Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
Written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers
Directed by Jon Watts
For a little while there, it looked like this movie might be made by Sony and take place outside of the MCU. Thankfully Marvel and Sony talked, and so we get this Spider-Man and one more appearance in another property before they go back to the negotiating table again. Marvel cleverly weaves Spider-Man even deeper into the MCU lore with this picture almost as a failsafe to keep the IP integrated. I think you’ll agree there has never been such a cameo-heavy MCU film to date, and it’s almost to the point of frustration. So many characters show up for a scene but then don’t feel integrated into the overall story.
It’s been one year since Peter Parker was posthumously unmasked by Mysterio using an edited video of the attack on London. Now Peter is in hiding, Aunt May is in federal prison for refusing to give up his whereabouts, and the Avengers believe he’s guilt as Mysterio so masterfully manipulated the video. MJ and Ned help Peter when they can; he lives in an abandoned warehouse near the docks. He realizes there’s only one person in New York City who can see through the slander against his name, and that’s Doctor Strange. Strange is also annoyed with Mysterio’s claims of having been the Sorcerer Supreme of his dimension and, after some apprehension, agrees to help Peter. However, a new threat emerges from across the fabric of the multiverse, Morlun. This vampiric being feeds on the Spiders that exist on the myriad of worlds, and he’s gunning for the MCU’s Spider-Man next.
It’s pretty much impossible to review this movie without getting into spoilers because there are so many surprises and twists along the way. I absolutely love the opening pre-credits sequence where we are reunited with Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man battle Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina). I guess they consulted or even brought Sam Raimi in uncredited to directed this sequence because it really caught the tone and look of his Spider-Man films. They had me for a minute as well, I honestly thought they killed Maguire Spidey off in the first six minutes of the picture, but I was happy when he showed up in the Sanctum Sanctorum as part of the quartet of Spider-Men that fight Morlun throughout the movie.
I can see audiences feel apprehensive when they hear about the number of villains in this movie. Already I’ve mentioned Morlun and Doctor Octopus. Then you have Electro (Jamie Foxx), The Vulture (Michael Keaton), and a CG bestial Green Goblin a la Into the Spider-Verse. Thankfully, they act more as minions to Morlun, and there isn’t an effort to give every one of them an arc. It’s clear that Morlun is the main antagonist of the movie, and everyone else is around to add to the spectacle of the story. The Vulture doesn’t even really qualify as a villain, in my opinion, because right from the get-go, he’s forced under threats to his family to aid Morlun and even tries to help Peter later in the picture.
Let’s talk about those Spider-Men! Of course, we Maguire Spidey is there, but it was also surprisingly nostalgic to see Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man. I loved the direction they went with the character, making this the violent & aggressive Spider-Man, almost a cautionary tale to the MCU Spidey about dealing with loss & grief. It worked with the film’s whole theme centered around what “home” means, leading to “it is the people you surround yourself with.” So Garfield Spidey, having undergone the loss of one of his most essential people, hit pretty hard. I thought it was also very gutsy to kill him off halfway through the movie in a sequence that is the closest an MCU picture has gotten to straight-up horror. It’s the first time we see the full effect of Morlun’s ability to drain power, and he leaves Garfield Spidey a withered husk.
The most genius casting move was to bring back Shameik Moore, Miles Morales’ voice in Into the Spider-Verse, as a live-action older version of Miles. He becomes another mentor for MCU Spidey, and I love that role-reversal. His comment to Maguire at one point (“You remind me of someone I met a long time ago”) was a great little nod to the animated film. They made sure Miles’ fighting choreographing was totally different from all the Peters, and his costume also separates him from the pack. I think so much time was spent on MCU Spidey and his parallels with the other Peters that Miles didn’t quite get the fair shake I wish he had. It seemed pretty clear that Sony is angling to keep doing young Miles animated movies and possibly pursue a live-action Miles series taking place a little bit in the future.
