Review: ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ Throws Us into the Multiverse
by Alex Billington
December 17, 2021
What more can anyone say about Spider-Man that hasn’t already been said? We’ve already had 7 live-action movies before this, not to mention animated series galore an the extraordinary Into the Spider-Verse movie, all the comics and history, and Parker’s appearances in the other MCU movies. Everyone knows and loves Spider-Man / Peter, he continues to break box office records and draw enormous crowds. And even though they’re re-invented him in Hollywood three times already, he still remains one of the most charismatic and adored superhero characters. Spider-Man: No Way Home is the third movie in Jon Watts’ stand-alone trilogy that, while intertwined with the MCU movies, focuses specifically on Parker and his struggle to figure himself out as a youngster and find his place in the world (of superheroes). It’s also the first time any movie has successfully introduced the Multiverse concept in live-action and gracefully pulled off the impractical challenge of integrating the old with the new. This review contains spoilers – proceed with caution.
Before going on, I must state that I think Lord & Miller’s / Sony Animation’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse animated movie is one of the best comic book movies ever made. It’s an all-timer. Utterly perfect. For many reasons, but one of them is that it perfectly introduces us to the concept of the Multiverse and brings in various Spider-Men/Women characters for a beautifully told story. I also love Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, I always have, and I sort of “grew up” watching Raimi’s trilogy over the years. I covered the Spider-Man 3 press junket back in 2007, a defining event in the first two years of this website’s existence. So it is easy to say that I have a long-term connection with Spider-Man, despite not being that familiar with the comics or the character before the movies. And after all this time, having enjoyed most of these 7 other movies, I am pleased to report that Spider-Man: No Way Home is one of the best Spidey movies. After my first viewing, I was ready to say it joins Spider-Man 3 and Into the Spider-Verse as one of my Top 3 favorites. Seriously.
So, I will admit – I haven’t been this emotional watching a (live-action) Spider-Man movie since… well, a long time. I loved it. Thoroughly. I wiped away quite a few tears, smiled non-stop. I’d even say it reminds me a lot of Spider-Man 2 – the emotional core of both movies is quite similar and what they deal with regarding the character of Spider-Man: his legacy, his connection to those he loves (and how to protect them), and how other people interact with him. It digs deep into the meaning of Spider-Man (what does he really stand for) and opens up the Multiverse in a powerful and thrilling way. It is clear No Way Home borrows plenty from Into the Spider-Verse in cracking open the Multiverse – scenes where the other two Spideys first show up are similar, scenes where they discuss how hard it is to be Spidey, scenes where they discuss that losing someone is a part of being Spidey. And the way the villains are as disgruntled by how it’s always Spider-Man who ruins their lives (and takes them out) – even if it’s not their universe’s Spider-Man that they’re fighting.
The Multiverse is a game changer for Hollywood blockbusters. Let’s not forget that Into the Spider-Verse is the real masterpiece (and there was also Cloud Atlas / Sense8 and so on). But now No Way Home continues with this concept in the best of ways and shows that it’s possible in live-action. I remember everyone being excited about that one X-Men movie where they finally brought everyone back for one big crossover story (X-Men: Days of Future Past), but it was such a forgettable and dull movie. No Way Home is the first real Hollywood blockbuster that fully delivers on that potential, on the emotional glory of the “Multiverse”. And yeah there’s a lot of fan service but it works so well in here. I can’t help but admit it and admire it. Will this “fan service” bother some viewers? Yes, of course. But they’re not just appearing in here for that reason alone. They’re in this because it’s part of this Spidey’s story, part of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker dealing with the weight of being “ousted” by Mysterio, and seeing how much this ruins his life just because he is Spidey.
The moment Tobey Maguire appears in this really hit me hard. Yeah, I’m a sucker for that nostalgia when it actually means something and has worthwhile importance. We haven’t seen Tobey in any movie for years, but I also adored his Spidey mostly thanks to Spider-Man 2 being such a perfect comic book movie. And in this one, he feels like the “older brother” of the three. Andrew Garfield is like the wacky cousin. Knowing these two are in No Way Home isn’t really a major spoiler, because it’s all about how they appear, how they interact with Holland’s Parker, and how the plot plays out with all of them together fighting these villains from the other movies. What I appreciate about how this one handles “other Spideys from the other movies” is that it brings them back as important commentary, not just as throwaway references. Instead of letting them lie in the past, this connects everything in a harmonious way. It reminds us of the great importance and the great responsibility of the character of Spider-Man, spanning multiple generations, actors, and eras.
This revelation was, of course, explored in Into the Spider-Verse as a way of getting to Stan Lee’s ultimate point about the concept of Spider-Man: anyone can be Spider-Man, anyone can be a friendly neighborhood superhero who just wants everyone to be safe and get along. That said, this movie takes on the challenge of bringing a live-action Multiverse to life and delivers. It hits hard, gets emotional, it’s darker than the others, for good reason. It makes you think deeply about the meaning of Spider-Man. It doesn’t need to be light & fun, and if you come to expect that and ONLY that from a Marvel movie, you’re missing the entire point of these movies. Death and darkness and pain come with being a superhero. That’s the truth, even if PG-13 Hollywood movies want to cover it up. And it was time Spider-Man must deal with that truth – not only with those he loves, but also with those he sees as the bad guys. Can he save them, too? It’s a beautiful question to ask, and it’s rousing to see them explore that by bringing back all these other Spideys to help answer it.