“Spider-Man: No Way Home” Is for the Fans. That’s Not a Good Thing

16 Dec

There’s not a whole lot you can say that won’t ruin Spider-Man: No Way Home, but here’s a non-spoiler: It’s a Christmas movie!

That’s right: Like Die HardBatman ReturnsGo, and many other films before it, the latest Spidey flick takes place during December’s holiday time, which — yes — qualifies it as a Christmas movie. 

It’s also a legitimate event. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard the incessant drumbeat of promotion and buzz, which has made people feel like they have to see it — in a theater! — as soon as possible, before the film is spoiled. It’s one of those truly communal, shared cinematic experiences that are all too rare these days.

God bless it for that. 

But is the film worthy of all that hype? Well … It’s a Wonderful Multiverse this is not.

No Way Home picks up literally a second after the European rom-com that was Spider-Man: Far from Home, right at the moment when everybody finds out that Spider-Man is really Peter Parker (Tom Holland). This revelation causes a bit of turmoil for Peter’s friends and family — specifically, his Aunt May, BFF Ned, girlfriend M.J., and, as always, Happy Hogan. 

If you’ve seen any of the trailers or commercials or posters for this latest outing, you know that Peter asks his fellow Avenger, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), to cast a spell so everyone will forget about his secret identity. Easier said than done, because when Peter interferes with the spell, it opens a wormhole of sorts that allows villains including Doc Ock, Green Goblin, and Electro to cross over through the multiverse and re-enter the picture.

Re-enter because, as you might remember, Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) and Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) were villains from the earlier Spider-Man trilogy in which Tobey Maguire played Peter Parker. And Electro (Jamie Foxx) was featured in the second of two Spider-Man films in which Andrew Garfield played Spider-Man. (Both series were pre-MCU.)

This worlds-collide/multiverse concept has been a key plot point in many Marvel TV and movie projects of late, including the Disney+ series What If? and the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. While a bit overdone at this point, it’s delicious and rife with possibilities.

Certainly, it’s been a key aspect of the pre-release hype for No Way Home, a campaign that’s involved Marvel and Sony (and all the actors involved) being cagey about all the film’s crossover surprises — though, if you’ve been following the rumors and buzz at all, very few of them will be completely unexpected.

Suffice it to say, after years of speculation, it’s a relief to finally know which of the rumors were true and which were not. And yet, what’s also so frustrating — and, ultimately, disappointing — about this movie is that, while it’s cool to see characters who’ve appeared in other movies all together in the same movie, and there are laughs to be had from the whole thing being so meta and winky-winky, the film doesn’t really know what to do with them once the concept has been realized. 

For much of the film, Molina, Dafoe, and Foxx (and others) aren’t asked to do much more than cool their jets and riff. Even Cumberbatch disappears for a large portion of the movie. It’s a weak screenplay that leans more toward gratuitous and silly comedy, rather than the smarter comedy and emotion-filled drama of the previous two films, and it doesn’t serve any of the characters all that well.

With a great concept comes the great responsibility to make a great film, and all that. Unfortunately, after two much better outings, Jon Watts and co. just haven’t stuck the landing with this final installment of the trilogy. (Homecoming, one of my favorite movies of 2017, is still the best of the bunch.)

To be sure, there are some very cool effects and a lot of fun moments that will make any moviegoer smile. That includes the end credits themselves and the extended post-credits scene. But the filmmakers chose to indulge in fan service here rather than use the mash-up concept for good. In the end, the best thing you can say about No Way Home is simply that you’ve seen it, so you can stop avoiding the spoilers. No, that’s not a compliment. 

Given the amount of pre-release hype, and the unreasonably high expectations some folks have, moviegoers would be wise to take the oft-cited advice of M.J.: “If you expect disappointment, you will never be disappointed.” 

I’m giving No Way Home a B–.

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