It should have been impossible for “Spider-Man: No Way Home” to succeed.
With the introduction of a live-action spider-verse and characters from numerous franchises, this film should have crumbled under its own ambitions. But the film is still popcorn-crunching fun, carrying surprising emotional weight and a compelling arc for its lead character.
Marvel Studios’ final silver screen release of 2021 was the only film to gross over $1 billion worldwide last year, despite the pandemic drawing lower movie theatre attendance. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is the final film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Spider-Man trilogy, picking up where 2019’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home” left off.
With his secret identity revealed, Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) life is flipped upside down. In an attempt to reverse this life-altering event, Peter visits Bleecker Street Magician Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who could cast a spell making the world forget his superhero identity. When the spell is botched, threats from different Spider-Man universes emerge from the multiverse, including Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) and Electro (Jamie Foxx).
“Spider-Man: No Way Home” director Jon Watts jokingly referred to this Spider-Man threequel as “Spider-Man: Endgame” in an interview, which I think is a bit unfair. While “Avengers: Endgame” was the culmination of 23 movies from a single franchise, the newest film is a crossover event featuring characters from eight films of three different Marvel franchises, representing three generations of film. Thus, the film spends a majority of its runtime explaining the plot to its audience, which burdens its first half.
Since this crossover was not built up over several movies, the film has to justify why and how villains from the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb directed films appear in the MCU. To distract from these goofy explanations, the film is jammed with sitcom-like humor. I think most of these jokes fell flat and did not further the plot or character developments, but the mediocre first half of this film is saved by its second half.
The film flips a switch at the end of the second act. The tone becomes darker, the stakes for Peter are more apparent and the film begins to feel like a drama of epic proportions.
Holland shines as Peter Parker in the second half of the film. Peter faces shocking events, and Holland brings subtle and relatable emotions to his performance. Despite all of the fan service and fantastical elements crammed into this film, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is, at its core, a Peter Parker story.
“Spider-Man: No Way Home” should not have worked. The multiverse concept is confusing and its laws are not laid out well. However, driven by Holland’s fantastic performance, the film achieves the impossible, successfully turning a silly, cartoonish plot into an emotional roller coaster that will satisfy Spidey fans of any generation.