Tom Holland’s run as Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe places him very much the underdog amid the Avengers. He always felt like he was in the shadow of other heroes. Sometimes he’d be working for his mentor Tony Stark and sometimes he’d be taking orders from Nick Fury.
Now Peter Parker gets to flourish in the first Spider-Man movie that doesn’t feel as dependent on the MCU. Yes, it does feature characters from other Spider-Man movies. And, yes, it does have a bigger story being set up by utilizing elements of the multiverse.
But at its core, No Way Home ultimately focuses on what makes Spider-Man great without all the association. Take away all the MCU connections and familiar characters chucked into this plot and you’ve still got a great film. It focuses on what makes Spider-Man so enduring and how he can be improved.
Into the Spider-Spotlight
If you’ll recall from Spider-Man: Far From Home, Peter found himself handling a major revelation. His recent battle with the scheming Mysterio led to both the death of the villain being blamed on Spider-Man and Spider-Man’s identity being revealed. Everybody now knows he is Peter Parker.
Life changes for the plucky teen of New York. He gets lavish attention from those eager to get a selfie with someone who worked with the Avengers. He’s also being harassed for the death of Mysterio.
Even worse, Peter’s reveal has a dangerous association. His pals of MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon) can’t find a way into college. His Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) may also be in danger as a target of villains.
Peter’s Problems Get Worse
With his life a mess, Peter is finding hardly anyone to turn to for help. Tony Stark died during Endgame and his tech seems mostly off-limits with recent allegations. Nick Fury wasn’t really present during Far From Home, as the post-credit scene revealed him to be Skrull.
With no other options, he decides to visit the only superhero in the neighborhood: Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Peter asks if a spell can be cast to make everybody forget the true identity of Spider-Man. Strange says he can do that but there’s hesitation as Peter struggles to find a better way.
Long story short, Peter’s resistance brings about a crack in the multiverse. This leads to all sorts of villains coming out of different corners of the franchise. This includes Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) who isn’t sure where he is or why Peter Parker isn’t the Peter Parker he knows.
A Mature Spider-Man
Aside from the cavalcade of Spider-Man characters lobbed at the screen, this Spider-Man film manages to better deliver on what makes the character so great. Unlike previous films, the plucky teen has less to work with. There are several scenes where he has to rely on his own talents rather than Stark’s nontechnology to save the day.
Even better, Spider-Man learns the values of sacrifice and relationships. There’s selfishness he grapples with, trying to find a more moral route to pursue. He’s given opportunities to take the easy exit which may involve someone saying and it’s up to his conscience to reject such tragic ends.
Tragedy is something that isn’t shied away from in this picture. Spider-Man’s adventure actually has consequences and collateral damage he has to grapple with. This focus makes the obligatory line “with great power comes great responsibility” ring all the more true.
The Villain Problem Addressed
The MCU has always had issues with its villains. Most of them had very simple motivations and weren’t all memorable. They always felt very disposable to the bigger themes of the film that tower over the basic baddies.
Now here’s an MCU entry that has multiple villains and all of them have a better drive. They don’t just want to rule the world but are battling an existential crisis. After all, MCU villains typically don’t have a long lifespan and it’s an issue that Peter chooses to tackle head-on.
This doesn’t exactly mean that they have the most equal screentime or as pronounced of motivations. Their general goals, however, of not wanting to be bound by dismal fates make them unique. It’s a level of deconstructing the MCU’s issues, a common theme throughout much of Marvel’s Phase 4.
A Special Reunion
Though No Way Home never feels like a toothless retread of nostalgia, it comes pretty close to being just that. The issue mostly has to do with the references around the cameos. There’s a whole of exposition that needs to be brought up so all the characters are up to speed.
Amid these callbacks are several in-jokes relating to other Spider-Man movies. Some of these are clever but most just feel like obligatory recognition of memes. It’s not quite “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch” levels of cringe but not too far off.
There’s one particular scene that goes on a tad too long. It involves addressing previous Spider-Man movie rankings in a meta way. It comes so close to taking you out of the film, especially since it’s treated as a time-filler before the big climax.
Conclusion: Spider-Man: No Way Home
If you’re wondering if No Way Home can hold up to being an audience-pleaser that rewards the fans, the answer is yes. But what’s more interesting is that it’s still a great Spider-Man movie on its own theme and character arc for Peter. Holland really comes into his own with this picture that gets the character right and embraces his sorrows.
This is easily one of the best Spider-Man movies of the MCU. It has as much refreshing humility and growth for a trilogy closer on par with Captain America and Thor. The daring nature makes it a great cage-rattler of a Spider-Man picture.
Have you seen Spider-Man: No Way Home yet? Is it the best Spider-Man movie? Is it the worst? How does it compare to the recent Marvel movie The Eternals? Let us know in the comments below.
Spider-Man: No Way Home
The Spider-Man trilogy comes to a big and bold close, bringing out the best in the character and his world.
- Peter Parker has an incredibly character arc.
- Brilliantly balances hefty cast with strong themes.
- Compelling drama and pathos for the character.
- Feels a bit too much like a reunion special at times.
- Meta jokes don't land as well.
- Multiverse not as compelling as Into the Spider-Verse.