‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ movie review: Peter Parker finds himself in the multiverse

NOW STREAMING ON:

A cast of characters from three generations of Spider-Man films collides in Spider-Man: No Way Home, the third in the MCU-Sony Spidey series Starring Tom Holland as the titular superhero. Following the fresh Homecoming and European vacation Far From Home, No Way Home puts a nice cap on both the MCU films (if this is indeed Holland’s last outing in the role) as well as the two Sony series that were never given a proper sendoff.

Spider-Man: No Way Home picks up right where the last film left off, with Peter Parker outed as Spider-Man by J. Jonah Jameson, here presented as a one-man-show podcast host who somehow gets airplay on the big screen in New York City’s Times Square. It’s great to see J.K. Simmons return to the iconic role he inhabited in Sam Raimi’s Spidey flicks, but the Jameson of this world is only used as an exposition device and he rarely interacts with other characters.

While there’s little superhero action, No Way Home is at its very best during its opening act as MJ (Zendaya), Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) and even schoolyard bully Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) adjust to a new world with their friend Peter Parker outed as Spider-Man.

This series, like the Harry Potter films, has done a great job developing its young leads and their relationships with each other. No Way Home continues that trend with some subtle character beats early on that genuinely pay off during the movie’s heartfelt climactic moments.

Due to the scandalous outing, the high school seniors are turned down by MIT as well as their backup choices for college admission. A guilt-stricken Peter is at a loss over what to do, but since anything is possible in the MCU, he pleads his case to the man who can make it happen: fellow New Yorker and Marvel wizard Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who turned back time in previous films.

A more complex figure in previous MCU films, Doctor Strange is presented here as a mischievous magician archetype. Unlike Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, who served as a mentor to Peter, Strange is willing to help him chase unrealistic dreams… and open up a Pandora’s Box of be-careful-what-you-wish-for consequences in the process.

Those consequences include a portal to the multiverse that results in appearances of characters from Sony’s previous non-canon Spider-Man films: Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus, Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin, Jamie Foxx as Electro, and more. Spider-Man: No Way Home’s promotional material has already given away some of the surprises, but there are many more: one reveal drew enthusiastic applause from a cinema full of typically-reserved Prague journalists.

The multiverse concept was already explored in the animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, which remains a more inventive and altogether satisfying exploration of a lot of the same ideas presented here. But the use of characters from previous Spider-Man films in No Way Home was a pleasant surprise: they aren’t one-off cameos but vital components of the narrative, and an appropriate amount of attention is paid to each of them.

The MCU Spider-Man arrived in Homecoming with Peter Parker already super-powered, unlike the previous Sony Spider-Man films. But No Way Home also serves as something along the lines of a backdoor origin story, with Holland’s Peter ultimately learning that “with great power comes great responsibility.”

One thematic aspect comes through muddled, however. The familiar Spider-Man story has Peter learning that lesson due to his selfishness (he doesn’t stop the robber who later kills Uncle Ben), but in this one he seems to be punished for his altruism. The bad things that happen in Spider-Man: No Way Home occur because Peter wants to help not only his friends, but also the villainous characters from other dimensions.

With five fully-realized villains (the average MCU film is lucky to get one), a fellow Avenger, storylines involving Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and a lot of attention paid to the three leads, Spider-Man: No Way Home has a lot on its plate, and feels too condensed even at a 150-minute running time. But while the film’s narrative is occasionally haphazard, it delivers on all of its promises.

As an elaborate collaboration between Sony (who owns the film rights to Spider-Man and associated characters) and Disney (who has acquired most of the rest of Marvel and the MCU), Spider-Man: No Way Home is as inventive for its on-screen exploration of a multiverse as for the behind-the-scenes machinations that went into this mashup of ideas from two giant corporations and a variety of creative talents. It sets up the potential for future films from both companies, and here’s hoping at least some of those possibilities are realized.

With continued cooperation between Sony and Marvel still unknown, Spider-Man: No Way Home delivers both a fitting finale for the characters developed over the course of the past three films, as well as an exciting starting point for future endeavors. Given the universe-expanding ideas contained in the rest of No Way Home, the film’s final moments set during Christmas in New York are quite wonderful in their simplicity.

As is the norm for these films, stick around during the credits for some extra content. A mid-credits scene delivers a fun cameo and sets up potential future happenings in the MCU Spiderverse, though a post-credits scene is simply a trailer for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.