Spider-Man: No Way Home

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Christmas came early this season in the form of the latest Spider-Man movie, No Way Home. Shocked by my reaction? Believe me, no one is more surprised by this state of affairs than I am. I’ll go into more detail after the obligatory

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Don’t I hate shitty, nonsense plots like this? Didn’t I vote thumbs down on Avengers: Endgame precisely because it indulged so much messy plot trickery? Short answer: Yep. And I hate this stuff in No Way Home just as much, but the rest of the film gets me past it. A wholly subjective, emotional reaction on my part, something beyond rational explanation, but I’m going to try to explain it anyway.

With Endgame, the messiness was so distracting, particularly in the many ways it cheated, that it compromised those aspects of the film that I might have greatly enjoyed otherwise. Wonder Woman 1984, released and watched by me almost exactly one year ago, was guilty of similar messiness, but with no real cheating, so I wasn’t as distracted and thus able to better enjoy the movie.

No Way Home was yet another poorly plotted mess, as I’ve already conceded—in many ways, perhaps an even bigger mess than the two aforementioned films—but it’s a standalone film that starts with a bonkers premise from the jump, unlike Endgame, itself a continuation of Infinity War, which had no plot shenanigans comparable to its successor. And then the character beats in No Way Home were so damn powerful and the performances so great that I couldn’t help but be captivated. Plus, the nostalgia of seeing those classic characters come back and be played by their original performers went a long way.

So I’m not blind, folks, and I haven’t lost my mind. I realize what a gigantic mess this was, and also recognize that all of it was really just one big, lame excuse to put all three of the movie Spider-Men up on the big screen together in a total cash grab. It’s also got all kinds of ridiculously contrived, a-wizard-did-it nonsense, and yet the characterizations, the performances, and (perhaps most importantly) all of the fixes that it made to the franchise renders this film just…

The Good

If you’re a regular reader of this blog and you recall my initial reactions to Spidey’s entrance into the MCU, then it should be a tad less surprising to you that I enjoyed No Way Home so much—after all, the film addresses and fixes nearly everything I ever criticized about this iteration of Spider-Man. In fact, if I was a more egotistical person, I might suspect someone in charge at either Sony or Marvel was a blog subscriber and took careful notes of every critique I have ever offered on the subject. Seriously, it’s uncanny.

Just to run it down, let’s start with Spider-Man hanging out with the Avengers and being Tony Stark’s number one fanboy, which I hated. Well, by the end of this film, Spidey’s back to being a loner; more of a loner than ever before, in fact. Looks like he’s not going to be an Avenger anymore, as he’s neck deep in problems with the law, or at least the court of public opinion, thanks to J. Jonah Jameson (played once again by the incomparable J. K. Simmons, squeee!).

No more connection to Stark either, so he won’t have the deus ex machina of Stark’s wealth and technolgy to bail him out of future jams. Which means he won’t have all that ridiculous and elaborate gadgetry attached to his costume anymore either, so no more A.I., no more drone devices, no more nanotech, no more IRON-SPIDER, praise the heavens.

This, in turn, puts him back in his plain ol’ fabric Spidey duds, and based on what we saw in that final scene, this might be the best costume ever, as it appears to be the most faithful to the look of classic-comics Spidey. (By the way, after getting another look at the Garfield costume, I feel like I should take back what I said a few years ago—his costume, at least the one from Amazing Spider-Man 2, is probably the previous champ in this category. The only thing I don’t really like about it are the McFarlane-sized eyes.)

Then we have the spider-sense (or “the tingle,” as they refer to it here). We’ve never really seen Holland’s spider-sense get utilized or even openly referenced before, but hoo boy, does it play a major role in one of the best-acted parts of this film. I speak of when it warns Pete of the Goblin personality asserting itself in Norman Osborn, which leads into Willem Dafoe delivering a monologue like a master-f*cking orator.

They also solve the Aunt May problem, though granted, it’s accomplished in the most extreme manner possible. A related little sidebar here: As she lay dying, May delivers the classic responsibility lesson to Pete, and I’m pretty sure she even uses the exact words as written by Stan in Amazing Fantasy #15. Did Uncle Ben not provide this lesson to Pete in this universe? Did Aunt May just usurp that role here? Such would certainly appear to be the case.

They also solved the problem of so many people knowing Pete was Spidey, though again, they did this in the most extreme manner imaginable. But hey, whatever, I’ll take it!

So they fixed basically everything about Holland’s Spider-Man that needed fixing, in my opinion. This likely would have been enough on its own to delight me, but they didn’t stop there. Oh no, they gave us still more.

In my original Homecoming review, I said that this latest version of Spidey was “not the true Spider-Man,” and went on to add, “This is the third cinematic iteration of the webhead in fifteen years and I still have yet to see my Spidey up there on the screen.” So none of the cinematic Spider-Men were perfect, in my eyes; I had problems with each one. And that’s another reason why I enjoyed this film so much, because they not only corrected nearly all the problems with Holland’s Spidey, they also corrected many problems with the Maguire and Garfield films too.

Let’s start with the Goblin. I have always despised the costume design used in that first movie in 2002. He looked more like a goofy robot straight out of Sid and Marty Krofft Productions than the demon from Hell he was meant to be. Going back to one of my earliest posts on this blog, let me share a couple of its images here, from the pages of my first proper Spider-Man comic, Amazing Spider-Man #136:

These images terrified me as a child when I first saw them—Gobby looked like the devil incarnate. THIS is what the Green Goblin is supposed to look like. If I were putting together a big-studio Spidey movie today, I would hand my costume and make-up department a copy of ASM #136 and tell them, “Give me THIS!” That robot costume they gave him in 2002 would never allow facial expressions like this. Moreso, it evoked zero fear—Gobby looked more ridiculous than terrifying. I mean, the amateur production by Dan Poole from 1992 gave us a better Goblin, fer cryin’ out loud!

