Spider-Man: No Way Home – Review

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Author’s note: There are no spoilers here outside of knowing why another Avenger is involved in this film (which was already shown in the early teaser). My hope for you is that you experience this movie knowing only that it exists and that it is one of Marvel’s best. Read on with confidence.

About maybe 100% of every second of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s 13 years is founded and focused upon its lead characters having to mature quickly and accept the roles and responsibilities they’ve suddenly been bestowed. From 2008’s Iron Man to 2021’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, no one’s just ready to do what’s suddenly thrust upon them; every one of them is required to overcome damaging flaws and crippling trauma to become who the world needs them to be. Most of them can handle it, y’know, being adults and all…

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But this forced growth coming along with the hell of high school and being a teenager in the 2010s is what makes director Jon Watts’ Spider-Man trilogy wonderfully magnetic. With Tom Holland playing Peter Parker as the Avengers’ earnest, albeit kinda yappy-puppyish kid brother who won’t stop begging them to bring him along to the party, he gives us a more identifiable anchor in the MCU. Our first introduction to him was as a 15-year-old boy who could barely believe his luck at being asked to ride with the Avengers; Spider-Man: No Way Home finds him as a burgeoning young man who’s faced his own death, the effects of the Blip and his return, and the loss of his dearest mentor.

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What this trilogy of films does so well is capture the scattered, frenetic emotions we all experienced as kids and how difficult it was even back then to deal with them. Through Peter’s eyes, we have been able to look at the Avengers in different ways because he was and continues to be our “in,” someone we can identify with a little more than a billionaire playboy, a woman raised to be a deadly assassin, or any of the multitude of MCU characters with an otherworldly track.

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Spider-Man: No Way Home finds Peter, girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), and best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) thrown into the spotlight after both of Peter’s identities are made public. With this new revelation, their everyday lives have become quite a struggle, and because Peter’s the guy who wants to fix everything and make nice so people don’t resent him, he turns to Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for a spell that will make the world forget that he’s Spider-Man. Sounds easy enough, but that’s always where the trouble starts, isn’t it?

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The adventure we’re sent on by Watts and returning writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers definitely shovels the usual Marvel factory whizbang action in our faces, which is to be expected, of course. But what this film carries is more of an emotional journey, culling from the sum of its parts to create the path – the only path – that Peter can take. And it demands everything of him – physical, mental, and spiritual growth, not to mention the wisdom that only comes with the kind of clear eyes that gave Tony Stark his vision for how best to protect the world.

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The worst of it is that we know how this kind of fast, forced growth affects us, where we’re made to turn into adults almost overnight because we can’t keep making childish, selfish decisions anymore. Our comfortable lives under the protection of trusted adults can no longer sustain itself, especially after they step aside to make room for us. We have to accept our place in the larger world and help it move, and Spider-Man: No Way Home is Peter’s final transition out of teenagerdom and into the role awaiting him since he turned his back on that press conference at the end of Spider-Man: Homecoming.

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The trio of Holland, Zendaya, and Batalon is the beating heart of this film, with every choice made to ensure we get it. Even though Holland didn’t come into the MCU until 7 years after it was established, he’s made his iteration of Peter Parker a touchstone, someone who appeals to our very natures of not wanting to be hated by everyone and to do right by his friends, especially when you’ve got friends like Ned and MJ. Zendaya again lights up the screen as the girl buried under layers of self-wrought armor, living with the expectation of constant disappointment from others. They’re almost perfect opposites, thus being perfect for each other, and they make our hearts lighter when we see them together.

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Batalon’s Ned is the friend everyone deserves but sometimes never gets (well, maybe not during one specific scene…), a compatriot who sticks with you through thick and thin, from being The Guy in the Chair to being the guy who gives you a hug and tells you he’s with you. He’s just full of the kind of goodness you’d always hoped for in a best friend, and Batalon doesn’t hesitate to give Ned his all, even to the point where he gets a little of it on both Peter and MJ. (Author’s note: Major, major props for showing Ned’s grandmother and allowing her to speak a decent amount of Tagalog, something most appreciated by me, a Filipino-American who hasn’t seen Tagalog spoken in a mainstream Hollywood action film since Michael Bay’s The Rock in 1996. I might not remember them speaking it in The Bourne Legacy, a movie that wasn’t memorable to begin with.)

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The further along the MCU juggernaut goes, the more personal the films seem to be getting. Spider-Man: No Way Home cuts deep and doesn’t expect you to like everything about it, but this ethos is why the film is one of the MCU’s best, which is saying something after 27 films in 13 years. These films aim for spectacle and grandeur, but they’re at their best when they’re hitting closer to home, which is all this film does time and time again. It’s a film that gives adequate respect to the past, present, and future of Marvel cinema, and we’re left with hope and love for our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man as he becomes the hero the world needs, not just what he hopes he can be.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of action/violence, some language and brief suggestive comments.
Contains a mid-credits scene and a post-credits… something.
Running time: 148 minutes.
Released by Sony Pictures Releasing.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Rating

4.5

Spider-Man: No Way Home cuts deep and doesn’t expect you to like everything about it, but this ethos is why the film is one of the MCU’s best, which is saying something after 27 films in 13 years.