I think audiences anticipated the variety of Spider-Men, but the other cameos were so out of left field, and I honestly loved the insanity of it. It felt like an overstuffed comic book crossover in all the best ways. The story’s cohesiveness was definitely hurt in some ways by these moments, but it was a lot of fun to see each sequence. I had a suspicion Charlie Cox would be returning as Daredevil, and a Spider-Man movie is a perfect place to see him again. Having him represent Adrian Toomes in a clemency hearing perfectly fits the story and puts him in the right place for Morlun’s arrival into the MCU. I was worried we were just going to see lawyer Matt Murdock but that red boot connecting with Morlun’s face as he threatens Toomes was pitch-perfect. The fight sequence was great, but I was a little disappointed that was all we got from him. It’s pretty clear a Daredevil movie is in the works, though.
The most surprising cameo for me came during the mid-movie citywide fight sequence. When Garfield Spidey & Miles are tussling with Electro and smash into the all-night diner, I had no idea what to expect. And then, when Tom Hardy turned around, I let out an audible groan in the theater. I do not like Sony’s Venom movies, which felt entirely like a mini-promotional for that franchise. Yes, it was pretty shocking to watch Venom literally swallow the screaming Electro and remark, “Spicy” before slithering away. However, he doesn’t even show back up, and so the whole appearance felt pointless, too gimmicky.
It was clear the audience really felt it when Maguire Spidey runs into the MCU Jameson during that same fight sequence. I think they were implying that Maguire’s Jameson had passed away years earlier by how Maguire embraced the man. It was a wonderful mix of humor and pathos, and I could tell those actors had a great time being reunited even for that little scene. It was that kind of cameo I wish we had more of because it definitely informed me about Maguire Spidey and reinforced that concept of “home as the people we love” that the movie keeps pushing.
The second act gets really crazy after that fight sequence when we get the wild goose chase through the multiverse as they try to wear Morlun down. These cameos worked because of the set-up and their brevity. John Mulaney as Spider-Ham, Nicolas Cage voicing a live-action actor playing Spider-Man Noir, Hailee Steinfeld as a live-action Ghost-Spider. The best has to be the joke moment poking fun at the 1970s live-action Spider-Man and Doctor Strange television projects. And that brings us to the biggest surprise of the whole movie.
We hit that moment in the second act where the chips are down; it looks like the heroes will lose. Morlun has trapped them in a strange pocket dimension to save for later. And then MCU Spidey gets rescued by the Fantastic Four. I know your theater probably went nuts when they realized who was in that ship moving through this strange astral void because mine certainly did. I loved the CG redesign of Michael Chiklis’ Thing, and it immediately made me want to see him go up against The Hulk. I think the costume designers did an excellent job making the Four’s costumes look much better than what we saw in the Fox movies back in the 2000s. The best moment had to be when Human Torch (Chris Evans) comes on screen, and MCU Spidey briefly mutters, “Cap?”
I was relieved that they clarify this will not be the Fantastic Four of the MCU, but I definitely think Reed was implying that he already knows the MCU Reed vias the interdimensional Council of Reeds. Sue’s whole speech about home was definitely the moment that tied together everything MCU Spidey had been experiencing. The final battle goes down beautifully; I love the touch of Morlun experiencing consequences from having eaten the Spider-Man of the Marvel Zombies universe.
We see Maguire Spidey having that touching moment with Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) and their daughter May. Miles rushes to see his parents when he gets home. Peter’s name is cleared, and he is reunited with Aunt May and his friends. I do love that Flash Thompson ends up having never given up on Peter during the year he was an outlaw and totally reverses his ideas about his classmate. The post-credits scene with Scarlet Witch didn’t feel like too much of a shock with all the multiverse talk and Doctor Strange’s prominence in the picture. Plus, with so many other cameos, what’s one more? I’m not sure where Spider-Man is going in the MCU at this point, they seem to be trying to embed him as deeply as possible, and I think it would be a shame to lose him.