Spider-Man: No Way Home represents nearly 20 years of the web-slinger doing more than saving the day throughout three film franchises. Though each is different in tone and aesthetics, one reveres the hero, while the other celebrates the person behind the mask. So, MCU Spider-Man films are a bit of everything. It centers on Peter Parker (Tom Holland) trying to balance his life as a high school student and his superhero responsibility. But that all changed by the end of Far From Home, when everything Parker knew about being a superhero with a secret identity went up in flames when Mysterio revealed the kid behind the mask.
And that’s where No Way Home starts. Peter’s life and reputation are turned upside down, and everyone he’s ever cared for, including best friends MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon), and beloved Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), is in danger. Not only is the FBI harassing him and everyone he knows, but his relationship is putting MJ and Ned’s academic future at MIT in jeopardy. But with his mentor gone, Peter doesn’t have anyone else to turn to for help. So, he seeks help from Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to restore his secret identity.
Seeing that he was a great help to defeat Thanos, Strange offers a desperate Peter to cast the spell that would make everyone forget about his superhero persona without knowing the consequences of casting such a powerful spell. Of course, Peter immediately accepts the offer, not realizing that everyone also meant his friends and family. And to save those familial and friendships, Peter consistently changes the perimeters, much to Strange’s annoyance. But it gets to a point where it becomes such a distraction that the spell is miscast and accidentally opens a rift to different universes where various rogues connected to Spider-Man target the Peter of the MCU.
These Spidey rogues include Otto Octavius aka Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), Norman Osborn aka Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Curt Connors aka the Lizard (Rhys Ifans), Max Dillion aka Electro (Jamie Foxx), and Flint Marko aka Sandman (Thomas Haden Church). They all have a vendetta towards the web-slinger but do not fully realize who the Spider-Man of the universe they are in is and the ultimate fate that awaits them when they return to their respective universes.
Now that Spidey is on his own, he must accept the consequences of his rash decision-making and what he must do to set things right. While Strange tasks him with collecting these rogues to return them home where they would die, Peter believes that he could change all of their fate by curing the rogues of their respective curses. Some are intrigued by the idea, while others do not accept it. But as you can guess, they all realize that things would be much better if Spidey were out of the picture. As such, Spider-Man finally gets the superhero experience without being overshadowed by the likes of Tony Stark.
While No Way Home is a Spider-Man film that is nearly 20 years in the making, this is something where we get to see Peter Parker be Peter Parker and Spider-man be Spider-Man. For the first time, in any of these films, we get to Peter’s interpersonal relationships with his friends and family, the lengths he would go to protect those connections, and how that is reciprocated. Even the sacrifices considered and the emotional and physical pains that Peter has to endure as himself and as Spider-Man add to the character’s depth.
And Peter’s friendships are the beating heart of this film. Ned is even more endearing in No Way Home than in the previous films as he can be goofy yet a vital friend to Peter and a valuable ally to Spider-Man. There’s even a point where he does a lot more than just be a “guy in the chair.” The same can be said for Zendaya’s MJ, who cherishes her relationship with Pete, as noted by the personal but very hypothetical conversations she has with him. She’s still very much sharp wit and sarcastic love interest we know her to be but has a lot more to do in this film than any previous installments where she was simply a fly on the wall or a damsel in distress. The chemistry between them is truly a representation of the high school-set films they are trying to emulate.
Unlike Homecoming and Far From Home, where there was one primary antagonist for Spider-Man to confront, No Way Home is an ensemble film that lives up to its title. These rogues are plucked from their respective universes and timelines, but they still retain much of their charms. Writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers use a lot of the already established character work and reimagine them to fit into the MCU. It can sometimes get a little meta, with the Connors roasting Dillion for losing the hair, glasses, and bad teeth. It’s even interesting to see the dynamics between Osborn and Octavious, both of whom never had an on-screen relationship until now.
Going any further would be revealing one of the worst-kept secrets about this film. Let’s just say that No Way Home is the ultimate celebration of the Spider-Man universe. Additionally, because there are no world-ending stakes or a major effort to plant the seeds for a future series, No Way Home is less an MCU film and more of a Spider-Man movie. That helps with the pacing because everything focuses on Spider-Man’s story. Every moment is earned, and there isn’t a time where it drags. Sure, there are some portions where the exposition may seem unnecessary to introduce, or should I say reintroduce, some of the characters, but for the most part, it all works to help elevate the film.
Then there are the action set pieces that take the fights to multiple places in New York City. Again, previous standalone films took Spider-Man away from his home, but for the first time in the MCU, we get to see Peter be a web-slinger in the Big Apple. You can expect so much more fun outside of the web-slinging, especially during the climactic third act where Spider-Man confronts all of the five villains at once. Don’t be surprised to shed a few tears of joy and sadness.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is a Spider-Man film that absolutely would not be possible without the foundation set by its franchise predecessors. It’s by far the most mature Spidey film to date, as it pushes Holland’s Peter Parker to his emotional and physical limits. Though there is a little less teenage angst, the film really surprises with its exploration of Parker, his relationship with his friends and family, and an understanding of what it means to be Spider-Man. Honestly, Spider-Man: No Way Home exceeds all expectations in so many ways that it will make your web spin.