Tl;dr: NWH is a fun movie that’s nearly all fanservice on the level of Avengers: Endgame, with a dark and heartfelt story and a completely broken character arc. Worth the hype.
Or is it?
Spiderman: No Way Home is such a fun movie. From start to finish, we had fun, witty, exciting, nostalgic moments scene after scene. It’s a nonstop train of completely engaging and meme-baiting humor. Holland and Zendaya once again shine with their chemistry and teenage bravado, clumsily finding their way into adulthood, and realizing that it’s not as amazing as they hoped it was.
NWH is also a really good coming of age story, hidden and buried under all the hype and frothing fan excitement. Spidey has to grapple with being entrusted with the responsibilities of a universe-saving hero, but fails to grasp his young and immature understanding of the world. In the climax, he faces the ramifications of his actions into adulthood if he doesn’t course correct. In the end he’s faced with a far more difficult position than the first time, where he chooses to be forgotten by literally everyone, allowing the MCU to soft reboot or otherwise adapt the character for the upcoming multiverse tomfoolery.
Spoilers, Hijinks and String Theory
no seriously heads up: SPOILER
Yeah so Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire are in this. It’s awesome. It’s so cool. We literally get 3 Spidermen. It’s awesome. I was squealing like a baby in the movie theater, machoism be damned.
NWH has the unique capability of narratively offering its protagonist actual examples of his future by presenting him with Garfield’s Spiderman, a self-proclaimed jaded and tired version of Spidey. One who’s failed his loved ones and lost a part of his mercy and humanity. This is the dark route for Holland’s Parker. On the other hand, you get the self-realized-and-redeemed-via-completed-trilogy Maguire Spidey. This Spiderman got to complete his character growth and his arc was completed. Garfield didn’t get a redemptive third film, and his overall story remained incomplete. This allowed NWH to fulfill Garfield’s Spidey arc as an added bonus.
It reminds me of how A24’s The Green Knight handled presenting the alternate futures for our protagonist. The Green Knight relies less on heavy-handed, action-dependent and exposition laden fan service to show us time and again that Sir Gawain had many routes to choose during his journey, and he ultimately followed the most honorable way forward that Gawain was capable of. There’s nothing else to say here, other than this parallel and unique story device present in both films.
Unfortunately, in a fateful last moment, Holland’s Spiderman comes this close to killing a villain and is stopped at the last second by Maguire’s Spiderman. It’s a… moment. And it sucks. It means that if Holland wasn’t stopped, his Spiderman was going to literally kill someone out of revenge. Sure, Maguire’s Spiderman also let someone fall to their death in his first film, but it’s not exactly the same as stabbing someone in the face. I didn’t like that this happened, because it robs Holland’s Spiderman of the character growth and decision to be better, and to adhere to the values that Aunt May tried to impress upon him.
If the moral backbone of this film is that everyone deserves a redemptive second chance, then Holland’s Spiderman should have stopped himself from killing. He should not have had unresolved intervention from another character (regardless of the multiversal hijinks).
Unfortunately, NWH does strain a bit under the pressure of having to explain, explore and resolve the multiverse, while also establishing, struggling and overcoming Holland’s coming of age arc while reconciling it with a satisfying MCU Spidey movie.
EDIT: 1/8 — I changed my mind.
I saw Spiderman twice. Once for the hype, again because I was bored. I try not to review hype-heavy, excitement-fueled films like this one right away, and often give these films one or two watches before putting pen to paper. Like usual, separating my emotions from the viewing experience helped me generate an opinion on the movie. In this case, I recognized that Spiderman: No Way Home was… not as great a film as I thought it was.
NWH is a film built for and around the hype. The general excitement among its fans, a buzz that courses through audiences every time its trailer is shown, or shared across the web. All in all, the film owes its success to the promise of a crossover, nostalgia, and fan service. That’s not a bad thing, I’m not saying each of those things are bad alone or in sequence. However, I feel that the movie is overall fairly middling if you take it all in without the bias.
There is something recursive to be said about stripping NWH of its hype. If there was no hype, then of course the film wouldn’t be as successful, as it wouldn’t be the same film. Then, is the entire film experience not simply the 2 hour runtime, but the months of discussion, speculation, leaks, hype, release night, post discussion, film recommendation, later dissection, easter egg hunting and tie-ins with later films? If so, then Marvel is definitely creating the most impactful and meaningful film experiences to ever grace the screen.
So, in terms of a film experience, NWH delivers in spades. It’s an incredible feat, especially considering it didn’t have a designed multi-film, multi-year build up the way Infinity War or Endgame had. That’s insane. It does, however, benefit from five prior films across 1.5 generations, an established hero with prominence as mainly a side character, but nowhere near the narrative engineering that the Avengers movies benefitted from.
The movie is great for the first time, and I hope you’ve brushed up on a bit of MCU history or some bits will be lost on you. Narratively, the film structure is loose, unconvincing and forced to deliver a plot with strict demands.
Worth the hype, but try not to think too carefully about the plot or the characters.