New from Every Movie Has a Lesson by Don Shanahan: MOVIE REVIEW: Spider-Man: No Way Home

Spider-Man perches on a street light.

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME– 4 STARS

There’s a mix of Samuel L. Jackson lines from different movies that feel appropriate here for the frenzy that surrounds (and ultimately defines) Spider-Man: No Way Home. The first is “Bitch, you’ve been to space” from Spider-Man: Far From Home. The massive Marvel Cinematic Universe adventures thrust upon Tom Holland’s incarnation of the character in five years of film appearances have flung our wall crawler across space and time. It can be very difficult to have an extremely inflated balloon not pop from pressure or return back to its original, taut shape when scaled down.

Call that the street-level challenge of Spider-Man: No Way Home, which brings up the second and cruder Samuel L. Jackson line going all the way back to Pulp Fiction of “You’re sending The Wolf? Shit, negro, that’s all you had to say!” Bringing that forward to this occasion, The Wolf is Marvel czar Kevin Feige. The producer has yet to deliver a pure lemon in over 30 films and TV shows. At this point, we should all have confidence in Feige, equivalent to what SLJ’s Jules Winfield has in The Wolf. Spider-Man: No Way Home will not break that trust.

Taking place the immediate moment Spider-Man: Far From Home ended, Mysterio has framed Spider-Man for his drone attack death in London and revealed Spider-Man’s secret identity of Peter Parker (Tom Holland) to the entire world. This breaking news has created a conspiracy of divided public trust, whose false flames are fanned relentlessly by J. Jonah Jameson of The Daily Bugle. Peter’s third wheel best friend Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) and main squeeze MJ (Zendaya) are caught up as accomplices in this controversy, and all three are found to be untouchable from a PR standpoint for college acceptances as they try to finish their senior years and move on to brighter futures.

Government clearance from charges and a more secure private home for Peter and his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) provided by Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) are not enough to ease the rattling and near-constant duress. Peter seeks out fellow New Yorker and Blip survivor Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for some sage advice and, more importantly, magical assistance. Following some pleasantries and arm-twisting, a botched spell of forgetting turns on the two hopeful heroes.

Germinating from the TV seeds planted by What If…? and Loki and borrowing the mojo of Sony’s animated smash hit Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the stability of the “multiverse” has been compromised. Instead of everyone forgetting the true identity of Spider-Man as the spell intended, anyone and everyone who knows or ever knew Peter Parker’s secret has been yanked from their respective universes and thrust into this reality. If you’ve seen the trailers and posters for this movie, you have a beginning of who has arrived and from where.

LESSON #1: YOU CAN’T FIX EVERYTHING OR EVERYONE– Naturally, this wildness must be contained and corrected. However, that effort is being endeavored by a teenager’s flawed sense of invulnerability coupled with inherent immaturity and smidge of selfishness. Peter flusters and folds when pressed to answer if he’s fixing the encroaching mistakes flying and chasing around him for others or himself. There are things superpowers, punches, rage, will, and magic cannot and maybe should not fix. The stakes of Spider-Man: No Way Home, plotted by returning trilogy writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers and orchestrated with gusto by the musical score of Michael Giacchino, take it even further.

LESSON #2: YOU CAN ONLY DEFY FATE SO MUCH– One can make the argument that the movie entertains in that ruin follows everything and everyone affected by Spider-Man in all his movie iterations dating back to 2002. We have seen those defeats. Some fates are sealed and cannot be changed, even with all the heroic intervention possible. Survival and sanity hinge on accepting all the comic book kismet our heroes confront. True to the old Spider-Man adage of “with great power comes great responsibility,” this complicated, yet never extraneous, quest of tragic errors and scrambled providence spurs the essential and engrossing character growth in Spider-Man: No Way Home.

While director Jon Watts’ cast gets crowded in a hurry on both sides of good and evil, every quiet or loud conversation, speech, action, and result imprints their given effect on Tom Holland’s celebrated fan favorite. The young Brit endures quite the melodramatic wringer and offers his best performance to date in the blockbuster franchise. His sweet charm is put into true peril and saved by those closest to him. Without naming names or describing specifics, each ensemble member sharing one or more of those impressionable activities with Holland adds to the compelling luster and valuable esteem radiating from this movie. 

The evidence proving the quality and effectiveness of those pivotal character moments in Spider-Man: No Way Home are not measured by hifalutin cinephile lenses, nitpicking checklists of fanboy expectations, or eventual box office billions. The successes spring forth from the roller coaster of crowd reactions between cheers and tears that you yourself will undoubtedly witness (or share) at your own theater visit. Imagine if everything you eventually see was a protected surprise and that measurement goes through the multiplex roof even further. Top to bottom from a production standpoint and crowned with a smile from ear to ear, this is what big screen escapism and dream fulfillment looks like at the highest level.

LESSON #3: EXPECT DISAPPOINTMENT AND YOU’LL NEVER BE DISAPPOINTED–  This concluding chestnut lesson quoting Zendaya’s vocalized mindset reverberates inside and outside the towering scope of Spider-Man: No Way Home. Not since Star Wars: The Force Awakens, has the advance hype of a tentpole event been this scrutinized, anticipated, and warped across the actual and digital zeitgeist. It would be very easy to sit back (as this writer did) and question why something as successful as the MCU would entertain the convolution of pratfalls that come with a twisted multiverse approach. They would be expecting disappointment only to admire how, lo and behold, no matter how many galactic fissures loom above, Spider-Man: No Way Home forges and propels its icon towards the proper label that has always suited him best: “Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.” Kevin Feige, you are The Goddamn Wolf.

LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#916)

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