Is Spider-Man: No Way Home the GOAT of the MCU?

FTC Statement: Reviewers are frequently provided by the publisher/production company with a copy of the material being reviewed.The opinions published are solely those of the respective reviewers and may not reflect the opinions of or its management.

As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. (This is a legal requirement, as apparently some sites advertise for Amazon for free. Yes, that's sarcasm.)

Spider-Man: No Way Home opens across the U.S. on 12/17/2021.

2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home ended with one of the best cliffhangers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After swinging around Manhattan with his girlfriend, MJ (Zendaya), Spider-Man (Tom Holland) sees himself on a big screen in Times Square, but not as Spider-Man. Crusading journalist J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), using doctored audio and video courtesy of the late “true hero” Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) shatters Spidey’s life by revealing his secret identity. The world now knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man! “OMG!” as the kids say!

Officially opening on December 17, 2021, Spider-Man: No Way Home continues directly from where the previous film ended. Early buzz around the internet is hailing the film, directed by Jon Watts, as the best of the Tom Holland Spider-Man trilogy if not the best of the MCU to date. Folks, if the internet does just one thing well, its hyperbole. The film could have just as easily and perhaps more accurately been titled, Spider-Man: It’s a Wonderful Life.

In the beloved 1964 Frank Capra holiday movie, Jimmy Stewart (who would have been wonderful as Peter’s late Uncle Ben back in the day) plays George Bailey, a banker at the end of his rope who rescues his own guardian angel. The angel grants him a look into a world without George Bailey in it, showing how is friends and loved ones would fare without him. With a renewed zest for life, Bailey meets his problems head on and perseveres. In Spider-Man: No Way Home, Peter Parker is at the end of his rope too. His friends -- MJ, Ned (Jacob Batalon), Happy (Jon Favreau), and his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) – lives have become a living hell, constantly followed by both fans and detractors of Spidey, including a number of people who still believe that Mysterio was the real hero and Spider-Man is the murdering menace J. Jonah Jameson says he is. In desperation, he turns to an old ally from the war against Thanos for help, Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). The master of the mystic arts knows of a spell that can make the world forget that Peter and Spider-Man are one and the same, but magic always has a price. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that the spell goes awry—nothing is ever easy for ol’ Webhead.

If you are wanting to avoid any possible spoilers, now is a good place to stop. Be sure to come back to after you’ve seen the movie to see if you agree with my assessment of the film. Those who wish to continue reading may do so in 3… 2… 1…

If you watch trailers (for the love of Pete, why?!?) or if you peruse MCU-related posts on the Internet, you already know most if not all of the guest stars from the pre-MCU Spider-Man films who appear in Spider-Man: No Way Home. Tobey Maguire reprises his own Peter Parker role from the Sam Raimi-directed trilogy of the pre-MCU 2000s. His arch-enemies Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), Sandman (Thomas Hayden Church) and Norman Osborne AKA The Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) enter the MCU with him. Likewise, characters from The Amazing Spider-Man films, helmed by Mark Webb, also join the fray with the Lizard (Rhys Ifans) and Electro (Jamie Foxx) adding to the threat while their Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) lends a hand to the heroes’ side.

How on earth can three Spider-Men and five supervillains, many of which never met each other before and none of which had ever met the Tom Holland Spidey, co-exist in the MCU? Elementary, my dear Watson! The Multiverse, or as we may come to think of it in the near future, the point where Kevin Feige’s vision exceeded the MCU fanbase’s grasp. Sure, we caught a glimpse of the concept in 2018’s Oscar-winning animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, where Spider-People from various dimensions similar to our own rallied together against a common foe. But the more we see of it, the bigger and messier it seems to get.

Lest we fall too far down this rabbit hole let’s get back to the Spider-Men and Doctor Strange. On the surface, it would seem like a dream come true for Spidey fans to have every big-screen iteration of Peter Parker show up in the same film (conspicuous by their absence, any of the Peter Parkers from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, although there is a line of dialogue here and there that subtly elude to it). Quite honestly, it was really fun to watch the three Peters together. Garfield looked like he was having way more fun this time, and Maguire brought a kind of “big brother” feel to his character, ostensibly to explain the obvious age difference.

The villains generally played well, with Dafoe again relishing his psychotic Osborne and Molina’s commanding presence demonstrating why he may still be the absolute best Spider-Man villain of all (or at least tied with Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio). Ifans’ Lizard, unfortunately, seemed diminished, less the hulking monstrosity he was in Webb’s film and merely a misshapen miscreant like DC’s Killer Croc. Thomas Hayden Church’s Sandman never feels quite right as a villain. Jaime Foxx manages to make Electro come off better here than he did in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but he still can’t escape the wardrobe department that blatantly refuses to put him in anything even remotely resembling any Electro costume found in the comics. Electro’s look on the four-color separated page is gloriously cheesy and something only a luchador or I would love, but that’s what made it iconic. If the famous Japanese cruiserweight professional wrestling champion Jushin Liger could fly around the squared circle performing feats of acrobatics to rival Spidey himself while wearing a costume with prominent horns sticking out from his mask, why can’t Electro wear his classic green gold togs and lightning bolt mask? We don’t need every costume in the MCU to be so doggone practical—heck, none of the Spidey suits are either! They also wasted a golden opportunity to put the classic and much scarier Goblin mask on Dafoe. Such a shame.

