This is basically all spoilers, if that wasn’t clear in the title.
Marvel movies are never exactly capital-C Cinema. We all know that, and that’s fine. But even in that realm, Spider-Man: No Way Home borders on a test Holiday Special before Guardians of the Galaxy does an actual Holiday Special a year from now. While Tom Holland’s Peter Parker (an important distinction in this case) gets some big dramatic beats and ends on a game-changer for his character, those are in some ways both elevated and undermined by the “With Special Guests…” note underlining the whole production. It’s more than one Spider-Man movie in more than the way that it quite literally is a convergence of Spider-Man movies. It’s firstly one of Jon Watts’ charming Spidey entries, and on top of that, it’s an unabashed, in-your-face fan film of the highest order. That’s probably why it’s almost two-and-a-half hours, doesn’t entirely work, but ultimately does scratch a nerdy itch.
To jump straight to the big spoiler that everyone already knew was coming: Yeah, Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire’s respective Peter Parkers indeed turn up—and for more than just a cameo. It’s fun! Even to a fan-service cynic, it is delightful to see the three Spider-Men together. It is lovely to see Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus, and Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman again. It is fine to see Rhys Ifans’ Lizard again—except for how, inexplicably, his CGI looks even worse than it did a decade ago. And Jamie Foxx’s Electro is, more bafflingly, even worse than he was in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. There, his Max Dillon alter ego was an unconscionably ridiculous cartoon of a “nerd,” and Electro himself was a disgusting, veiny Dr. Manhattan in a hoodie. This might be worse than that. Yes, the Electro part is at least easier on the eyes, but now Dillon is just Jamie Foxx riffing. He and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange are in a constant war to be the most insufferable. And worst of all, he’s meant to be the same character from TASM2! They lampshade this with something about “different energy” and Lizard asking if he got a makeover, but it’s nonsense and it’s terrible. But it’s not like nonsense stands out in this thing.
For as much as we’ve accepted, even championed, how far into Comic Book Bullshit the MCU has reached, this Spider-Man shoots some webbing to reach far beyond its grasp. There is so much magic and “science” hokum in this that it becomes a genuine and confusing distraction. The entire impetus of the plot hinges on how, as Doctor Strange casts a spell to erase Peter Parker’s identity as Spider-Man from the collective consciousness, Peter basically does the genie trope of poorly wording a wish. The (former) Sorcerer Supreme is casting a wildly complicated spell, but apparently if you say something to interrupt, that wish becomes part of the spell. Lest one thinks it’s just that Strange worked that into his spell himself through his incantations, Peter’s pal Ned later reaffirms this “you can just sort of say what you wish for in English and wave your arm” mechanic when he summons the other Parkers. MCU Magic: either you study for years or you just wear a ring and treat it like a gestural monkey paw. Either works, more or less!
Then, in the end, with yet another magical circle, Doctor Strange resolves the impending crisis by making everyone forget about Peter Parker. Why is it not just forgetting that Peter Parker is Spider-Man now!? That knowledge was what was summoning these people, but now we have to go broader, so no one knows he exists at all? And don’t even start to consider what this solution means for why Happy thinks he knew Auntie Smokeshow, what happened to Martin Starr’s Peter-as-Spider-Man shrine, whether or not Peter still has a social security number, and so on. This was just a conveniently harrowing way to soft reboot the character back to non-Stark-tech basics. And an unnecessary one! Just stop using that crap!
How disappointing was it when our three boys finally came together in-costume, and Holland is standing there with this tacky gold metal stuff still on him? Octavius ruining the Iron Spider armor was the perfect opportunity to drop it, but these nanobots are like fucking bed bugs. It shouldn’t be this hard to get rid of these things, yet here we are, still infested.
Of course, we already knew the trio’s cosplay meetup would happen thanks to a leaked production photo—one where Holland actually is just wearing his slick Far from Home costume. But that costume was seemingly meant to be CG’d out. The shit-looking scaffolding beside them? Not so much!
Yeah, what in the photo looks like some production remnants from a sound stage is in fact the actual stage for a big finale that makes Spider-Man 3’s construction set-piece look inspired. Our trio of Spider-Men conduct their final fight against the Sinister Five on scaffolding that surrounds the Statue of Liberty. For reasons that are explained on an MCU wiki but will no doubt perplex even some viewers that have watched just about every one of these goddamn things, in this world, the Statue of Liberty is surrounded by scaffolding because its oxidation is being removed and the city is adding a Captain America shield to her torch arm. After digitally adding the arachnoid Iron Spider suit to Holland, Marvel is certainly putting a hat on a hat in terms of ruining an iconic look with a dull, brassy sheen and gaudy accessories.
That scene and the final act as a whole close on a green-screen atrocity. As the sun rises with obvious softbox lights, Holland’s Parker and Green Goblin fight on the now-fallen shield that everyone was fine with equipping the Statue of Liberty with. Parker is about to deal a fatal blow to the man who killed his aunt—but Maguire’s Parker intervenes. He’s subsequently stabbed in the back by Goblin, and for about ten seconds, it seems like our original Spider-Man will be given a hero’s farewell to match his hero’s crowd-surfing subway ride.
This dramatic moment only exists to fully fold Garfield and Maguire into the MCU with this eye-rolling exchange: “You’re in so much pain, huh?”
Spider-Man can get his costume cleaned, but he still can’t wash the stain of Joss Whedon humor out of this franchise.
And that’s a lesser example of the film shooting itself in the foot by (at least somewhat) mucking up its easiest layups of letting the Parkers interact. Their rooftop Parents’ Dead Sibling Responsibility Meeting, for as hokey and maudlin as it may be, is pretty lovely. But then we get this too-long breath before the climax where the three are just sitting around in a classroom, and it may as well be a montage called “Let’s do science!” They each have to create an incredibly specific cure or two in the next few hours, and then they do that somehow.
Holland’s Parker, previously mentored by genius Tony Stark, must be one of the greatest goddamn minds on the planet to accomplish this. And that’s fine. But it’s weird when you remember that this is a movie about him trying to get into a good technological university. Like, you don’t need any more engineering classes, man. You just cured a man’s sinister robot tentacle problem in 45 minutes. Go get into photography. Remember that bit? Being a photographer?
Once the trio finally do science together their villain cures—the likes of which consist of a couple rods, a puck, and a S’well bottle—you’d figure it should be easy enough to deliver them to their intended targets. Instead, the script at this point decides this is a movie about teamwork.
It becomes this ridiculous baton relay where, instead of just quickly jabbing each of these guys they’ve repeatedly punched with their respective cure, they have to keep passing the cures around to each other? It’s such a long movie that keeps inventing ways to not be over.
Still, as said in our review, is about as good as fan service can be delivered, and it indeed leaves Parker in a wonderfully simple if familiar spot as a young guy in a shitty New York apartment, wearing a homemade spider costume to fight crime. And as always, the price of admission for that was yet another dying relative’s speech about power and responsibility. Spider-Maguire earnestly tells Octavius he’s “trying to do better.” Spider-Man: No Way Home, apparently less so.
Side note: love that MJ now works at my local Peter Pan Donuts—even wearing their real uniform! Now that is some exceptionally tailored fan service.
Side note 2: When writing this, I had already forgotten how Charlie Cox turns up for a cameo just to be like, “Forget about the Trial of Peter Parker scenario we set up in the first part. We aren’t doing that now. He’s just exonerated for whatever reason.” For how fan-pleasing they went with this, could he not show up as Daredevil proper on the sidelines later? May as well at that point.