I am not going to sugarcoat a note in this review. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is not only the best Spider-Man film, not only the best Marvel film, not only the best comic book film but probably my favorite movie ever. I actually can’t believe nearly everything that is in this film, it doesn’t feel real. I’m saying that having known almost everything that played out here for a year now.
Despite that, I do think the final hour of “Avengers: Endgame” will forever be the most superior. Before I start to say nothing but positives, no movie goes without a single negative merit. There is a difference between nostalgia and fan service. This is a fan service movie and it is incredibly noticeable. They stretch so far to kick this plot off by having Peter’s identity revealed to be the reason he cannot get into MIT. He then goes to Doctor Strange first because he wasn’t smart enough to talk to admissions about reconsidering. Going to Doctor Strange and messing with the spell is what ripped the Multiverse apart even more than it has been in this universe. All this takes place in around the first thirty minutes and the remaining two hours completely made up for all of that and then some. The whole purpose of the movie is to wrap up the unfinished Sam Raimi and Marc Webb Spider-Man universe – both of whom had films in development that were killed at the hands of Sony for similar reasons. The meat of the movie is curing the villains of their villainy and placing each one back in their timelines. Even though three of them are taken from the point seconds from their death and would more than likely be killed when they were returned, and what did this mean for the continuity of those films. Anyway, I did not care. Outside of the needed context from the conclusion of “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” I love how standalone this can be in pleasing general moviegoers as well as wrapping up adult childhoods from stories that began almost twenty years ago.
Even with all of the Multiverse stuff and trying to balance it with a narrative progressing, Tom Holland isn’t overshadowed. This isn’t just the best iteration of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, but it is the best film version of the character. There’s no more sucking up to Iron Man. Tom Holland gives his best performance ever and doesn’t hold back a punch (especially after Aunt May dies). I am very surprised how he was not outshined with me going in being most interested in everything happening around the main character, but Holland held his own opposite huge stars that have been relics in this franchise, some going as far back as two decades. The dynamic between the trio of Peter, MJ, and Ned is something I’ll miss following the finale of everyone’s memory being wiped clean of Peter Parker, but I realize there had to be some consequences.
I still love having Peter’s friends, Ned and MJ along for the ride, especially when the incredibly impactful ending changes every aspect of this character’s future. Zendaya hasn’t yet proven to be up to par with Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson or Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy, either way, she’s a vibrant star. Each of these two got more to do than I anticipated and their mortality and vulnerability raised the stakes in the final battle.
Doctor Strange isn’t in the movie as much as the trailers want you to think he is; you’ve seen all of the scenes where he shows up in the marketing. I’m frankly glad he’s absent for a lot of it and takes a back seat when he is there because Spider-Man is the most popular Marvel comic book character. He doesn’t need “bigger” superheroes babysitting him and stealing the spotlight. The second end credits scene is the trailer for “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” and I don’t think it will be better than this, but I can count on it being even crazier.
I never understood the point of having Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May be the exact opposite of what her character in the comics relies on: a sweet, gentle, caring, elderly woman. Tomei does get more to do here than she’s done in any MCU film (which isn’t much), and while I struggled to find the reasoning behind her death, someone needed to die in this movie close to Peter to propel the meaning of the finale and the emotional interactions between (I can’t believe this is real) Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Men. Another point of massive, yet forced, nostalgia is when each character relays classic lines. Since Uncle Ben’s death was passed on in Tom’s Peter’s universe, May’s death only hit harder when she said “with great power comes great responsibility.” Watching Happy Hogan see Peter holding her body from afar was just enough to let the emotions kick in.
It feels so surreal that only after reappearing two years ago in “Spider-Man: Far From Home” that we’ve already normalized J.K. Simmons showing up again as J. Jonah Jameson. He’s not in this movie much and I like him more as a snarky newspaper editor than a web series broadcaster, but he’s the comedic relief for the parts he does show up.
Before we get into the real reason ticket sites crashed on the day they went on sale, Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock from the “Daredevil” Netflix show does make a crowd-pleasing appearance in a single scene. While short, I do have high hopes for his future, especially after Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk returns in “Hawkeye.”
Bringing back the villains in this movie was quite surprising when I first found out, but bringing back Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield felt like the impossible. Well, Marvel and Sony pulled off the impossible. I have never been in a more explosive theater than I have in this film when Andrew’s Peter first swung through the portal. Once he took his mask off, even though I was betting my life on these two appearing, it felt like I physically left my body. Tobey Maguire coming through was even crazier because, unlike Garfield, he hasn’t acted since 2013. I know I’m expressing how unbelievable everything in this movie is, but I’m speaking the truth as it is. So many great gags and references. I loved the interactions between the three of them; they were inseparable once they each spoke to Peter about grief, following May’s death. Seeing them on the screen once more was the perfect goodbye, but seeing them swing around together to defeat the villains they’ve faced over the years is more than enough for me. I don’t expect them to ever show up as these characters again, and I don’t need them to, but it would be such a great surprise if they stuck around.
