No Way Home feels the most Spider-Man of the MCU Spider-Man movies.
Published on December 23, 2021
Rating 4 /5
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has treated Spider-Man more like a surprise of a tagalong character rather than a fully-realized superhero. When he first burst onto the scene in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, it was quite the surprise that the web-shooting teen was thrust into an ensemble picture as the Avengers battled over liability. Since then, Peter Parker has starred in his own Spider-Man movies but always feels like he’s in the shadow of other MCU pictures. Homecoming found him being endowed with the tech and teachings of Tony Stark while Far From Home found him under instruction from Nick Fury.
But with No Way Home, it feels as though Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has finally become more of a superhero in his own right, devoid of dependence. It helps that the picture begins by shoving him far out of his comfort zone. At the end of Far From Home, Peter was not only accused of the murder of the villain Mysterio but also had his secret identity revealed. With everybody now associating Spider-Man with Peter Parker, the plucky teen finds himself with a much different life.
There’s a noble nature to how the compromised Parker thinks more about what this news will do to those associated with him. What will happen to Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) now that she’s raising a superhero? What will happen to his classmates MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon) as they struggle to get into college? All of these concerns weigh heavy on his mind. Without Tony Stark or Nick Fury to turn to for authoritative help, the young Avenger finds himself grappling with what to do next.
Help may be there for him with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), given that he’s the most local of superheroes. He also happens to have a spell that may make the world forget that Spider-Man is Peter Parker. Though Parker initially commits to this spell, his reluctance to accept such a clean-slate solution creates a shattering of the world. Villains from all corners of the multiverse are drawn to his presence and wage a war of power over New York City. Well, not so much power as a deep existential questioning of destiny and if there’s an easier solution to their fateful mortality.
There are so many surprises in such a picture that doesn’t just come in the form of cameos. Without getting heavy on the spoilers, the story finds Peter Parker making due with less and getting to the heart of what makes the character so enduring. In the same way that Batman becomes more fascinating when he’s focused on as a detective, Peter Parker is more intriguing as a scientist trying to save the day with little more than his wits and knowledge. It’s also a good call to use this development as a change to reform the character and prove he’s not just a superhero who murder villains. That’s an image he wants to refute and it leads to Spider-Man trying to take the harder route which may not be so easy.
Yes, the film does have all those connections to the Marvel Cinematic Universe we’ve come to expect from these movies. There’s little Easter eggs nestled throughout its narrative that relate to previous Marvel movies as well as future ones. There’s also the connections to just about every Spider-Man movie, making this film drawing on perhaps the longest of lore. That being said, the film still holds its own as a compelling Peter Parker story, not entirely reliant on seeing every Spider-Man film, though you will find it rewarding to have seen them all.
The film is only at its weakest when it starts making all the callbacks and references to the former. Characters will often cite previous films either visually, through exposition, or just repeating a familiar phrase. There’s one particularly meta moment that comments on Sony’s history of Marvel movies that goes on perhaps longer than it should. There are a handful of moments where you just feel like you get the joke but that it shouldn’t linger for so long.
No Way Home feels the most Spider-Man of the MCU Spider-Man movies. It packs in a lot of emotion amid all its cavalcade of characters. The heart and pathos isn’t lost and it’s rather astounding that a film as towering with hype and references can still pull off a great Peter Parker story. It’s the Spider-Man movie that can have its fandom cake and eat it too.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.