Two years after the release of its predecessor, Spider-Man: No Way Home arrives in theaters this Friday amidst a changed world. Conceived in the aftermath of heated negotiations between two powerhouse studios hoping to strike a deal that both parties benefit greatly from, with high anticipation, leaks, theories, and sold out auditoriums abound, the film has turned into a pop-cultural circus built upon the need for broad entertainment that the whole world is waiting for. However, the question still remains: does the third installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Spider-Man trilogy overcome its corporate-mandated hurdles that crippled the final installments of the previous iterations?
With much buzz and aversion from spoilers from the general public, little should be said in regards to its narrative details overall. However, while the marketing has done well in hiding various elements that are best experienced for the first time in theaters packed from head to toe, it has treaded on certain beats that can be brought to light as the story commences.
After concluding with a cliffhanger that leads to Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) identity being revealed to the world, No Way Home picks up right where its iteration left off, leaving Peter to deal with the aftermath of the ensuing chaos. Thrust into the public eye, Peter, MJ (Zendaya), and their trusted friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) soon find themselves bombarded by cameras and rejected from their top schools due to the controversy surrounding their names. Struggling with the weight of his guilt, Peter turns to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to strike a spell in hopes of making everyone forget his alter ego. Yet after complications develop, the multiverse is broken, and with it, five otherworldly villains emerge from the shadows with a universal goal of ending Spider-Man, leading to a battle for not only the life of Peter, but the fate of the multiverse.
What sounds like a recipe for a narrative disaster could very well become one in the hands of lesser writers. With a plethora of iconic characters, storylines to flesh out and resolve, and continuity to maintain all while progressing the story of Peter Parker, bringing all of the aforementioned elements together without the story collapsing requires remarkable skill that many do lack. Thankfully, for the most part, co-writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers deliver with their script. Deftly structured with narrative beats that will keep one on their toes, it adds fresh elements that elevate the formula in surprising ways.
Yet, that is not to say that the film manages to completely avoid the obstacles of both the franchise’s formulaic trappings as well as its heightened ambitions. A narratively and visually muddled third-quarter plays into the scattered approach that skeptics feared, alongside beats of blatant fan-service that could have bogged down lesser films due to their unsubtle nature.
However, Jon Watts’ direction shines enough to guide the film past its notable flaws. In regards to his interpretation of the titular hero, elements that showcase his directorial prowess go to show that behind the studio sheen, he holds great potential within him. When attempting to show Parker’s paranoia that stems from his so-called “spidey-sense”, Watts employs a mixture of visual stylings and atmospheric shifts to portray that element in a unique way unlike Raimi and Webb before it. While not something that would be worth much praise overall, his work within the film’s studio trappings still manages to impress.
Perhaps the most admirable facet of No Way Home’s success and slight subversion, the manner in which the character at the core of the film is shaped and developed sets the stage for it to become the best iteration of the character yet. While the film does feature an action-packed finale, its emotional and thematic climax focuses not on the action that many films of the franchise have focused on before it, but on a moral struggle that shapes the narrative into a coherent tale, and one that guides Parker’s arc into a compelling end. With the talents of Holland bringing it to life, his final choice packs a true punch that solidifies the film as an emotionally satisfying outing for the character.
Despite the presence of muddled narrative beats driven by a need to tap into nostalgia and an adherence to the formula that has built the franchise, Spider-Man: No Way Home manages to overcome its flaws to result in one of Holland’s best as a heartfelt, crowd-pleasing, and compelling exploration of the iconic character. Not only does it shine as a singular piece in the Marvel canon, but it sets the stage for a promising second trilogy that brings the character back to his cinematic roots and builds upon the foundations set forth today,
Spider-Man: No Way Home will be released by Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios on December 17 only in theaters.
Photo: Sony Pictures/Marvel Studios