Crossovers can be immensely satisfying or intimidatingly baffling, depending on how invested you are in a franchise. As the casting for Spider-Man: No Way Home was gradually announced with seemingly every actor who had ever been attached to the movies since Sam Raimi’s early aughts Spider-Man trilogy, the news was met with equal parts glee and trepidation.
How much homework would we need to do here?!
Within the overarching plot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spider-Man: No Way Home picks up again with Peter Parker and pals after the events of their previous movie, Far From Home, in which the fight with Mysterio left Peter battered, vulnerable, and exposed.
In keeping with the grounding of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man movies, these big stakes are all wrapped up in smaller, teenage ones: applying for college.
So how does every actor who has ever glimpsed the friendly neighbourhood web-slinger factor in? The ‘multiverse’ (an infinite number of parallel dimensions) has been the seeded concept for the current MCU phase, and when Peter turns to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help after his friends suffer because of him then, well, lets just say magical solutions have a tendency to backfire.
The biggest criticism of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, and many other superhero films as well, is that too many villains make a film unfocused and ultimately unsatisfying.
The trailers were hardly shy at revealing the return of Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus (from the Toby Maguire era) but safe to say he isn’t the only villain (nor original actor) who makes a return.
No Way Home smartly skips extensive exposition and yet uses the fact that Tom Holland’s Spider-Man has no knowledge of these characters as an entry point to shorthand them to the audience; homework helps your appreciation but isn’t a requirement.
Spider-Man: No Way Home Official Trailer
Is Spider-Man: No Way Home Worth Watching?
It is quite an ability to fold in so many characters, new and old, and neatly tie off their plot arc so satisfyingly. The entire mechanism of the second act through to the third is explicitly dedicated to doing this, whilst still finding the space to chuck more crossover good times in for our benefit.
I won’t spoil this – even though the cast list will give you a pretty big clue – but it is a credit to director Jon Watts (who has directed all of the Tom Holland era Spider-Man movies) that emotional heft is earned for each thread ended.
The Holland era was rejuvenating to the character, in large part to keeping the emotional stakes light and youthful. School, romances, friendship, and grades have played a big part.
However, after the events of previous movies, Spider-Man: No Way Home sees Peter lacking the usual fatherly advice figures, which in turn gives Holland licence to bring his range to the screen as Peter starts to spiral in the second half.
Zendaya as MJ and Jacob Batalon as Ned form a tight trio with Tom Holland (Uncharted) and a vital ingredient in the rebooted franchise’s success, but Holland has been the perfect casting throughout and it is a joy to see him lean into some darker territory here.
Undoubtedly No Way Home is geared to be most appreciated by those who have watched literally every other Spider-Man film since 2002. That it does this with such deft skill (whilst also not excluding newcomers) is not to be taken lightly.
If this is the last we see of Holland slinging webs then it could not have been a better send off.
If a contractual cleaning of house between Marvel and Sony (the latter of which owns the character) results in a corporate web-removing duster getting swept through the rafters, then the bar has well and truly been set for whatever arachnid scuttles back to rebuild them.
Words by Mike Record