Director(s): Jon Watts
Writer(s): Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe, Jamie Foxx
In 2002, Spider-Man was released by director Sam Raimi. Before this, Superhero cinema, primarily, only worked for the big names a la Batman and Superman. However, with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, the genre was completely revitalized. Gone were the days of Comic Book villains and heroes with Comic Book motives, and in were the days of real people with real problems and real adversaries against them. The original Spider-Man trilogy made these characters more than just human, they made these characters feel relatable.
Just as in Steve Ditko and the legend Stan Lee’s original run of Spider-Man, this character wasn’t a person who ever wanted to or sought out to be a superhero, he was a kid who got lucky, or unlucky depending on how you look at it. While Raimi’s trilogy didn’t quite nail the high school coming of age aspect in Spider-Man – most of the actors were late 20’s – by Spider-Man 2, they perfectly captured the difficulties of being a young adult off in the world including work, rent, relationships, etc. While I do think there are some glaring issues in Spider-Man 3, the Raimi trilogy was able to feel like the first true grounded superhero film, one where paying rent was just as difficult as fighting Doctor Octopus.
When it came to the next iteration of Spider-Man, Marc Webb went back to the more comic roots. While Peter is objectively too cool – Andrew Garfield I swear this is a compliment – his Spider-Man was more comic accurate. The problem with Webb’s two Amazing Spider-Man movies was the lack of believable villains, but the highlights of the two outings were the heart and emotion he put into his stories and characters.
To round it out, there’s Jon Watts Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) trilogy. The third iteration of Spider-Man in less than 15 years was the most difficult to get right. Luckily, for Feige and Watts sake, the first two films have perfectly nailed the web-slinger both in and out of the costume. Spider-Man: No Way Home, the final film in this trilogy is the culmination of not just Jon Watts’ iteration, but everything that Spider-Man has been, meant and fought over the past 20 years. Kevin Feige and Jon Watts took a massive risk in the first MCU iteration of this character, Homecoming, and they upped their risk factor to 11 when it comes to No Way Home. Incorporating factors of both Raimi’s trilogy and Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man, Jon Watts, successfully, pushes himself further than he ever has as a director – maybe more than any MCU director has.
This film picks up moments after the end of Far From Home with Mysterio outing Spider-Man (Tom Holland) as Peter Parker. From here on, Watts takes the audience quickly through the difficulties of Peter’s newfound life and displays the pain that it is causing him and his friends. From here, he searches for a second chance in the form of a mind erasure spell cast by Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) that is to have the entire planet forget Spider-Man is Peter Parker. After the spell is botched, Peter begins getting visitors from other universes, and it is up to him and his best friends MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon) to collect these “multiverse men” and send them back to their home.
One of the most important aspects of this character being introduced into the larger MCU is that he wouldn’t have an origin story. Peter Parker’s origin story had been told time and time again, and the MCU was more fixated on introducing Peter to the MCU rather than introducing Peter to the spider that bit him. Because of this, Tom Holland, who has been Spider-Man in 5 films before No Way Home, never had a pure origin, and instead has been slowly growing into the character of Spider-Man more and more with each passing film. No matter how many characters are in No Way Home, the finale of the “Homecoming Trilogy,” this story remains Peter’s and manages to be a surrogate origin story that Tom never fully received.
No, this does not mean it is filled with the normal tropes of a Superhero origin story, it just happens to be the evolution this version of Peter Parker needed to fully become the Spider-Man many thought he could be. Holland gives his best performance ever here as a Spider-Man that fully recognizes the amount of good, and bad, that he can cause. Jon Watts and the company’s knowledge and love of Spider-Man are on full display by getting the core of the character right, which at its very core is wanting to help anyone and everyone that he comes across. The risks are always worth the reward, and even if it seems as though certain decisions seem wrong at the moment, the thing about Spider-Man is that as much as the character wants to stop the villains, he always wants to help them even more. Of everything Spider-Man stands for, it is his selflessness that always reigns tall, and No Way Home managed to beautifully capture that as no Spider-Man film has done before.
When it comes to the villains, each of them slides right back into the role as if they had never left. Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock and Jamie Foxx’s Electro both provided some strong character moments that remind the audience why they loved these characters in the first place, but it is Willem Dafoe’s deranged Green Goblin that steals the show. Ever since the original Spider-Man, Green Goblin wasn’t just an adversary to Peter Parker, but himself as well. This inner dialogue provided for inner dialogue that caused Osbourne to be one of the more interesting characters to follow. Dafoe goes back and forth in a fun and unhinged way that shows the fun and the complete power that this villain contains.
Watts and Co also don’t hold back when it comes to the number of risks taken. Certain decisions are made here that make Thanos’ snap in Infinity War look like child’s play. The stakes felt real, and for a film all about second chances, they felt definite. There was no going back, and the choices that Peter made would ultimately affect everyone he knew forever. Many moments and scenes proved anything could truly happen, which is something not normally seen in the MCU.
The risks taken could have been grounds for one of the biggest flops in all of Marvel, but Watts executed every aspect with flying colors displaying some of the best action and emotion of any Marvel movie yet. The payoff felt worth it as each of these aspects was able to be at its highest because it always felt tangible. This movie was one you could almost feel, as every punch, laugh, and tear was significant to the film as a whole. At almost two and a half hours, these beats had to work so as to not feel drawn out; thanks to the structure, and an outstanding score from Michael Giacchino, No Way Home managed to fly by so fast it left me wanting more.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is a perfect Spider-Man film, and one of the best movies of the year. It is also the boldest, riskiest, most rewarding, and BEST MCU film to date. Loaded with action, heart, and shocking moments, this iteration of everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood Spider-Man proves that Jon Watts, Kevin Feige, and the team of writers not only understand Spider-Man, but love Spider-Man. Tom Holland has slowly grown into his own as Peter Parker/Spider-Man throughout every outing, but No Way Home gives us Tom Holland at his best, proving he is the best iteration of this character, period.
2021 Film Rankings
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.