In 2015, Sony decided to share the rights of Spider-Man with its parent company: Marvel. With Spider-Man back in their hands, Disney and Marvel can finally include him in their cinematic universe. Spider-Man’s MCU debut came in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, cementing him as a fan favorite overnight. Following this success, Marvel made two solo Spider-Man films along with including him in Avengers Infinity War (2018) and Endgame (2019). However, their most ambitious project with Spider-Man has to be 2021’s Spider-Man: No Way Home!
Spider-Man’s identity is released to the public, now the whole world knows that Spider-Man is Peter Parker (played by Tom Holland). With nowhere to hide, his only option is to go to Doctor Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) in order to have everyone forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. However, the spell Strange casts goes awry, and villains from different universes are pouring into his universe, such as Green Goblin (played by Willem Dafoe), Doc Ock (played by Alfred Molina), and Electro (played by Jamie Foxx). With the help of Parker’s friends Ned (played by Jacob Batalon) and MJ (played by Zendaya), they must find a way to return everyone to their universe before reality collapses.
First off, Willem Dafoe absolutely killed it as Green Goblin! While he did a great job in the role in 2002’s Spider-Man, he elevates his performance to a whole new level. He manages to steal the spotlight while not detracting from any of the other villains on screen. This film is a perfect example of, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, by recycling villains from previous Spider-Man films and keeping their personalities intact while making something different. We got Doctor Octopus and Green Goblin, arguably the best Spider-Man villains ever! And they even managed to add others like Electro, Lizard (played by Rhys Ifans) and Sandman (played by Thomas Haden Church). They were already well established so there was no need for an origin story for them, which helps tread the story along without much exposition. While we didn’t get a version of the Sinister Six like many were expecting, these 5 villains on screen were more than enough to satisfy both long-term fans, newcomers, and the ambition of the filmmakers!
The driving force of the conflict is Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin constantly challenging Spider-Man’s choices as he tries to persevere and get the best possible outcome for everyone. Unlike Doc Ock where his motivations remain the same as trying to create a machine for renewable energy, Green Goblin is both physically and psychologically intimidating. He constantly makes the web crawler doubt every decision he makes, while pushing him closer to the edge. It arguably goes deeper than the dynamic between Spider-Man and Goblin in Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) as I do not believe Maguire’s Spider-Man was as challenged as Holland’s Spider-Man was.
They also manage to keep topping themselves with their action sequences, becoming more and more imaginative with both locations and choreography. As the climatic Statue of Liberty battle commences, it takes the teamwork of Doctor Strange and Spidey’s friends to take down all 5 villains, having the first four be a warm up compared to the final boss of Peter going up against: the Green Goblin. Another sequence is when Peter steals Strange’s spell in an attempt to save all the villains from dying, which leads to both of the heroes traveling to the mirror dimension. This leads to some impressive yet subtle callbacks to Spider-Man 2 (2004), at the tail end of the fight taking place on a subway train. It also has Parker using his brains to outwit the Sorcerer Supreme and trapping him there in an attempt to formulate a plan to save the villains.
I will say, this movie takes a lot of creative risks. A lot of recent Marvel movies feel too safe and sanitized, afraid to show any grittiness. While No Way Home (2021) feels like a typical MCU movie at first, it soon does a complete 180 towards the second act. Initially, Peter wants to help the misplaced villains so that when they go back to their own respective universes, they won’t be killed by their respective Spider-Man. However, things soon go south, forcing Peter to come to realize that not everything can have a happy ending. It also goes down the same path as previous Spider-Man sequels with having a lot of villains, but this time around no villain feels out of place and the cast is never overstuffed.
In the end, Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) is probably the definitive Spider-Man film! Which is saying something, since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy is almost untouchable. Dafoe not only gives a great performance returning as Norman Osborn, but one even better than his original iteration! Other characters, such as Jamie Foxx’s Electro also had some notable improvements, making them more sympathetic. Despite being the 3rd film of MCU’s Spider-Man, this film proves that he still has gas in the tank. It may be the end of a trilogy, but Spider-Man has an infinite number of possibilities for the future.
Co-Written by: Noah Kloss