Spider-Man: No Way Home, director Jon Watts’ third MCU Spider-Man installment, is a film with jobs. It’s Peter Parker’s epilogue to the Infinity Saga. It’s a prologue to Doctor Strange: In The Multiverse of Madness. It’s Peter Parker’s transition from the Avengers’ kid brother into his own man. And there’s fan service a-go-go.
For the MCU fan, Spider-Man: No Way Home accomplishes what it sets out to do. The film relies on the viewer’s existing knowledge of the wider universe and supplies only the most basic explanations. “Well, you have to go back and watch some older Marvel movies to really get it,” was a constant refrain overheard at my screening. If the film were not so busy, if there were moments for Peter and company to catch their collective breath, a viewer not immersed in the MCU might feel engaged in the story instead of propelled as if shot from a cannon. Yes, viewers want the big action sequences the MCU offers. But, viewers also want the emotional connection with beloved characters, the glue that holds these multi-film story arcs together. Past installments in the MCU offer an excellent balance of the two, such as Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnorok. Sadly, No Way Home is shaky on both fronts.
The characters are the film’s strongest aspect. Tom Holland shows more depth as No Way Home’s Peter Parker than in his previous Spider-Man films. His love for his family and friends drives his choices and provides the momentum for a heartbreaking sacrifice. Zendaya’s MJ, bold and capable in her own right, opens up, exhibiting tenderness and humor not seen in previous installments. Jacob Batalon’s Ned Leeds, merely a funny best friend in the earlier Jon Watts Spider-Man films, actually has an opportunity to use his abilities in support of the final outcome.
No Way Home’s story functioning as a prologue for the next MCU saga is the weakest aspect of the film, unfortunately. From the previews, we know that Peter Parker’s identity as Spider-Man is revealed. Spider-Man is strongest when he’s the self-proclaimed, “friendly neighborhood” do-gooder but he folds under the pressure of being a known global superhero. He begs Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for a spell that will make everyone forget who he is. And that spell goes awry, which causes villains from other universes to show up in Peter’s world. He comes up with a solution, inspired by Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Peter Parker and his friends choose this solution to maintain a moral high ground instead of an ethically ambiguous fix proposed by Dr. Strange.
But, is this film a satisfying installment in the MCU? As a prologue to the new Multiverse saga, kind of. One person’s wish did affect the multiverses and his solution probably didn’t actually help. But is that enough to propel a multi-arc story? Will future installments have moments where they curse Peter Parker for starting this whole drama? Are viewers intrigued enough to find out?
No Way Home is satisfying as a prologue to future Spider-Man installments, though. There’s ample future opportunities to bring together other villains and anti-heroes in a Spider-Man specific universe. And without the distraction of Earth’s Mightiest Superheroes, Spider-Man will have a chance to shine.