The following is an edited transcript of the video above.
Going into Spider-Man: No Way Home, it’s easy to assume you’re in for a conclusion to a very specific Spider-Man trilogy that just happens to exist within the ever-expanding universe of Marvel films. There was Spider-Man: Homecoming in 2017, our first full-throated film featuring Tom Holland in the lead role, Captain America: Civil War notwithstanding. Homecoming and its 2019 follow-up Far From Home were directed by Jon Watts, who returns a third time around for No Way Home, which picks up directly after the events of that sequel, in which the entire world finds out that Peter Parker is, in fact, Spider-Man. So yes, it’s easy to assume this is the conclusion to a trilogy. Right?
Well, sure. Mostly. But really, No Way Home evokes some of that same feeling many people had when watching the first Avengers movie in 2012. That movie was, by all intents and purposes, a new superhero film occurring not long after the events of Thor. But in actuality, it was a victory lap. It was a big party for big characters in relatively smaller films before it. And No Way Home is essentially the same, but for the entire canon of live-action Spider-Man films since Sam Raimi’s trilogy began in 2002.
The story follows Peter Parker and his girlfriend, MJ, still played occasionally grim yet winningly bright by Zendaya. Jacob Batalon returns as Ned, Peter’s endlessly loyal “guy in the chair” slash best friend. The trio must now contend with a new problem for these Spider-Man films, in which everyone knows their best friend is a superhero, and a superhero accused of murdering another supposed superhero (the villainous Mysterio from Far From Home), to top it off. This identity crisis is ruining not just Peter’s life, but the lives of his loved ones, including his Aunt May, played by Marisa Tomei, who finally gets a decent amount of screen time and pathos in one of these movies, as it was long overdue.
To fix this mess, Peter pleads with his one-time ally from the last two Avengers films, Doctor Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who effortlessly fits into a bit of an “uncle” role for Peter now that Tony Stark is no longer in the picture. Strange concocts a plan to help Peter use a spell that will change the reality of his situation, but it all goes wrong, and the multiverse — which has been getting a good bit of set up in other Marvel properties this past year — starts to creep into their universe, where old, familiar faces from past Spider-Man film franchises return, and all hell breaks loose.
The best part about Spider-Man: No Way Home is the fact that it lets this version of the webhead finally grow up. Despite what I said earlier, this is a conclusion to a trilogy in which one of its main frustrations for many lies in how Tom Holland’s Peter Parker can’t quite seem to escape the shadow of his mentor, Tony Stark. Or the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, for that matter.
In a sneaky, usually brilliant way, No Way Home manages to address that criticism by making it part of the story, as if this was Marvel and Sony’s plan all along. Doubtful, but the end result is fantastic, all the same. Tony Stark is barely mentioned in this film, not in a way that cheapens his importance to Peter Parker, but instead represents how this is a coming-of-age story, in which Peter has to increasingly learn how to solve his problems by himself, applying everything he’s picked up from others along the way.
Of the recent Marvel offerings, particularly in 2021, No Way Home is certainly an event movie on par with the Avengers installments and Captain America: Civil War. Not just because of its long runtime of 148 minutes, but also because it’s a nonstop rollercoaster of spectacle that entire time. And not only in a thrilling, action-heavy sense. No Way Home also manages to impress with a fairly cathartic emotional rollercoaster, too.
For all the exciting battles, with some of them topping the list for this trilogy and beyond, No Way Home is probably the funniest Spider-Man movie yet. When the action does subside for a moment or two, we get to explore the human dimensions of these characters through not just standard heart-to-heart conversations, but also sheer, comedic wisecracking between unexpected faces. The film does run into some sticky territory when it pokes almost a little too much at inside jokes a lot of people might not understand at all, but it works because the bits rarely dwell in the air long enough for it to matter.
This might also be the most engaging romance in a Spider-Man film since Emma Stone played Gwen Stacey. Peter and MJ have a functional, but also unusual relationship in all the right ways. Their characters actually hang out, talk to each other, challenge each other, and communicate like a real couple. This isn’t that kind of superhero movie where most of the runtime is spent contriving conflict for the sake of a satisfying, if not expected reconciliation over some misunderstanding you’ll forget about the next day. Like its harebrained, universe-breaking premise, No Way Home also breaks some rules when it comes to being a teen romantic comedy.
On that note, it’s easy, but also somewhat unfair, to compare No Way Home to the animated 2018 film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which itself had a level of singular, standalone magic to its vibrant world and memorable characters. It didn’t necessarily require you to be well-versed in Spider-Man lore, but that’s not to say No Way Home will be incomprehensible for the uninitiated, or really anyone who simply forgot there were two somewhat awkward Spider-Man movies in between the Raimi trilogy and the later MCU films.
There are clearly a lot of fans of these franchises who are willing to scale that hurdle, based on the rapid-selling ticket sales alone. Audiences are apparently up for an experiment this risky, perhaps because they can sense the audacity of retconning previous Spider-Man films as a way to tie up the loose ends of an ongoing one. After all, is there anything more “MCU” than that? The good news for the pioneering moviegoers is that the vast majority of them are sure to be more than pleased with what this film is, what it does, and best of all, how it ends.
I actually have no idea what’s supposed to happen next for Spider-Man in the MCU after this film. He’s always been on lease to Marvel and Disney since they made an arrangement with Sony to share the character (and the profits). There’s something almost thrilling and wondrous about that prospect, that anything can happen next with this character, or nothing might happen at all. It’s even harder to imagine there being another reboot or refresh of the Peter Parker Spider-Man for at least a generation, if not more. Whatever the case, it’s simply spectacular to see this friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man in a movie where he is undeniably the central character, and an amazing one at that.
Spider-Man: No Way Home opens in theaters starting December 17.