I don’t think it’s much of a hot take to say that Tom Holland is the best live action Peter Parker/Spider-Man actor. Since he debuted on the screen during CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, I would say that Holland’s web-slinger has become the heart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, earning that monicker through a couple of Avengers films and his own movie trilogy.
It’s not often that you get to compare the current casting of a character to its previous iterations, but Marvel Studios has never let “how it’s usually done” dictate how they do things. Spider-Man: No Way Home, the final entry in the trilogy that started with 2017’s SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, gives us a buffet of Spider-Men, along with a who’s who of sinister Spider-foes spanning a multiverse.
And I loved every minute of it.
(Warning: There will likely be spoilers from here on out.)
Expectations were high for this movie, and we all have known for a while that it would feature the truest debut of a Marvel movie multiverse. When you start throwing out possibilities like that, fans’ imaginations start to run wild. Theories about debuting X-Men or the Fantastic Four were all over the place in the months leading up to No Way Home’s release in theaters this week. If the catastrophe that moved this movie’s plot forward has those ramifications, it’ll be something handled in future Marvel Cinematic Universe films, because everything in No Way Home was a lot more Spider-centric. And that’s not a bad thing.
Marvel’s latest blockbuster did span three separate movie universes, but it somehow managed to be much smaller in scope than I think many were expecting. If the first two Holland Spider-Man movies were high school stories featuring a kid who was bit by a radioactive spider, No Way Home was the final coming-of-age chapter. This was the movie where Peter Parker needed to accept the great responsibility that came with his power. In the end, it made Tom Holland’s Spider-Man into the tragic hero that he has traditionally been over the decades.
Picking up from the end-credits scene of SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME, J. Jonah Jameson has revealed the wall-crawler’s secret identity to the world, and it has some pretty dire consequences for everyone. His aunt May, Happy Hogan, best friend Ned and girlfriend MJ are all dragged in for questioning from government agents, while Peter, MJ and Ned are all rejected from college because of Jameson’s online slander in the wake of Mysterio’s death.
The legal woes Peter faces nets us our first “surprise” cameo (in quotes because it had been rumored for a while), as Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock sits with Peter, May and Happy to discuss the case. The theater I was in let out a collective “wow” when Murdock appeared on camera, leading up to an amazing moment when someone threw a brick through the window and Murdock caught it. “I’m a very good lawyer,” he explained to Peter and company when asked how he did it.
The early cameo set the stage for a series of them. After Parker visits the Sanctum Sanctorum to ask Doctor Strange to help him out of the situation, the world starts to go a little crazy. People from across the multiverse who knew Peter Parker is Spider-Man start appearing on this Earth. The first spider-foe to appear was Doctor Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), who appears to be pulled from his Earth moments before he died at the end of Spider-Man 2.
Each of the successive multiversal villains to appear got a bigger gasp in the theater than the one before, with the notable exception of Thomas Hayden Church’s Sandman, from 2007’s Spider-Man 3. But really, that movie was so terrible, it’s not surprising that it’s been erased from the public consciousness. The less said about it, the better.
No Way Home spends a good chunk of the movie reintroducing these characters from the previous Spider-Man franchises, pausing only briefly for bits of exposition filled with references and reverence to what has come before. As he learns about the universe-displaced members of this Sinister Six, Peter’s instincts are to help redeem them before sending them home. While Doctor Strange wants to send them back to their worlds – and various points in their timelines – effectively to die as villains, May and MJ influence Peter to find a way to cure them of their megalomania. It leads to a pretty wacky Inception-like battle with Strange in the mirror world, but Peter finds a way to come through it and brings the villains to Happy’s condo to try and cure them.
Sadly, this plan backfires, because Peter underestimates just how evil the Green Goblin is, and the consequences are fire more dire than I would’ve expected.
By the time Ned opens up portals to bring Andrew Garfield and then Tobey Maguire into his family dining room, I was already exhausted by the action in the movie, but was getting a second wind knowing some major fighting was about to happen. After giving its audience beat after beat to be excited about, the calm before the storm – seeing Holland, Maguire and Garfield trade war stories was a great respite from the action and highlighted the differences and similarities between the three characters.
Maguire’s Parker is the elder statesman, the one who’s managed to come through the other side almost whole despite living through terrible tragedy. Garfield’s Parker is still processing the death of Gwen Stacy and is feeling less-than-amazing in his life. The interplay between the trio – with the added fun of Zendaya’s MJ and Jacob Batalon’s Ned – gives the movie the levity it needs in the midst of some very serious moments.
While it was great to see the characters from previous iterations get some new life breathed into them under Marvel Studios’ care, the real highlight of the film is watching Peter, MJ and Ned grow, along with a strong yet whimsical performance from Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange. Strange’s interactions with Spider-Man in INFINITY WAR were a highlight of that movie, and Holland and Cumberbatch continue to work well together here. With the upcoming Doctor Strange sequel also focusing heavily on the multiverse, No Way Home gives Marvel movie fans who may not be as comfortable with the concept as their comics-reading counterparts an easy introduction without a lot of the confusing mumbo jumbo that usually comes with the ideas.
Spider-Man: No Way Home sets up some interesting plot threads for potential sequels, but it would also serve as a great close to Tom Holland’s time as our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. I would hate to see him go, because I think there are definitely more stories to tell in his little corner of the MCU.