Thursday, December 23, 2021

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Directed by Jon Watts.
2021. Rated PG-13, 148 minutes.
Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Benedict Cumberbatch, J.K. Simmons, Benedict Wong, Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe, Jamie Foxx, Rhys Ifans, Thomas Haden Church.

    Peter Parker (Holland) finds himself in quite the pickle thanks to the events of Spider-Man: Far From Home. Being the smart guy that he is, he thinks of a solution and acts on it. In typical fashion, things don't work out quite the way he wants and makes things at least a thousand times worse. Stuff ensues. Lots of stuff.

    Superhero movies have been more than occasionally guilty of clutter. Spider-Man himself fell victim to this particular faux pas in 2007's Spider-Man 3. There are just too many plotlines and too many characters in that movie fighting for screen time. Throw in some really curious storytelling choices, like Emo-Pete with the ill dance moves, and what could've been an epic finale to a wonderful trilogy turned out to be a messy concoction filled with things that don't mix well. If you've seen the trailer for No Way Home, you know that this one is intentionally biting off a lot. Luckily, it handles this pretty well. It's not perfectly done, but it is done well enough that it doesn't cause confusion and frustration. Of course, having seen a Marvel movie or two, and a Disney Plus Marvel series or two, especially Loki, helps. However, not seeing any of those things may not hinder your enjoyment because, if nothing else, it's a load of fun.

    The movie's setup offers up some interesting ideas without feeling pretentious or heavy. It also moves along briskly, even between action scenes. Peter's moral dilemma, exacerbated by his relationships with MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Batalon), drives the train. It pulls us in and gives us a foundation for what the film tries to do as it reaches a close. Enough time is spent on this that bringing virginal eyes to their interactions is not a detriment. More time is given to the romantic side of things with Peter and MJ, naturally, but you definitely feel the kinship between Peter and Ned, as well. Sadly, the character the movie wants us to feel the most emotion for is one they don't spend quite enough time on. If we don't bring in the adequate amount of emotional baggage from the prior two Spider-Man flicks our empathy may not be up to what the movie wants or not quite properly placed. 

    Where some viewers might be a bit lost, or at least, not as enthralled, will be in the nostalgia department. The movie assumes that the viewer has seen, grown up with, and has a soft spot for every live-action Spidey flick that has ever managed to swing its way into theaters. When various characters pop up, you're supposed to have already bonded with them before seeing this film. It takes its cues from the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and tries to aid new viewers with a good bit of exposition. Many conversations try to simultaneously recount why these characters are beloved, or hated, and try to push the plot forward. It works well enough, though any sympathetic qualities certain characters may have had is left behind in those other movies.

    Luckily, Tom Holland remains the glue that holds it all together. He continues to give us the best live-action version of the character. Through all of Peter's trials and tribulations, Holland is always able to maintain a sense of innocence and awe for the situations in which he finds himself. He really appears to be growing up before our eyes. Tobey Maguire pulled the same trick in Sam Raimi's original trilogy. Where Holland has him beat is that he's a better Spider-Man. He's just more believable in the suit. In Marc Webb's two Amazing Spider-Man films, Andrew Garfield was a better in costume, but never really feels like Peter Parker out of it. Holland's portrayal is the best combination. 

    However, there are problems for all cinematic web slingers that hasn't quite been solved despite many technological advances in visual fx. One of the complaints about the original Spider-Man is that even though our hero swinging around the city looks good, he feels like the weightless set of pixels he often is. Nearly two decades later, it's gotten a bit better, but his actions still lack the impact of a human being. For most of the film, this isn't that big a deal. It becomes a bit more troublesome during the cgi orgy that makes up the film's climax. Granted, this was expected, and executed fairly well. It's just curious to note that this issue is still prevalent. As for the rest of the fx, they work really well. It borrows heavily from Doctor Strange, Marvel's most visually appealing movie, and does it well.

    Regardless of how good it looks, how great the action is, or how emotionally attached you get to the characters, how much you like No Way Home might depend on how much you're willing to excuse the movie for blatantly creating a plot where there should be none. At the very least, the plot should be a different one. A decision sets things in motion that is clearly too stupid for the character who makes it. Bluntly put, this person should know better. I won't say who, but if you've seen the trailer or the movie you know. It's a complete betrayal of the intelligence and wisdom we know this person to possess. Later, the solution to the problem feels so simplistic, it should have been thought of immediately before anything ever happened. What's worse is that's the second easy fix in the film. That's right, there are two ways the conflict of this film could've been solved. Neither is taken until the film's finale in the name of exploring Peter's existential crisis, and more importantly, furthering the overall plot of this phase of the MCU. If you can't forgive this, you could spend much of the movie rolling your eyes at all the mayhem that was caused. 

    Among the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Spider-Man flicks are probably the most polarizing bunch. Many love them as fun entries in the canon with great performances from Holland and his supporting cast. For many others, the scope is too big for what the character is best known for. These people complain that this set of Spidey flicks have too big a scope and revolve too much around Peter's relationship with Tony Stark. They want a more contained, lower stakes adventure with our hero fighting for the fate of New York City, not the entire universe. They want a film based solely on him, and without a technologically advanced suit. He is your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, after all. No Way Home isn't going to change the minds of those people. Since most of them fall into the hardcore fanboy category this isn't a major issue. It's good enough just being what it is. It's a fun superhero flick with some great fan service moments and hits enough emotional beats to keep the audience engaged. Of the webhead's three entries in the MCU, this is the best.

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  1. For me, this was one of the most enjoyable films that I had seen and certainly one of the best theatrical experiences I had with an audience cheering and having a good time while it was also emotional as well. Right now, it's my 4th favorite film of the Spider-Man series so far though I'm not sure where Peter Parker is going to do next at this point. Yet, it has me hopeful for other things which I will not spoil. I was worried that it was going to be another bloated mess like past films with too many villains but they made this one work and I liked the fact that it reminded audiences that these men weren't villains from the beginning but rather good people with noble intentions who lost their way.

    1. I had fun in my theater, too. There was plenty of cheers whenever someone from one of the other universes showed up. 4th best of all Spidey films sounds about right.

  2. There's a lot wrong with the plot when you think about it but I was having way too much fun to care. This was such a joy.

  3. I agree with you on several points. I think a serious argument can be made for why Tom Holland is the beat live-action Spider-Man. Personally I still prefer Tobey - partly from a nostalgia viewpoint but mainly because his Spider-Man helped turn superhero movies from a risky venture to the cinematic universe they are today. Tobey walked so Robert Downey Jr's Iron could fly and the Avengers could soar.

    I'm still waiting for Tom Holland to have a solo movie. Homecoming comes close several times to achieving this but Tony Stark's shadow takes a lot from the film and has the character feel like he's trying to be baby Iron Man.

    I think No Way Home solidifies the kind of hero he wants to be. I just hope he finally takes the lessons learnt and stops being so dumb. The emotional dagger to the heart this movie tried to deliver just fell flat because, as you pointed out, we haven't had enough time to bond with said character but also because the events preceeding "the moment" are so devoid of logic, your brain won't allow your heart to care.

    I don't know if you've played the Playstation Spider-Man game but in that movie, there's a similar moment but you spend so much time bonding with the character that the dagger hits you deep in the heart and also helps Peter grow as a person and a hero.

    It was a fun movie and definitely the best third installment in a Spider-Man trilogy but, like you said, full of flaws and moments that just don't make sense.

    1. I fully get the attachment to Maguire and don't knock it.

      (Spoiler Alert!) I think this film is at least sending us down the path of an actual solo movie for Holland. Fingers crossed.