Spider-Man: No Way Home does the impossible. Everything that you know about the movie, think that you know about the movie, and think that you think that you know about the movie — Marvel Studios pulled it all off. In many ways, this is an even more ambitious project than Avengers: Endgame. Before you read on, I’ll note that this is a spoiler-free review, but I will discuss some basic plot elements, including what has been covered in the trailers. You’ve been warned.
For those of you who just want a quick reaction without a hint of plot, here you go. As someone who has been satisfied but underwhelmed by Marvel’s post-Endgame movies, I found No Way Home to be as big and as fun and as impactful as anything from the Infinity Saga.
Spider-Man: No Way Home spoiler-free review
Alright, now I’m going to do my best to discuss the plot without discussing the plot.
When we last saw Spider-Man (Tom Holland), his secret identity had just been exposed to the entire world. Spider-Man: No Way Home picks up right before Far From Home ended. Spidey and MJ (Zendaya) still on the streets of New York City as J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) reveals that the man in the suit is actually a high schooler named Peter Parker.
His life is immediately turned upside-down, and the aftershock hits his friends and his family. His first move? Visit Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) at the Sanctum Sanctorum.
Stephen Strange isn’t an especially sentimental wizard, but he does have a soft spot for Peter. And so rather than turn him away, Strange agrees to cast a spell that will make everyone on Earth forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Peter proceeds to distract Strange while he is casting the spell, causing a rift in time and space. And thus, the multiverse begins to seep into the MCU.
No Way Home review: Meeting the rogues gallery
Fairly early on, we are introduced to the multiversal villains from Sony’s previous Spider-Man movies. Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) is first on the scene, and features in one of the movie’s standout fight scenes. These are some of the most kinetic, engaging fights of any Marvel movie to date. Sure, they’re big and loud and packed with CGI, but the fight choreography and the creativity involved in these scenes is at an all-time high. This is the most entertaining Spider-Man has ever been in the MCU.
This movie really shouldn’t work. Marvel dumped a box full of old toys all over the desks of director Jon Watts and writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. Then they told them they had to use every single one. Not only did they make it work, but they made it look easy.
Sony clearly never had any plans for a multi-generational crossover event when it released the first Spider-Man movie in 2002. It’s also still unclear if anyone that works at Sony ever had any plans at all for The Amazing Spider-Man and its massively disappointing sequel. But No Way Home truly does the impossible and convincingly turns these disparate properties into a cohesive saga.
Fan service abounds
It would be a big understatement to say that No Way Home shatters the fourth wall. Those frequently make for some of the movie’s best, funniest, and most exciting moments. They also threaten to throw off the delicate balance of what is in many ways one of Marvel’s darkest stories. Even with Endgame in the rearview, there are moments in this movie that will leave audiences devastated. Of course, Marvel has a knack for knowing when to knock you down and when to pick you up again. Most times, No Way Home strikes that balance well. Others, not so much, and I could see the spell breaking for less-than-diehard fans. You really have to buy in to franchise-spanning fiction for it all to land.
Speaking of buying in, you really have to be bought in to the MCU for No Way Home to make sense. It might not even be worth noting at this point, but if you aren’t completely caught up, this movie simply wasn’t made for you. Now, that hasn’t been the case for most of Marvel’s recent movies. Black Widow, Shang-Chi, and Eternals all stand alone to some extent, even if they are inextricably linked to the MCU. That’s not the case for No Way Home. And that’s also why this movie is going to meet and exceed the expectations of so many fans.
Finally, it’s just such a joy to see actors like Alfred Molina and Willem Dafoe jump back into such over-the-top roles without missing a beat. Their enthusiasm and commitment go a long way in grounding a movie that is constantly threatening to spin out of control under the weight of its sprawling cast and expansive story.
Another home run
Marvel convinced us all that Spider-Man: No Way Home would be the biggest theatrical event of 2021. Even under the weight of unimaginable expectations, it still lives up to the hype. And perhaps just as importantly, it tells a complete story. This is not just a setup for the next Doctor Strange or the rest of Phase 4. This is the rewarding conclusion to Sony’s latest and greatest Spider-Man trilogy.
Spider-Man: No Way Home comes out in theaters on December 17th, 2021.