Tom Holland’s third outing as the teenage superhero is the perfect evolution from Homecoming and Far From Home
Starring Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Benedict Wong, Tony Revolori, and Marisa Tomei
With great power comes great responsibility. An ancient adage commonly associated with Spider-Man, it is notable the extent to which Tom Holland’s iteration has thus far been defined by his lack of responsibility. As a character, and the youngest Avenger, he has often appeared to be energetic, full of humour and dreadfully naïve. Unlike the Spider-Man of the comic books, the MCU Spider-Man is almost defined by his adult mentors, instead of forging his own path. 2017’s Homecoming saw Peter Parker (Tom Holland) helped along by Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), while 2019’s Far From Home saw Peter following the instructions of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and being taken in by Mysterio’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) devious machinations.
It is for this reason that Spider-Man: No Way Home feels like the natural development. At its heart, the narrative serves the idea of Holland’s Parker finally maturing and striking out away from the family that he has set up for himself and truly understanding the mantle of being a superhero.
Probably the most eagerly-anticipated film of Phase 4 of the MCU, Spider-Man: No Way Home picks up directly from Phase 3’s finale Far From Home, with Quentin Beck revealing Peter’s identity as Spider-Man to the world. Peter soon finds his entire life turned upside down, with the media and even the police relentlessly harassing him. This doesn’t look set to get any easier upon returning to school, and has dramatic consequences for both himself, girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), who find themselves blacklisted from all of the colleges of their choice.
Peter is left with little choice but to seek out Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to try and reverse Beck’s confession and protect Peter’s identity once more. The spell goes awry, however, as Peter realises the number of people in his life who need to retain the knowledge of his secret. Though Doctor Strange manages to contain the broken spell, the effects soon make themselves known as a host of villains from across the multiverse alight in New York, ready to fight against Spider-Man.
It is a film that many audience members might be forgiven for showing all of its cards in the trailers, but still manages to deal a fair amount of surprise twists, which would spoil first viewing of the film to reveal here. As revealed in the trailer, these villains include Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) and Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), transplanted from Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man universe, as well as Lizard (Rhys Ifans) and Electro (Jamie Foxx) displaced from Andrew Garfield’s.
With so many villains all crowded within one narrative, there exists a (fairly legitimate) concern that the plot could end up suffering as a result of trying to cater to too many, ending up like the much-maligned Amazing Spider-Man 2. Fortunately, however, it is clear that there is a great deal of understanding and thought that has gone into the characterisation of all of these villains, and they are given far more space to fully breathe after a decent time away from cinema screens.
While Doctor Strange is insistent upon returning the villains to their rightful universes, concerned about the dangerous threat that they pose, Peter, spurred on by relentlessly optimistic Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), is inspired to reform their characters instead of consigning them to a deadly fate at the hands of Spider-Men in other universes.
Spider-Man: No Way Home pleases audiences through an unashamed, reverent love for the character of Spider-Man and his evolution within film over the past two decades. It builds upon the work of Phase 4 in general to lend heart and personhood to the villainous characters, and realising that its true strength comes not through expansive, destructive set pieces (though this film does have plenty), but instead through the depth of characterisation and the relationships between characters.
Each dramatic fight sequence has its narrative purpose, and tends to be offset with a quieter, more reflective moment. What’s more, having the same creative team behind the lens, with Jon Watts returning to direct and Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers providing the screenplay allows there to be a certain level of cohesion within Peter’s emotional journey. Overwhelmingly, this seems like the most mature that this Peter Parker has been allowed to be, and it’s clear that Holland is thriving off playing this evolution.
The writing and the performances are strong throughout, with Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina stepping back into their roles with seeming ease, granting these characters a final sense of closure and redemption. Even Jamie Foxx’s Electro undergoes a character transformation of sorts, even after being responsible for the heartbreaking death of Emma Stone’s Gwen. There is a healthy balance of levity to drama, mostly coming from the rapport between Holland, Zendaya and Jacob Batalon. The clear chemistry between Holland and Zendaya, however, helps the emotional core of the movie take flight.
Ultimately, this movie drives through to an impactful and weighty conclusion, which feels contextually rooted within Holland’s iteration of Spider-Man and is set to have major repercussions for the future of the MCU moving forwards. With Easter Eggs aplenty, there is much for fans to appreciate, as well as the endless possibilities now open to the storytelling of the Marvel Universe now that the door to the multiverse has been cracked ajar, to be further explored in Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness set to be released in late Spring next year.
Spider-Man: No Way Home was released in cinemas on December 15 2021.