Navigating spoilers is usually simple enough, but writing a spoiler-free review of Spider-Man: No Way Home is challenging, considering this third solo outing for the MCU’s webslinger is built on surprises. Unlike this year’s No Time To Die, where the main spoiler was the ending, No Way Home is a meta-sequel that toys with decades of Spider-Man lore throughout its runtime, and its strongest moments are plot points that require maximum secrecy for optimum enjoyment.
Still, even if writing this review already feels like describing a sunset without being allowed to mention the colours, everything discussed here will adhere strictly to what the trailers have already revealed.
No Way Home picks up precisely where Spider-Man: Far From Home left off. Our titular hero’s identity has been revealed to the world and Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has to deal with his newfound fame as a social pariah, as many now believe him to be the murderer of the last instalment’s gaslighting villain, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). Realising that his unmasking will destroy the lives of his loved ones, Peter meets his fellow Avenger, Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), to request an incantation that would make everyone forget that he’s the webslinger. “Be careful what you wish for, Parker” turns out to be the overarching cautionary leitmotiv of this chapter, as the spell goes disastrously wrong: “Multiversal trespassers” start popping up, looking for their pound of arachnid and threatening to destroy the very fabric of reality. Nice going, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!
The trailers have teased plenty, and rumours have been circling about who may or may not be cast in No Way Home. Nothing will be confirmed or denied here, but it’s our pleasure to report that Marvel delivers plenty to enjoy. Nemeses from the Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield eras are present, and most of them have a great time reprising their roles, especially Willem Dafoe. The surprises don’t stop there, as the 148-minute runtime is bursting with fan service.
The presence of many antagonists means that the film often feels cluttered – not in the Sam Raimi / Spider-Man 3 sense, but still messy. Returning director Jon Watts does an admirable job at corralling all these characters, and makes it work by always emphasising – perhaps more here than in previous instalments – that Peter Parker / Spider-Man is a character who is defined by loss. This allows Tom Holland to wrestle with moments of genuine emotion and to give his best Spidey performance yet. If he hangs up his web-shooters after this film, it’ll be a fitting swansong.
Disappointingly, much dramatic potential regarding the nature of villainy and the burden of moral accountability is sacrificed to fan service and the multiverse plot contrivance. It doesn’t help that No Way Home feels like a less inventive live-action retread of 2018’s Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse, especially considering how vibrant that animated romp remains.
The film does redeem itself in its final third, and the unavoidable nerdgasms it provokes. If the shouts and cheers heard in the press screening I attended are anything to go by, the fanbase will absolutely lose their minds. And it’s this last act that will linger the most: it ends MCU’s 2021 vintage on a high, banishing memories of the dispensable Black Widow and the divisive Eternals and leaving fans with a very entertaining, if occasionally muddled, blockbuster.
Spider-Man: No Way Home / D: Jon Watts (US, 2021), with Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina. Starts Dec 15.