Spider-Man: No Way Home exceeds expectations

This is a “comic book movie” (as opposed to a “superhero movie”) through and through; it captures that sweeping sense of adventure, emotion, and pure fun unique to comics, and it’s a joy to see.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

  • Directed by: Jon Watts
  • Action/Adventure | PG-13 | 2 hr 28 min
  • Exclusively in Theaters

By Reed Ripley

With the sheer mountain of hype enveloping Spider-Man: No Way Home, it should have been impossible to exceed expectations, but somehow, someway, it happened.

In Tom Holland’s third go as Spider-Man, the character grapples with the fallout from a public reveal of his identity as Peter Parker, formally an unassuming kid from Queens, now an international inflection point for the merits of vigilantism and superhero accountability. Desperate to stop his decisions from affecting his friends’ lives, Peter asks Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to magic away the memory of Spider-Man’s identity. But the spell goes wrong and opens pathways to other universes (and other villains), and Peter, with the help of MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon), must clean up his mess and grapple with what it truly means to be Spider-Man.

In comic book parlance, “events” are important story arcs that have significant ramifications for the characters involved and the status quo of the comic universe. These are highly anticipated runs which serve as mileposts for comic book history and engender debate and enthusiasm. Spider-Man: No Way Home is an “event” specifically tailored to, and crafted from, a cinematic experience; yes, it draws broadly from certain comic book storylines (e.g., Spider-Man’s “One More Day”), but unlike something like the Infinity Saga, there is no direct comic analogue to NWH’s storyline. This is a “comic book movie” (as opposed to a “superhero movie”) through and through; it captures that sweeping sense of adventure, emotion, and pure fun unique to comics, and it’s a joy to see.

That they pulled this off is astounding, because this flat out should not have worked. In prior failed Spider-Man movies (or at least those that didn’t completely work), the main issue was Too Many Villains (Spider-Man 3, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) which inevitably devolved into convoluted messes. NWH doubles down on the villain problem and casually sprinkles in the concept of the multiverse, and it does so in a coherent enough way that people jumping into the Marvel machine for the first time can keep up. There are so many characters flying around, but the story remains grounded on Peter, and it just works. Multiversal implications aside, it’s really about a kid becoming a young adult and all the complicated emotions wrapped up in that transition, a universal experience anyone can understand.

The comic book plot machinations, and the requisite Marvel interconnectivity, are all there for those who want them, but what separates this from standard genre fare is its range of emotion and the actors who make it happen. The too-many-villains problem doesn’t factor in because incredible actors like Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe, and Jamie Foxx give excellent performances within extremely tight windows of screen time. Everyone knows exactly what film they’re in, and exactly how to inhabit each character, and, more importantly, the writers knew the same.

Villains aside, the film is still called “Spider-Man,” and it wouldn’t stand a chance without Holland, who delivers his best performance in the role to date. He’s the beating heart of the movie and a shining totem of why Spider-Man is such a popular character. He’s smart, but not in an alienating way; he’s not rich; he’s not a god. He’s just an earnest, wise-cracking, friendly neighborhood kid who desperately wants to be normal, yet always answers the call, and Holland absolutely nails it.

As at least three multiversal versions of Peter’s relatives said, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and with a property like Spider-Man, it’s great to see the filmmakers took that phrase to heart.

Reed Ripley is a movie aficionado who in his spare time is a local attorney. You can find Ripley’s movie reviews on Instagram @mct.film.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: