Spider-Man: No Way Home: Trilogy Ends in Winning Fashion

Spider-Man: No Way Home is the concluding chapter of the first MCU-related Spider-Man trilogy. It’s also the 27th overall entry in the MCU (Big-Screen Edition), and the first movie that truly bridges the disparate storylines from multiple studios into the grand narrative.

Marvel has released a staggering number of comic book-related superhero entries, beginning in 2008 with Iron Man and continuing with often relentless regularity over the next decade and a half. Marvel introduced casual fans to Captain America, Thor, the Galaxy Guardians (among others), two superhero team-ups, and eventually, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. As that film ended “Phase Three’s” serialized storyline, “Phase Four” was already waiting to take its place in the hearts and minds of Marvel’s fans. Phase Four included several new, Disney+ series and four new MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) entries released with rapid-fire predictability, Black Widow, Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals, and now a new Spidey film.

Opening mere moments after the climactic events of the last entry, Spider-Man: No Way Home finds friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man / Peter Parker (Tom Holland) turned galactic superhero, facing what to him seems like an insurmountable problem: His secret identity has been revealed by the dying Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) in a doctored video streamed around the world. The media, led by ultra-right-wing, Alex Jones-like blowhard J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), viciously turns on Spider-Man. He blames him with little or no credible evidence for both Mysterio’s untimely death and the wreckage that ensued. Even worse for Parker is guilt by superhero association, leading to the loss of anonymity for Parker’s romantic interest, MJ (Zendaya), and his best friend, Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon). In a deliberate plot turn that strains real-world logic and in-film credulity, the news crushes their college dreams. No one, not even institutions of higher learning, wants to be associated with Spider-Man’s tarnished brand.

With their privacy gone and media constantly circling Peter, MJ, and Ned, Peter hits on a (frankly absurd) idea to turn things around for them: He enlists Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Spider-Man’s onetime Avengers teammate, to work one of his magic spells and undo Mysterio’s world-changing reveal. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong. The mistakes start with an impulsive Peter attempting to change the parameters of the spell in mid-casting and not quite ending with the arrival of multiple Spider-Man super-villains from at least two parallel universes. Not coincidentally, those universes coincide with Spider-Man’s previous, pre-MCU live-action incarnations. Once the supervillains begin to appear, wreaking havoc wherever they go, it’s up to Spider-Man and Dr. Strange to right a potentially destructive wrong.

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The arrival of these villains opens the door, literally, for all manner of callbacks and Easter Eggs that will make some fans happy,and distract or any other viewers. Credit to the screenwriting team of Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers’s, whose previous films include Spider-Man: Far from Home, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and The Lego Batman Movie. They manage to strike a balance between the demands of closing out the young-Parker trilogy, finding the narrative’s place in the larger MCU, and weaving in past chapters from many years back to the greater storyline without sacrificing the drama, conflict, or character. There’s a emotionally grounded character arc with Parker’s character that’s quite satisfying, a factor that often got lost in previous MCU standalone or team-up entries.

That separation of Parker from his late mentor, Tony Stark / Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) brings him closer to his only living relative, Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Her character moves into the foreground in this film, guiding Parker’s choices without making them for him. Peter still relies heavily on Stark tech, if not his guidance, to get him out of one scrape after another, and his plan to right the wrongs caused by the errant spell still involve the profligate use of esoteric tech. Just like his late mentor, Parker’s well-meaning choices might just lead to catastrophe.

The obligatory superhero set pieces pit Spider-Man against a variety of familiar super-foes delivers exhilarating web-slinging action. Each film in the series has improved on Spider-Man’s digital double, making it practically indistinguishable from the actor or stuntman playing him under the mask.

Marvel and Sony may have missed out by not using the adjective in the title of their joint Spider-Man efforts, but “spectacular” works as a hyperbole-free description of Holland’s portrayal of the title character. His take on Peter Parker / Spider-Man has been an undisputed standout. He delivers one layered, emotive, expressive performance after another when presented with surface-deep material concerned more with advancing plot points, world-building, and serialized storytelling. While he won’t receive any awards consideration for his portrayal of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s teenage comic-book superhero, Holland more than proves to be the right choice at the right time to play the friendly neighbourhood title character.

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Spider-Man: No Way Home opens theatrically on Friday, December 17th.

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