There’s Never Been a Spider-Man Movie Like No Way Home

Spider-Man: No Way Home proves this decades-old franchise still has plenty of juice.

spider man from columbia pictures' spider man no way homecourtesy of sony pictures
Courtesy of Sony Pictures

If someone would’ve said in 2012—when The Amazing Spider-Man hit theaters—that ideas for new Spider-Man movies may be running a bit dry, it would be hard to fault them too much. Sony’s first attempt at starting over with Marvel's best-known superhero—replacing Tobey Maguire with Andrew Garfield in the leading role—was a valiant effort that ultimately wasted its talented cast (leads Garfield, Emma Stone, and Rhys Ifans all do good work) in a reductive story, just around the time when fans of the genre had begun to crave storytelling that would prove more expansive (The Avengers was released earlier that summer).

And while The Amazing Spider-Man franchise would ultimately set-up and never really follow through on an expansive universe of its own, even the most die-hard of Spidey supporters probably wouldn’t have ever dreamed of something like Spider-Man: No Way Home, a massive, world-bending Spider-Man movie set smack dab in the middle of perhaps the most ambitious superhero landscape we’ll ever know, hitting theaters just under a decade later.

To say that his inclusion within the Marvel Cinematic Universe has breathed new life into the character of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, now played by the charming and always full of energy Tom Holland, is not exactly a bold statement. But all three, now, of Holland’s solo Spidey MCU adventures have managed to upend what we know about the character, maintaining this to be, yes, Peter Parker, but to place him firmly in a world, in a situation, and in a set-up that we haven’t seen before.

Even the basic set-up of this Spider-Man said from the very beginning that things were going to be happening differently. The assumption that director Jon Watts (who was behind all three Spider-Man MCU adventures), Marvel’s Kevin Feige, and Sony’s Amy Pascal made, that everyone knows Spidey’s origin (getting bit by some sort of mutated spider and gaining powers, letting a bad guy go leading directly to the death of his beloved Uncle Ben) was a smart one. No one needed to see that kind of pain so early in the story once again. We can only hope that Marvel’s biggest rivals understand the same principle when The Batman comes out in March 2022.

spiderman no way home
Sony Pictures

If you liked the general set-up of Spider-Man: Homecoming or Spider-Man: Far From Home—Holland’s Peter taking on a villain played by a great actor with some sort of connection to a past he’s not entirely connected to (Michael Keaton’s Vulture and Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio both took issue, mostly, with Parker’s mentor, Tony Stark)—than you’ll be pleased to see the set-up of No Way Home’s villains, where returning baddies of past franchises all show up to terrorize the MCU after a Doctor Strange spell goes a bit sideways. Anyone who’s ever loved Spider-Man movies will be thrilled to see Alfred Molina (as Doc Ock) and Willem Dafoe (as Norman Osborn) return; it takes a little more work to get on board with the returning Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), Lizard (Rhys Ifans), and Electro (Jamie Foxx), but the way No Way Home manages to give each villain their own rewarding story arc is impressive on any level. We’ve seen the multiple villains situation bungled far, far, worse in past Spider-Man films.

If there’s any critique to be made here, it’s that Spider-Man: No Way Home at times seems to acknowledge a history in these other Spider-Man movies that didn’t particularly actually happen, but rather is what needed to have happened to make the plot and motivations we’re given in No Way Home make the most sense. One early film example comes when Doc Ock recognizes and identifies the Green Goblin as Norman Osborn; as far as I know, in the world of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man these two identities were never connected by anyone other than a very small circle of people (and definitely not Dr. Otto Octavius). It’s this kind of small, inconsistent, nit picky thing that people like myself—who rewatch these movies 100 times—will notice, but not really have any effect on the overall enjoyment of the film at all.

It's also worth noting, too, that the bar on Spider-Man movies has, indeed, been raised in ways that don't even center on the Peter Parker character anymore; Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse tackles similar multiversal conflicts to what No Way Home does, but that film is centered on young Miles Morales, Peter's successor in Marvel Comics storylines starting with Ultimate Spider-Man. It's hard to compare any live-action Spidey to Spider-Verse just based on the psychedelic visuals that movie achieves—they remain unbelievable—but No Way Home does have a number of set pieces that feel similarly trippy, thanks to the presence of Doctor Strange (once again played to grumpy, cocky perfection by Benedict Cumberbatch) and his universe-altering magic powers.

All things considered, it’s hard to imagine anyone who’s ever liked a Spider-Man movie—starting with 2002’s Spider-Man all the way through to 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home—not liking No Way Home. Where the previous two MCU installments (and Peter Parker’s appearances alongside the Avengers in movies like Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War) helped to further establish Tom Holland’s Spidey and set him apart from his predecessor, it’s No Way Home that ultimately establishes him within the Spider-Man canon. For a few years, Spider-Man seemed to be reinvented, but as something of yet another working cog in the Marvel Cinematic Universe machine, right next to Thor, Captain America, and any of those other heroes. But with No Way Home things once again become clear as ever: Spider-Man is, and always has been, the headliner.

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