‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ Is a Thrilling and Surprisingly Emotional Spectacle

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It’s so hard to talk about a Marvel movie. People on the internet are insanely sensitive about what constitutes a spoiler for these movies, and well, to talk about them at all is to spoil them. And in the interest of that all-important internet ✨engagement✨, I will be talking about Spider-Man: No Way Home today. But my intention is not to spoil this film. I will talk about what’s been revealed in trailers and/or the first fifteen minutes of the film and nothing else. Still with me? Okay. Well, color me surprised. A Spider-Man movie brought tears to my eyes. Twice.

Immediately picking up after the events of Spider Man: Far From Home, we find Peter Parker (Tom Holland) dealing with the immediate fallout of his identity being revealed to the entire world, after the death of the previous movie’s villain, who many see as a tragic, misunderstood figure. Peter is framed for the murder, and quickly cleared of charges, but is still dealing with the public opinion fallout, which includes his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) not getting into their choice colleges due to their relationship to him.

Distraught, Peter visits Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and asks him to devise a spell that would make everyone forget that he was Spider-Man. But as Strange is casting the spell, Peter keeps amending it, and everything goes haywire, and before you know it, people who know Peter Parker is Spider-Man from…elsewhere start appearing, including villains from previous iterations of Spider-Man movies. Complications arise.

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Every second of Spider-Man: No Way Home is brimming with the kind of shameless fan service that really annoys me in lesser movies. For instance, I’m prepared for all the people that hated on me for my Ghostbusters: Afterlife review to call me a hypocrite, but I don’t care. This one knows how to do shameless fan service in a way that has emotional gravitas, and in a way that adds to the overall lore, but also gives casual fans of these movies plenty to enjoy. Director Jon Watts and co. seem to be acutely aware of how much is at stake with this movie, and are aware of why people love this character so much. And this movie feels so much like a big, warm hug amidst all the CGI-heavy spectacle. 

There’s no weak link in this cast, and everyone is delivering like they never have before. I think Tom Holland has made some questionable decisions re. his movie choices outside of the MCU (check out my reviews of Chaos Walking and Cherry for more on this). However, this one asks more of him than the MCU has previously. He’s still got that undeniable charm as the stressed-out teenage Spider-Man dealing with teenage problems, like where he’s going to live after high school, if he’ll get into college with his friends, etc.,  but now he’s dealing with so much more as this polarizing superhero figure that everyone loves to blame for everything. And this balance is difficult to do correctly, and Holland seems to have learned a lot over these three movies, and his talents are immense and on full display.

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His chemistry with Zendaya has never been better, and you can see why these two crazy kids are a real life couple. Zendaya has also grown a lot in between Spider-Man movies. She’s a (well-deserved) Emmy winner for her HBO drama Euphoria, and this film is also asking a lot more of her emotionally. There’s a few scenes involving the importance of the Peter/MJ relationship near the end, one taking place in a coffee shop, that just wrecked me. The nuance of the acting on display from Zendaya and Holland, the subtlety of it, is really something spectacular to behold. In that moment, you’ll probably realize how important this relationship was, even if you’re a casual fan of these movies like I am. These characters matter to me more than I ever would’ve thought. Who knew?

I don’t want to focus on who shows up from previous iterations of Spider-Man movies and who doesn’t, but I’ll just say there are no half-assed cameos here, and certainly no CGI hologram cameos of actors who have died in between their films and now (still lookin’ at you with utter disgust, Ghostbusters: Afterlife). Everyone who shows up from previous universes is in this movie for a reason, and everyone brings something very specific and worthwhile to the proceedings. I’m still a little confused by the rules of this Multiverse, but we’re just scratching its surface with this installment.

Marvel Studios

Spider-Man: No Way Home easily became the number one movie in America this weekend, grossing far and away more than any other film this year. Part of that scares me to death, because what if this kind of movie is all that Hollywood wants to make from now on? This can’t possibly be a good thing, and I’m terrified of the day when multiplexes stop showing adult dramas, musicals and documentaries, and where this is the only kind of movie we get. And yet, I also want to root for No Way Home, because this couldn’t have happened to a nicer movie. This film easily finds that balance between emotional catharsis and spectacle, and I wish all of them could do it this well.

And while the first half or so of the movie kind of stumbles finding it’s footing, the second half is one huge party, but like the kind of party where you question everything about your life before you go home, and you go home having felt some kind of emotional epiphany that changes your outlook on life. I really, really enjoyed Spider-Man: No Way Home. So much so that I might try to see this again before it leaves theaters. It’s an undeniably delightful experience with a big crowd of people, with fans reacting audibly throughout. It reminds you how important and necessary the big-screen experience can be, because like so many others, this one won’t play the same at home. Spider-Man: No Way Home is a thrilling and surprisingly emotional spectacle bursting with joy and heart.

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