The biggest issue I had with the movie is with Doctor Strange. His actions and the way he used his magic abilities often seemed very out of character. To make it worse, screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers seemed to acknowledge this with a line of dialogue from MJ late in the movie. In Thor: Ragnarok, Strange was shown to be a highly competent Sorcerer Supreme, trapping Loki in a perpetual portal while hosting Thor with a self-refilling tankard of beer. In Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, he measures up well against powerhouses on both sides in Tony Stark and Thanos. Seeing him bungle his spells at every turn in Spider-Man: No Way Home was off-putting to say the least.

The end result is a film that feels overlong, due to the slow pace of the second act. Lots of talking heads, a little too much of Ned and MJ when it was hero time, and perhaps a bit of overkill when examining the heroes’ mantra of “With great power comes great responsibility,” bogged down the middle of the picture. The film is generally a meditation on the basic superhero tropes: their motivation, their ideology and their results. I think the “With great power…” mantra is pretty obvious—what would be the point of having superpowers at all if you didn’t use them, for good or evil? Imagine having the superpower to fly at incredible speed but you still spend money on airfare and sit in the middle seat in coach. Why? The Spider-Men’s motivations are generally similar—they each failed to save their Uncle Ben and will forever attempt to atone for it. At least we assume that is the case with Holland’s Spidey, which was never given the full origin story treatment. Their methods are very similar as well, showing off the real Peter Parker superpower: the gift of gab. If he could never stick to walls nor possessed superhuman strength, Parker could always talk a villain into submission.

They also share the heroic code against killing, an ideology which I find myself less and less enamored with. Take Batman for example. His archenemy, the Joker, has killed or maimed hundreds if not thousands of Gotham City’s citizens over the years, including killing a Robin and maiming a Batgirl. In the Spider-Man comics, the Green Goblin is much the same. How can either hero sleep at night knowing that their code against killing only means certain death for more of the innocent people they’ve sworn to protect? Punching and webbing up Osborne every time they fight only delays an inevitably grisly death for some Joe Rando on the street. Some people can’t be reformed, some madness can’t be cured, and yet these heroes continually put these deranged individuals to whom they own nothing ahead of the greater good. Obviously, I had too much time on my hands during the second act to contemplate my own position regarding vigilantism, and once I realized I fall closer to the Punisher’s ideology than Spider-Man’s I found myself becoming slightly less interested in the Parkers.

Despite these quibbles, there is a lot to like in the latest Spider-film. The action is extremely well-executed, particularly the Doctor Octopus vs Holland Spidey brawl, which is just ridiculously fun to watch. The costumes are generally strong except for this horrendously ugly seatbelts-and-conduit vest contraption they saddle Foxx’s Electro with here. The special effects are generally excellent, though I thought both the Sandman and the Lizard looked less imposing and less defined than they did in their original versions. Doctor Strange’s magical effects were as sharp as ever, even if the character comes off as something of a dullard. The total package is well worth seeing, but don’t go into it having gulped down the Kool-Aid of the fanboy critics who are calling it “the best Spider-Man movie ever” and “the perfect MCU movie.” I wouldn't put in my top 5 MCU films to date. It's good, very good even, but not GOAT.

It goes without saying that you’ll want to stay through the credits. The first credit scene involves a certain Spider-verse character who has appeared in other Sony-produced superhero films, opposite Ted Lasso’s Cristo “Dani Rojas” Fernández, playing a bartender at a South American resort. This character disappears before paying his tab, but leaves a tiny bit of himself behind, potentially creating an offshoot of this character in the MCU while he continues to operate in the Sony-verse. See the kind of craziness that starts to happen when the Multiverse is involved? What's next, Ted Lasso coaching a team of symbiote soccer hooligans? After the credits, there was a surprisingly lengthy teaser for Doctor Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness. As trailers go, this looked insanely awesome, but it also underlined my issue with Strange in this film. If he and his allies can handle Multiversal threats coming next spring, why couldn’t he handle a babbling high school senior now?

Spider-Man: No Way Home is rated PG-13 with a runtime of 2 hours and 28 minutes, give or take the credits, and opens across America on December 17, 2021, though there appears to be a lot of shows starting on December 16, so check with your local theaters for show times and COVID-19 safety protocols.

4.0 / 5.0