Spider-Man films have tried twice before (and failed) to execute a film with multiple main villains; this is the best job they’ve done at that so far, even if some villains get the short end of the stick. Green Goblin is the main threat of the film and I never thought they could make him any wilder than Willem Dafoe’s duality of performance back in 2002. I never had an issue with his bulky mask, but when he has it off Dafoe’s expressions are even more menacing and this performance is so fun to watch. His split personality transformation alternating in real-time was beautiful to behold and I still really enjoy seeing the back and forth between Norman Osborn and the Goblin. Nailing the arch-nemesis role for two different Spider-Men is mind-blowing. This man will not only go down as one of the best on-screen Spider-Man villains but one of the best movie villains of all time.
Alfred Molina does not miss a beat from Doctor Octopus’ character arc following “Spider-Man 2,” seventeen years ago. Doc Ock is one of the villains that was taken from the point in time just before they were about to die, and remembering that he was an ally to Spider-Man by then, seeing him evolve from when he first arrives on the bridge to when he’s helping the three Spider-Men fight the villains at the end is an amazing continuation. The visuals were stunning as well, and some of the best Marvel has done after phoning it in lately, but I do miss the practicality Raimi’s films used.
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” has a lot of problems, but Jamie Foxx’s Electro is at the center of every one of them. He is the worst part of that movie. How in the heck did this character get this good. The quality from every standpoint is upgraded. He’s so much more likable, so much funnier, not blue, and I loved how they leaned into the negative aspects of the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield eras overall.
Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman and Rhys Ifans’ Lizard didn’t get much to do. Lizard was confined to a van outside of Happy’s condo when the villains were helping Peter create “antidotes” to reform each of them. And they were going somewhere with Sandman when he first appeared in Tom’s universe helping him defeat Electro, but that wouldn’t make for a cool enough finale if we fell another villain short after Doctor Octopus had already turned good by that point. I can assure you that Church and Ifans weren’t even on set because they were CGI the entire time until the very end when they were cured, and those scenes looked like they were digitally inserted clips ripped from “Spider-Man 3” and “The Amazing Spider-Man.”
It’s hard to believe that Jon Watts, the director of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home” directed this film. It’s composed beautifully and has a distinct feel to it that neither of the previous films had. This one’s a lot less lighthearted and packs an insane punch. I never understood what made Kevin Feige choose him to now bring “Fantastic Four” into the MCU, all I can say is get ready.
Once the film is over, not much is set up for the future of Peter Parker, and that’s oddly okay to me. Like “Avengers: Endgame,” had I not gone in knowing about all of the projects that will follow this film, this could be the last Marvel Cinematic Universe film and I’d be fine with it. Peter ends the film with absolutely nobody in his life, he’d just be a vigilante with a sick new suit. There is one end-credits scene tease following up with what we saw in “Venom: Let There Be Carnage.” Eddie Brock is at a bar arguing with Venom about the Avengers and is quickly teleported back to his universe once Doctor Strange’s memory wipe spell goes into play, but not without some symbiote left behind. Otherwise, they’re going back to the roots of the comics where only a selected amount of people knew who Spider-Man was, not half the main characters in a franchise. You have no idea how glad I am moving away from the Tony Stark father figure aspects. I just want the Spider-Man that everyone knows as a hero, not a hormonal teenager. The entire cast is playing coy about whether or not there will be a new trilogy set in the MCU, but I’m not worried this is the last we’ll see of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man.
The experience of seeing this in a huge theater, full to capacity of people, on opening night, is something that cannot be topped. Even “Avengers: Endgame,” a ten-year buildup of over twenty directly connected films did not get the audience reaction I got in this theater. By my count, there were seven different times the crowd went absolutely nuts: when Matt Murdock sat down in Peter’s apartment when Green Goblin first arrived on the bridge with his iconic laugh echoing and surrounding the environment, along with him saying “I’m something of a scientist myself.” When Andrew first came through. When Tobey came through dressed like a regular guy. When the three Spidey’s were swinging around the Statue of Liberty right as the finale began. Finally, when the credits rolled. Something as simple as buying tickets in advance, no film will surpass that struggle of refreshing for two hours after sites were crashing. I’ve seen a lot of movies and this is the most fun I’ve ever had watching one.
Final Grade: A+