VOD film review: Spider-Man: No Way Home
James R | On 19, Mar 2022
Director: Jon Watts
Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfred Molina, Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau
Who’s the best Spider-Man? That’s been one of the fun debates among comic book fans ever since Spidey got his new lease of life in Tom Holland’s web-slinging hands, as he took everyone’s friendly neighbourhood superhero into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a big, confident swoop. With Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse then opening up the idea of multiverses with a dazzling display of meta-incarnations, that discussion only got more complex. Spider-Man: No Way Home brings that debate to a close with a surprisingly bold thwip.
Tom Holland has always seemed like the most rounded Spidey we’ve seen on the big screen. Tobey Maguire was an excellent Peter Parker, deliberately goofy and slightly awkward yet also maturing across his trilogy arc, while Andrew Garfield was a heartfelt Spider-Man, an earnest science whizz who took on a believably cocky streak once he stepped into his suit. Holland, however, has emerged as both at once, able to convince as the nervous teen but also as the excited, would-be member of the Avengers. No Way Home, the culmination of Holland’s Home-themed trilogy under director Jon Watts, deliberately invites us to compare all three in our heads once again, as it pits the current MCU Peter against spectres of Spidey’s past.
That the jumping off point for this mash-up is an MCU tie-in doesn’t bode well, but what’s impressive about Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers’ script is that it manages to balance genuine sentiment with self-aware spectacle. And so we find Peter struggling with the unveiling of his public identity, to the point where he asks Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to use magic to make the world forget about it. When that spell goes awry, the multiverse (Marvel’s word of the year) opens up and familiar faces from parallel universes – read: Sony’s Spider-man franchise – blend with the MCU. And so we get Alfred Molina back as Doc Ock, Willem Dafoe once again playing Green Goblin, Rhys Ifans returning as Lizard, Jamie Foxx rekindling Electro and Thomas Haden Church slipping back into Sandman.
Spider-Man has never done well when it comes to having multiple villains in the frame at once – it’s perhaps no coincidence that Paul Giamatti’s Rhino is absent here – and there are certainly too many evil cooks in the mix this time round, with Rhys Ifans and Thomas Haden Church getting little to do other than attempt to be threatening in the background. But what No Way Home gets right is how it uses the bad guys once they’re in play – they’re not just villains hoping to take over or destroy the world, they’re rounded characters given a second chance at redemption.
Foxx, for his part, delivers a more mournful take on his much-maligned lightning-chomper, while Alfred Molina is wonderful as the genius scientist excited to do well-meaning work again. But it’s Defoe who emerges as the MVP, with the actor in his element as the cackling, manipulative old man, while still taking every opportunity to pull off any practical or physical stunt that’s going. When they’re all together sharing their experiences and complaining about Spidey behind his back, there’s a dark wit that gives us a fresh perspective on the franchise’s greatest hits.
Holland, meanwhile, has rarely been better at balancing sincere heart with fast-paced humour – his nobility and heroics are less about set pieces and more about sticking to his emotional guns in the face of increasingly bad odds. His motivations – and the unravelling of Strange’s spell – are less about himself than the ramifications his revealed identity has for the lives of MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon). That selflessness, in a brilliant touch, is driven by the example of Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May – and her influential example of kindness goes a long way to making her character more than just a young aunt flirting with Tony Stark.
It’s also at the heart of Spidey’s ultimate mission – not to save the day, but to save the villains themselves. Whether their path to villainhood has involved dissociative identity disorder, chemical mishaps or live currents, Spider-Man: No Way Home gives each of them a shot of redemption, a reconciliation of Spidey’s Sony and Marvel pasts that goes deeper than fan-baiting flourishes. It’s a surprisingly moving exploration of the need for support rather than demonisation when someone’s in a dark place – and that makes this ambitious and smart sequel a crowd-pleasing romp in the most unexpected ways.