Man, and Tom Holland has never been better in the role. After six years and as many films in the role, Holland finally begins to leave the awkward, dorky high schooler behind and grow into the superhero he is destined to become.
By this point, there are two camps: either you tuned out after you read the first paragraph, or you’ve probably already seen No Way Home at least once. But I think despite its MCU setting No Way Home offers a bit more, as bringing in the characters from previous versions is more than a cynical cash-grab and is cleverly handled. In my humble opinion, Dafoe’s return to Spider-Man’s number one rogue is worth the price of admission alone.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is playing in theatres everywhere.