While Spider-Man: No Way Home was intended to be released after Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness, it did ultimately come out before that movie, so I felt it was probably a preferable idea to watch this movie before the next Doctor Strange solo film. So, now that I’ve done that (and just after Sony has announced that an extended cut of the movie will be getting a theatrical release in December), it’s time to give my thoughts some. There will be spoilers for the film’s conclusion.
Spider-Man: No Way Home reminds me some of Iron Man 3. Both movies have a sense to them that they are closing the book on a section of that character’s history, one way or another. They’re not a satisfying conclusion of that book, but much as Iron Man 3 was the last Iron Man solo movie, if this film is the last of Tom Holland’s solo outings as Spider-Man, I wouldn’t be surprised. I wouldn’t be satisfied with this conclusion, and in a sense it’s not meant to be satisfying, but it would not be surprising.
The film picks up more or less immediately after the end of Far From Home, with J. Jonah Jameson (this time an Alex Jones-expy, played once again by a returning J. K. Simmons) playing doctored video created by Mysterio outing Peter Parker as Spider-Man, and framing him for the murder of Mysterio and all of his crimes. After a very brief interlude with Peter being pilloried in the court of public opinion before ultimately being exonerated by the assistance of lawyer Matthew Murdock (Charlie Cox), Peter now finds himself in a situation where the lingering baggage from Jameson’s reveal has impacted his and his friends ability to get into college.
Peter, going for the most over-the-top solution, tries to get Dr. Strange (Bendict Cumberbatch), to help him get his friends out of this situation by casting a spell that would prevent a bunch of people (outside of an increasingly large number of add-ons) from knowing that he was Spider-Man. However, the circumstances behind adding all those add-ons (and the spell getting aborted because Peter skipped the “Have you tried talking to someone?” step), ended up causing a whole bunch of rifts in the multiverse, and consequently a bunch of previous Spider-Man villains have shown up in this world – specifically Doc Ock, Sandman & the Green Goblin from the Sam Raimi movies, and Electro and Reptile from the Marc Webb movies. When it turns out that sending all of these characters back would be sending them back to the moments of their deaths (because they’re all from films where the villains get killed), Peter balks, and decides that instead he’s going to fix what’s wrong with each of these characters, so they can in turn have a second chance at life and be rehabilitated.
So, in other words, No Way Home is a film in dialog with the long history of superhero films so far, and how because so many of them have, in the past, been more interested in being action films (because that’s what the fans want) instead of superhero films, this leads to a core thesis of “Isn’t it fucked up that for all these past films, all these heroes who have codes against killing in the comics have been totally okay with killing? We need to move past that.”
It’s honestly a really refreshing change of pace. With Captain America and Thor, to an extent there’s not necessarily a justification, but a logical fit for why those characters have killed in their previous films – Steve’s a soldier and when he kills he’s in a combat situation, and Thor is a mythological hero, and those are characters who often work on a different level of ethics. The Guardians of the Galaxy are often doing work as mercenaries and thieves, but when they do kill it’s also generally situations with extenuating circumstances. On the other hand though, Peter Parker, with his previous actors, has been in situations repeatedly where while he ostensibly tried to save the villains, but frequently ended up with them dead, and Peter otherwise being okay with that, which doesn’t fit with the character of Peter Parker for me.
Where I think things get awkward is with the film’s ending. The MCU Spider-Man movies, so far, have managed to avoid retreading the death of Uncle Ben, along with his reiteration of the “With Great Power…” line. This movie does that with Aunt May, and then goes on top of that by having things with the spell having gone out of control so far that the spell has to be cast, but now such that nobody will know who Peter Parker is – not just in the sense that nobody will know he’s Spider-Man, but that there will be no record of his existence. The justification feels like it’s there to allow M.J. and Ned to have their future at MIT, while keeping Peter in New York in his classic perpetually poor state. It’s meant to be melancholic and bittersweet, but instead it’s just kind of dour.
If we’d gotten a guest appearance by Spider-Man in the Hawkeye series, or we had some sense that Spider-Man was going to be back and when, that would be one thing, but that’s not the case. We’re back in that weird flux situation where we don’t know if Tom Holland will actually be back as Spider-Man or not, in his own stories, or will he be coming back as a supporting character in other people’s films, and where he’s at now will never be resolved.
Tonally, I’m happy with what Spider-Man: No Way Home did. I’m very happy with the acting performances, especially with the characters returning from other movies, including the live-action Spider-Man reunion. However, this is a movie that shows how much wonderful chemistry Tom Holland, Zendaya, and Jacob Batalon have together – and then creates a scenario where future writers and directors will have to rebuild those relationships somewhat from scratch, and that’s frustrating.
As Marvel goes further into Phase IV, No Way Home’s conclusion really demonstrates Marvel’s new dilemma when it comes to the MCU – how to pass the torch, and how do we contend with our past? When we have a universe of stories that tries to thrive within its continuity, instead of ignore it when inconvenient like with other past long-running series (James Bond in particular), how do make the characters approachable not just for new audiences, but also new storytellers? Hawkeye presented the idea of reinventing the character through a legacy. Spider-Man: No Way Home presents the idea of creating a new status quo that wipes much of the past away. I’m a fan of the former more than the latter, but time will show which one Marvel goes with.