REVIEW: ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ is the movie event of the year (Contains Spoilers)

Abigail Celoria, Contributing Writer

This review contains spoilers. For those that have not yet seen this movie, return to this review afterward to avoid spoilers.

Since its official title reveal in Feb., “Spider-Man: No Way Home” has been one of, if not the most, anticipated movies of 2021. It excited not only the regular MCU fans, but those who have shared a love of Spider-Man in any of his classic media iterations. For almost a full year, theories around the film’s contents have dominated online spaces. Many expected the film to dip into Spider-Verse territory, the multiverse specific to Spider-Man and the natural evolutional move for the MCU. Others anticipated surprise. Now, with its release, both are right as “Spider-Man: No Way Home” manages to exceed its expectations, delivering a satisfyingly epic package every Spider-Man fan is sure to enjoy.

Tom Holland and Benedict Cumberbatch in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (2021). (Jon Watts/Marvel Studios)

The trailer for “Spider-Man: No Way Home” confirmed from the beginning the role the multiverse would play in this film. The concept received ample setup in the Disney+ original series “Loki,” whose events resulted in the fracturing of the timeline, and “No Way Home” capitalizes on this. It is the villain Mysterio, who first hinted at the idea of the multiverse in “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” who sparks the inciting incident by revealing Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) identity through the web postmortem. Now that he has been exposed, Peter and his friends face the consequences of public opinion in their personal lives. He seeks help from Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), but their efforts to reverse events breed greater disaster that Peter must rectify.

Under the abundance of fan theories, it seemed unlikely the plot could surprise in any way, but “No Way Home” lands several punches. The five villains from the original two Spider-Men series pose a devasting threat right off the bat, but Peter quickly rounds them up, the first true surprise of the film. Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe) breaks away from his Green Goblin persona long enough to gain sympathy from Peter in his troubled state. This creates a second inciting incident—Peter turns against Doctor Strange to keep the villains in their universe long enough to cure them. His decision ultimately brings trouble, though, as the character closest to him is killed in a manner heartbreakingly reminiscent of the classic Spider-Man backstory. It is the quintessential character-shaping moment, but not one audiences feel any joy for, beyond their recognition of it.

Alfred Molina in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (2021). (Jon Watts/Marvel Studios)

In only the first half of the film, these three twists set this film apart from previous MCU additions. The pacing between them is excellent, allowing the movie to linger on character moments over action sequences. Not all of Peter’s interactions with the villains are actual battles—in the case of his interaction with Osborn, he finds him disoriented and confused at the food shelter his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) works at. It is her sympathy that inspires him to take the course of saving them, which makes Green Goblin’s betrayal all the more upsetting. With so much time dedicated to understanding Peter’s heart, the audience feels every event personally along with him, investing viewers as thoroughly as they possibly can be. This early decision creates a strong emotional foundation from which the rest of the film blossoms.

The second half of the movie provided the much-needed levity after such a devastating blow. One following triumph came in the appearance of Tobey Macguire’s and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Men. Though most fans were confident going into the movie that they would star in it, the amount of time it took to get to them served the suspense and eventual satisfaction well. They were a needed turning point going into the final battle for Holland’s Peter Parker. Their interplay as they readied for it was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the film, providing not only comedy relief in their similarities and differences, but satisfaction for fans that had been looking forward to such a crossover. Both Macguire’s gentle and Garfield’s scarred, but spunky approach called back to their original characters in such a gratifying way. However, their interactions with the respective villains highlighted the ways their characters had changed in the time since their movies. They were able to receive some closure and even redemption, which was heartwarming to see.

Another gratification came in the intrigue of the fight. The way that both the Spider-Men and the villains came together as teams and as foes gave the battle its full weight as a climax. Macguire, Garfield and Holland not knowing how to work together initially, was a fresh moment of realism in the movie and provided some tension. Though Macguire’s and Garfield’s Spider-Men had fought their respective villains one-on-one before, they had not done so with so many of them or as a team. This added a new layer to an already chaotic battle, raising the stakes. Watching them swing in unison at last was therefore an extremely satisfying moment. The villains each had their own motivations in the fight as well, attributing a realistic reason to their eventual loss. Contrasting Electro’s (Jamie Foxx) thrill for power and Sandman’s (Thomas Haden Church) desire to return to his universe in such a climactic moment gives the villains their individual spotlight, lending to the chaos. Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) returning to assist the Spider-Man is gratifyingly in tune with his character in “Spider-Man 2,” adding even more intrigue. Overall, the entire scene is a masterpiece, its chaos understandable and visually digestible. It is what any climax should be.

Tom Holland stars in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (2021). (Jon Watts/Marvel Studios)

However, the final showdown between Holland’s Spider-Man and Green Goblin brings back the emotional tone that hovers over the entire film. It is personal, gritty and ultimately a turning point for our Peter Parker. Peter’s moral struggle with the responsibility accompanying his power is apparent in this moment, but he stays true to the person his aunt raised him to be. This is one of the most emotional moments in the MCU to date, putting such a cherished character to the test. He continues to carry his sense of self to his final decision of the film, the loss of identity that will redefine the MCU Spider-Man. It is a bold move to put a character through the ringer like this, but “No Way Home” pulls it off.

Above everyone else in this stellar cast, Holland made this film come alive. He strikes the delicate balance with Peter Parker that allows audiences to see the reality of his personality, instead of what could easily be a one-dimensional character in anyone else’s hands. He acts his heart out in this film—every heartbreak is felt through him, every triumph. His legacy as the latest Spider-Man will not ever be forgotten after this stellar film.

With the success the MCU is accustomed to, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” could have been a throw-away, fan-serving flick. Instead, it is a mature and entertaining film that fans of both the MCU and Spider-Man will not only love but respect. There is excellence in every moment of this film—its choices are deliberate, and it takes bold risks. It is the tribute that the beloved superhero deserves and speaks to the future of the character in the most encouraging sense. While the ending may be upsetting, the scale of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” meets and exceeds fan expectations. It is undeniably one of the best MCU movies to date.