It’s hard to live up to the expectations of a film like Spider-Man: No Way Home. And yet, somehow Jon Watts’ charming, emotional, and funny third Spidey movie does just that. This is a street level Spider-Man with cosmic consequences. That balance and contrast between the science of Peter Parker and the magic of Doctor Strange is key to not only the story, but also what makes Spider-Man: No Way Home sing.
Following directly from the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home, most of the plot elements we can talk about take place in the trailers you’ve seen so far. Peter is living with the fallout of Mysterio’s scheme. The people he loves are paying for it. That brings us our most comics accurate Peter yet. While fans—including this reviewer—have long lauded the youth and naivety of Holland’s Peter, here we see him growing up. He’s dealing with the trauma and strife that has often been key to Spider-Man’s most famous and powerful stories.
Speaking of Holland, Peter is the beating heart of this movie. Holland shines as a conflicted teen whose heroics suddenly have very real consequences. Director Watts, and writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, have crafted a surprisingly intimate story. One that always manages to contain its huge action within the parameters of a very human story. And with his emotionally driven performance, Holland grounds every unbelievable moment with a truly powerful performance. He proves at every turn why he’s such a great Peter Parker.
He’s wonderfully supported here by Zendaya, who brings some of that Emmy-winning depth from Euphoria to her best turn yet as MJ. Their relationship and its importance to Peter is key to so much about what makes the film work. Zendaya brings her A-game at all times. She’s never a sidekick and, unlike MJs before, she also evades the deadly damsel in distress trope. Of course, their powerful trio wouldn’t be complete without Jacob Batalon’s Ned. His character arc is a delightfully unexpected one, and we couldn’t have been happier. Batalon is all charm, too. He avoids the comedy sidekick trope by being a vital part of the action and heart(break).
With great heart also comes great action. Stunt coordinators George Cottle and Jackson Spidell go all out here. This is some of the most exciting MCU action yet. It’s not the slick martial arts of Shang-Chi—which still represents a franchise high—but instead this is down and dirty brutality. There’s enough differentiation between fighting styles to keep things clean and entertaining, but when those punches hit, we feel them. And as trailers have revealed, those punches come from some fearsome Multiversal foes. You already know who they are, and without spoiling anything we’ll say that Alfred Molina, Jamie Foxx, and Willem Dafoe absolutely kill it. There’s not a weak link amongst the three. Each brings something unique that make them feel like necessary additions to the MCU. And Cumberbatch is at his curmudgeonly best as Stephen Strange.
Just like the balance between cosmic and street level works so well here, Mauro Fiore’s cinematography straddles the line between Multiversal action and intimate character moments. This is a great looking film—especially for one with so much CGI. The first 4o minutes stand out as some of the most entertaining and well paced out of all the MCU’s 27 movies. Its brilliantly edited opening delivers a ton of important exposition and action in a wildly enjoyable way.
While the biggest talking points will be the expected ones, something that blew this reviewer away was how much of a pure Spider-Man movie this is. It’s easily the best MCU Spider-Man film. And depending on your personal ranking of the other MCU flicks, No Way Home could top that too. This is a movie that understands who Peter Parker is. No Way Home gets what drives him, what would make him risk everything, and what could possibly break him. But with all of that, it also manages to perfectly balance the humor and emotion that makes Spider-Man a hero people love. And it’s that which really stands out even among those moments that had the whole theater screaming and cheering. Yes, this is that Spider-Man movie, but more than that, it’s just an excellent Spider-Man movie.
This is an awesome MCU flick that feels needed and far less cynical than its trappings might seem. Watts delivered something here that feels surprisingly restrained and emotional, even as it changes the MCU forever—or at least for a little while—and that’s a good thing. As for all those rumors and theories, you’ll just have to check out the film when it hits theaters on December 17. But what we can say is if you’re an MCU fan who wants a really, really great Spider-Man movie, then you won’t be disappointed by Spider-Man: No Way Home.