What to Watch Verdict
When the joy over the new (old) arrivals fade, you may be wishing for the simpler version of this story.
Tom Holland, Zendaya and Jacob Batalon’s chemistry is still fantastic
Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin remains the best Spider-Man villain
A couple of theater-gasping moments fans will love
Why do Spider-Man movies always forget that sometimes less is more?
Some of the characters are unnecessary
Doesn’t quite nail the balance between spectacle and story
A key theme for Spider-Man: No Way Home deals with the choices we make and what we would do if we could get a second chance at them. Unfortunately, Marvel and director Jon Watts, with the third official entry from Spider-Man in the MCU, fail to learn a key lesson from the issues of previous Spider-Man franchises — sometimes less is more.
Tom Holland returns as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Spider-Man: No Way Home, which picks up immediately where the previous movie, Spider-Man: Far From Home, left off. A manipulated video from Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) is shared by J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), now running The Daily Bugle as an internet conspiracy hotbed, that reveals Peter Parker as Spider-Man. Peter finds this unmasking to not only effect him but MJ (Zendaya), Ned (Jacob Batalon), May (Marisa Tomei), and others he cares about, so he goes to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help.
The sorcerer offers to cast a spell that will make everyone forget Peter Parker is Spider-Man, but when Peter messes it up some unwelcome guests arrive in the form of villains from the other Spider-Man movies: Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), Electro (Jamie Foxx), Lizard (Rhys Ifans), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). Peter is forced to get them all back safely to their own dimensions.
When news broke that these iconic Spider-Man villains would be a part of Spider-Man: No Way Home, fans were unsurprisingly ecstatic. However, their actual arrival into Holland’s iteration of the superhero repeats one of the biggest criticisms given to both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man movies — in their final outing there were just too many villains.
Spider-Man 3 featured Sandman, Venom (Topher Grace) and James Franco’s Harry Osborne taking on the Green Goblin mantle. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had appearances from Rhino (Paul Giamatti), another Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan) and Foxx’s Electro. There are five villains in Spider-Man: No Way Home, but when it really comes down to it Peter’s actual story only has an emotional connection with just one. The rest are almost unnecessary — a nice treat, but little more than fan service.
Though I have to take a quick second to praise Willem Dafoe. The actor’s Green Goblin remains the best Spider-Man villain on the big screen yet and it was a delight to see him give that sinister laugh once again. He is the example of how they effectively weaved his character into Holland’s story rather than simply have them there because they could.
Also: 'Spider-Man: No Way Home' fans blown away by surprise cameo
That may be Spider-Man: No Way Home’s biggest issue. While some of the moments that stem from these outside visitors are really fun to see, they either offer little to Peter’s emotional arc or play out too long (at two-and-a-half hours, this is the longest Spider-Man yet). It’s a shame too, because there is a good journey for Peter in this movie that teaches him what sacrifices must be made being Spider-Man.
Despite all that, it’s probably hard to not at least have a good time while you’re watching Spider-Man: No Way Home. Tom Holland’s performance as Peter Parker is still a highlight, particularly when he gets to work with Zendaya’s MJ and Jacob Batalon’s Ned. This main trio have fantastic chemistry and often remind you that despite having to do battle with supervillains, they are still teenagers. The high-school setting was and is a great choice by the creative team of this Spider-Man trilogy, but it is a shame we don’t get as much of it in this movie; Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice, Martin Starr and J.B. Smoove, who were a lot of fun in the first two installments, are little more than cameos here.
Spider-Man: No Way Home comes at the end of a big year for Marvel. Phase 4 is underway and the multiverse is coming — as we know from Loki and the next Doctor Strange movie, literally called Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (which is teased in one of two post-credit sequences). However, what’s been great about some of this latest MCU content, especially after the massive conclusion to Avengers: Endgame, was that the stories are a bit smaller as characters deal with more personal issues or are being introduced to fans for the first time. Spider-Man, as one of the most popular characters in the MCU, went for an almost Avengers level story and in the process lost the thread a bit.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is now playing exclusively in movie theaters.
Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Peaky Blinders, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Saturday Night Live, Only Murders in the Building and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd (opens in new tab).
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