If I could write this review in one word it would be “Yay!”. Spider-Man: No Way Home is a fun adventure that somehow finds the balance between continuing the main character’s story and providing characters from previous franchises a shot at onscreen redemption. Listen, I’m not a young-youthful. I was there when Sony had to had to pull down their first Spider-Man trailer after 9/11 because it contained images of a helicopter snared in a giant spiderweb between the twin towers. I was there after a midnight screening of Spider-Man 3, I stared into the dejected faces of my friends as we accepted the only good things in a movie where Spider-Man wears the black costume, fights Venom, and finally watches Harry Osborn die were the introduction of Bryce Dallas-Howard as Gwen Stacy and the SANDMAN! A villain so dumb Spider-Man beat him with a vacuum cleaner… a VACUUM CLEANER! I was there, seated in a theater as the credits rolled after The Amazing Spider-Man 2 wondering how it was possible to sit through three terrible Spider-Man releases in a row. Surely this was the darkest timeline from which we could never escape. Yet somehow Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios found a way to make up for all of it… Most of it? Spoilers a(web)head.
Both thematically and metaphorically Spider-Man: No Way Home is about forgiveness and second chances. Peter Parker is publicly outed as Spider-Man and mistakenly blamed for the crimes Mysterio committed, including murder, before his death. The newly humiliated and publicly scorned Spider-Man must endure the consequences of actions not his own, but he and anyone he trusted with his secret identity suffers. His friends don’t get into college, his Aunt’s apartment is plagued by paparazzi, and Happy Hogan is in serious legal trouble. Finding himself at wits end, Peter reaches out to Doctor Strange and asks him to cast a spell that makes everyone forget Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Peter realizes too late that this means his friends, family, and the Avengers will all forget that he’s Spider-Man. Peter asks Doctor Strange to retune the spell so certain people will still remember, and maybe another tweak so a few others will remember all while Strange is actively casting the spell and each amendment weakens it until the spell’s unsafe and must be contained to prevent it disrupting or damaging time-space reality.
Well… that’s exactly what happens. Doctor Strange changes the spell too much making it unstable and instead of making everyone forget Peter’s Spider-Man it instead transports people from other universes who know Peter is Spider-Man to this universe, the MCU. The Lizard, Sandman, Electro, Doctor Octopus and Norman Osborn all show up causing chaos and destruction. Doctor Strange is pissed and tasks Peter with retrieving the wayward villains so they can be contained while he develops a mystic solution to send them home.
Along the way Aunt May encourages Peter to show compassion to the violent villains intent in harming him. Peter’s a dutiful nephew who takes her advice and… traps Doctor Strange in the Mirror Dimension for the rest of the movie while he causes more damage to space time and works to cures the villains he’s captured of their various afflictions. Yeah, Peter enlists Doctor Octopus and Norman Osborn to help him develop unique remedies for themselves and the other bad guys but… sigh… Osborn switches personalities like Golum and destroys their work before Peter can fix everyone. When the dust settles Aunt May lies dead, struck by the goblin glider and torn apart by a pumpkin bomb. We finally see Tom Holland’s Spider-Man suffer the death of his beloved Aunt May who takes Uncle Ben’s traditional place as Peter’s greatest loss and motivation before passing down his famous mantra. A heartbroken Spider-Man escapes into the night as police swarm the building.
While Peter’s friends MJ and Ned wait for him to return to their hideout with an inter-dimensional-reset-button that can transport all the extra dimensional guests back to their homewards waiting they witness the explosion at the apartment complex on the news. Ned uses Doctor Strange’s warp ring to magically teleport Peter to their location. It opens a dimensional portal to wherever Peter Parker is in the universe and to everyone’s surprise… it works! Ned succeeds in opening the portal and we see Spider-Man standing on the other side, well… a bit of a ways down an alley but he hears them calling to him and he comes running.
I mentioned being disappointed with Spider-Man movies before, specifically The Amazing Spider-Man movies starring Andrew Garfield but I’ve got to tell you the truth. When Spider-Man took off his mask and revealed himself as Andrew Garfield…I was ecstatic. The previous two months had been full of speculation about Garfield and his predecessor Tobey Maguire reprising their roles in the film and while my rational brain told me there was no way they’d bring back Alfred Molina and Jamie Foxx without bringing back both previous Spider-Men I couldn’t help but cling to that wounded part of my fandom that’d been disappointed before. The evil goblin side of my brain told me to expect disappointment I’ll never be disappointed. Then a moment later Maguire walked through the second portal and I could hear Han Solo’s voice whispering “All of it, it’s all true.” Then the rest of the movie happens.
The Spider-Men team up, finish making the cures for their villains together and devise a plan to implement them. They lure the villains to the Statue of Liberty, the spot where the X-Men first fought Magneto, and they do it. They cure them all before sending everyone to their home dimensions but unfortunately for Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, Aunt May’s still dead, and none of his friends remember him at all.
It’s a fun way to reboot Spider-Man for me because it removes all the story elements I’ve felts the webslinger should’ve moved past years ago like Aunt May’s delicate health, trying to balance his responsibility to his vigilantism with maintaining a healthy relationship with Mary Jane. Now Spider-Man gets to focus on what’s important to the most important person in his life, me, and what’s important to me is seeing Spider-Man do cool shit on the big screen. I wanna see him punch The Rhino, web up the Kingpin, and try on an all black suit again but maybe… ya know… better this time.
Spider-Man: No Way Home rules, its nearly everything I wanted it to be (apparently Thomas Hayden Church couldn’t reprise his role as the Sandman in person but was able to contribute his voice to the otherwise entirely CG character. He does appear as himself onscreen once but that’s actually reused footage from Spider-Man 3) and for that I’m grateful. I really can’t wait to see what Spider-Man does next at the movies, and at this point I don’t even care which Spider-Man it is.