So after first showing up in the 2002 get-up, which I recognize was necessary for getting that nostalgia pop from the audience, Osborn smashes the mask in his very next scene. This allows Willem Dafoe to make use of his full acting arsenal, particularly his own facial expressions. One high point is during that monologue I mentioned earlier, but there was another that came shortly afterward that was even better—and he didn’t even deliver any dialogue. I speak of the scene where he’s just absorbing punch after punch from Holland’s Spider-Man and responds with only an evil grin, one that seemed to grow with each blow. This was so terrifying it chilled my soul, much as those panels from ASM #136 did when I was just a child.

I’m not normally a proponent of genre films getting Oscar recognition, but hot damn, Dafoe gave an awe-inspiring performance here, one I would happily endorse for a supporting actor award. The man was just that great in this role.

Alfred Molina was likewise great as Doc Ock, but then he’s always been great in the role and thus did not require anything in the way of fixing. They also corrected Jamie Foxx’s Electro, mostly by simply allowing Jamie Foxx to be Jamie Foxx, but they also took away the blue coloration and made his electrical attacks more yellowish, like the comics. And then there’s the scene where the electricity forms the classic Electro mask atop his face, which again:

Sandman was fine too—much like Ock, he didn’t require any improvements. And then there’s the Lizard, who… well, four out of five ain’t bad, right?

Maguire and Garfield are both good in reprising their roles and being mentor-types for Holland’s Spidey. If I had to pick one, single-best thing about this movie though, it’s gotta be that bravura performance by Willem Dafoe as the Goblin (coupled with his more subtle work as Osborn). I should also praise the writing for giving Dafoe so much to work with.

The Bad

I’ve already mentioned most of the bad stuff, but this hypothetical pitch meeting sums it up best:

No one would ever make a pitch like this in reality (because if they did, there was no way it would ever be greenlit), but therein lies the problem: there was never any pitch, nor any real plan—this film was mostly done in a rush and/or on the fly.

Homecoming came out in ’17, Far From Home in ’19, and now No Way Home in 2021. They’re basically putting out a new film every other year, and that’s a hell of a pace, especially considering the size of these productions. Word is that they had a tentative plan to adapt “Kraven’s Last Hunt” for this installment just in case they couldn’t get one or more of their key actors to sign on, as they weren’t sure if any of the classic actors would be willing to come back and reprise their roles. Piecing everything together as you go like this, silly errors, otherwise-avoidable mistakes, and just a lot of generally bad stuff is likely to end up on the screen.

And make no mistake, the bad stuff here is REALLY bad. As that pitch video points out, the central conceit is that Strange’s botched spell draws in everyone throughout the multiverse that knows Peter Parker is Spider-Man—but then Electro shows up, and he didn’t know Spidey’s secret identity. Doc Ock also knows Osborn is the Goblin, despite the fact he absolutely did not know this information in the original movies. Stupid stuff like this is all over the place, and what makes it even more frustrating that most it could have been prevented by some simple dialogue tweaks.

But in my own mind, there was one sin they committed that was far worse than any other—any regular blog subscribers care to guess what I’m about to say next?

I didn’t even bring this up in my Endgame review, even though it was one of the things that most bothered me about the film: the scene where all the female heroes come together at once to lay the smackdown on Thanos. This was shameless, utterly superficial lip service to gender equality; a hollow attempt by Marvel to score woke points. You know what action (REAL action) Marvel could have taken in No Way Home that would have been a genuine attempt at gender equality? Bring back the female leads of the previous Spider-Man films (Kirsten Dunst and Emma Stone) and offer them equal salaries to their male counterparts (Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield) who appear here. After all, Mary Jane and Gwen both knew Pete was Spider-Man too, right? So isn’t it only logical they would show up? You can’t even argue that Gwen can’t come back because she died, since that didn’t prevent the previously-dead Goblin, Doc Ock, and Electro from appearing, did it?

Brief-but-major digression rant: it drives me crazy how Marvel brings every character back from the dead but Gwen. All born, seemingly, out of this mindless devotion to the ridiculous idea that Amazing Spider-Man #121 is some kind of iconic story that can’t be undone. THE STORY WAS GARBAGE, PEOPLE; TIME TO GET THE F#CK OVER IT ALREADY. Even in the movies, Gwen’s condemned to forever remain the victim of a senseless death, and I’m just beyond sick of it. JUSTICE FOR GWEN STACY! BRING BACK GWEN! WE WANT GWEN!

…What else can I say? Obviously, Gwen has become my own personal white whale at this point, and I doubt I’ll ever get over it. End rant.

Closing Remarks

In closing, let me make yet another film comparison: The Dark Knight Rises. The conclusion of Nolan’s trilogy was yet another mess of a movie, no question, but when it came out in 2012, I was able to look past its flaws because I felt it accomplished its artistic goals. In the previous two installments of the trilogy, it was clear that Batman’s mission had created a cycle of violence that could only end in one of two ways: either the violence consumes and destroys him, or he makes peace with his demons and walks away from the violence. One of these things needed to happen in order for Nolan to properly finish his story, and at the end Bruce Wayne/Batman does indeed walk away.

As time passed and I later revisited the movie, I liked it a lot less. The flaws bothered me much more, for whatever reason, and I really couldn’t look past them anymore. So a few years from now, will I look back on No Way Home and be more bothered by all the stupidity in it? A big part of the film’s appeal is in the excitement of getting all the old characters (and their original actors) up on the screen together—might this excitement wear off with time as well? I can’t know at this point. Only time will tell.

But for now… thumbs up for No Way Home.

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