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, now 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 titular role in 2002’s Spider-Man, he elevates his performance to a whole new level, adding a Joker-level menace to the villain. 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”, recycling villains from previous Spider-Man films and keeping their personalities intact to make something completely different. We got Doc Ock 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 and 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!
I can’t forget to mention the most ambitious crossover in Marvel film history that even supersedes Avenger’s Endgame (2019): the crossover of three different Spider-Men from all three Spider-Men universes! That’s right, Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland all on the same screen together!! It’s so fun to see the three of them interact with and bounce off each other. Their scenes were so heartwarming, especially when we see Tobey and Andrew’s Peter comfort Tom’s Peter after Aunt May’s death at the hands of Green Goblin. We also get to see many redemption scenes with the other two Spider-Men, for example, Andrew’s Peter successfully catching M.J. and Tobey’s Peter having a heartwarming conversation with Doc Ock and preventing Tom’s Peter from killing Norman with his own glider.
In addition to the legendary crossover, we finally get to see Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock on the big screen! While Daredevil doesn’t suit up to help Peter fight the Sinister Six, he does help Peter with the legal repercussions that come with making his identity public. Along with the surprise appearance by Murdock, Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock also makes a cameo in a mid-credits scene! But before we can see Venom meet Spider-Man in the MCU, he is sent back by Dr. Strange’s spell. However, a piece of the symbiote is left behind, setting up a possible sequel where Peter gets the black suit.
They also manage to top themselves with their action sequences, becoming 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. The climax brings all the emotional torment that Norman gave the web slinger throughout the runtime to a head as he is given a relentless and brutal beat down, pushing Spider-Man to his absolute limit.
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.
Besides the breathtaking action sequences, Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) really adds the emotional toll on our titular hero. Peter is constantly under stress, dealing with his secret identity being made public, failing to get into college, and struggling to help cure the members of the Sinister Six. Beside him is his Aunt May who helps him through thick and thin. Before she dies, she gives him the “with great power comes great responsibility” speech that Uncle Ben usually gives Peter. While I wasn’t a huge fan of Marisa Tomei’s take on Aunt May, I can’t deny the emotional weight of the scene. I originally thought that Disney wouldn't have the guts to kill her off, due to their family-friendly nature. When she died, I was completely caught off guard. Aunt May isn’t the one who usually dies, rather it’s Uncle Ben. However, since Uncle Ben is never mentioned in the MCU, Aunt May is the one to get the ax. And unlike a lot of sad scenes in the MCU, where they typically don’t show much crying from the male heroes, Peter freely expresses his sorrow, spending much of his time mourning her on his favorite roof.
Aunt May’s death and the spell Doctor Strange used reminds me of the controversial comic book Spider-Man: One More Day, written by Joe Quesada and J. Michael Straczynski. The story revolved around Peter making a deal with Mephisto to save Aunt May’s life in exchange for Peter’s marriage with MJ. Peter agrees, and he and MJ forget each other altogether. The movie takes the plot of a highly controversial comic book and makes it work in its favor. Why you may ask? Because in No Way Home (2021), Peter actually does what his comic book counterpart failed to do: he actually takes responsibility. Peter knows that he must put his own happiness aside for the sake of the multiverse and his friends and he tells Doctor Strange to cast the spell so that everyone will forget he is Spider-Man.
Finally, the ending. After the spell is cast, Peter tries to reintroduce himself to Ned and MJ. However, he can't bring himself to do so. He visits May’s grave and moves into a new apartment. Making a new suit for himself, he swings away into New York City. I think the spell was a plot device to retcon Peter back into the MCU as a comic book accurate version of himself, as many fans of Spider-Man, myself included, didn’t like how Tom’s Peter Parker relied so much on Stark Tech. With Spider-Man now on his own, with no one left to help him, he will need to rely on his own skills and invent his own technology. I think as time goes by, MCU’s Peter will be closer to the Spider-Man PS4 game Peter.
Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) is the definitive Spider-Man film, which is saying a lot considering the Raimi Trilogy is nearly untouchable in that regard. It certainly helps having returning legendary performances like Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin and more subtle improvements made to more forgettable foes like Jamie Foxx’s Electro. This may be the 3rd Spider-Man film in MCU, but it’s closer to the origin stories of previous iterations of the character. No Way Home gives a satisfying conclusion to the 1st trilogy, while opening the door to infinite possibilities for our favorite webslinger moving forward in the franchise.
Co-Written by: Noah Kloss