Like most people, Spider-Man has been a big part of my childhood and young adult years. I grew up watching the Rami films and often imagined myself jumping from building-to-building shooting webs. As a teenager I reconnected with the Web-Slinger by watching The Amazing Spider-Man films, and then going into college, I quickly became hooked on the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s version of Spider-Man. At my first college musical audition I wore my favorite Spider-Man jacket, infact, I wore that some Spider-Man jacket all through-out college and despite it having a few badly patched holes in its pockets, I also wore it to watch Spider-Man: No Way Home.
I was excited for Spider-Man No Way Home, albiet I was a bit concerned going into it. I wanted all my concerns to be invalid and to exit the theater feeling like I’ve just witnessed the greatest Spider-Man movie of all time. However, that is not my story. I left the theaters a bit disappointed. And so far, I seem to be in the minority.
At the time of writing this, Spider-Man No Way Home sits at a 94% fresh in Rotten Tomatoes Critics Score and its audience score is even higher. Everyone I’ve spoken to about the movie seems to adore it and many would even rank it above Infinity War and Endgame. I wish I could say the same, but for some reason I can’t. Perhaps I was a bit tired, or perhaps I overanalyzed its flaws. But something felt off for me and I wanted to figure it out.
I’m currently trying to learn what makes a story good, and the hard part about this is that art is subjective. I’ve had arguments with my friends over this, while certain things in life are objectively good or bad, there can be things that suit one person’s taste and is sours to another. I wouldn’t quite say No Way Home was sour to me, but I will say that it didn’t meet my expectations. Perhaps that is half the problem.
I’m not here to convince you that Spider-Man No Way Home is a ‘bad movie.’ Art is subjective; however, I want to lay out the reasons why it missed the mark for me and hopefully hear some opposing viewpoints to help me enjoy the film more. Also, while I have some major critiques, I also absolutely adored certain aspects of the movie, so I will be taking about that as well.
Since I’m viewing this article as more of analysis, it will be full of spoilers. So, if you haven’t seen the movie, here is your official… SPOILER ALERT!!!
THE HEART OF THE SPIDER: VILLIANOUS CONNECTIONS
The best stories, in my opinion, have a hero facing a villain with some sort of emotional connection to the protagonist. This is something the Spider-Man films have always seemed to do. Let’s do a brief review. In the Rami films we get three main baddies (well there’s extras in Spider-Man 3, but we’re just going to ignore that for now). We get Norman Osborn, Otto Octavious, and Harry Osborn. Each of these characters provide a key emotional aspect to Peter Parker AKA Spider-Man’s arc. Norman is the dad of Peter’s best friend and sees him as a son of sorts, and Harry will eventually blame Peter for his death. Otto Octavious quickly becomes a mentor figure to Peter and also serves as a warning to him of what could happen if you put your dreams and work before your relationships. The Amazing Spider-Man films take a similar approach: Dr. Conners also serves as a mentor figure to Peter before he becomes the Lizard and serves as a potential clue to who Peter’s parents were, while Electro is a simple (albeit over the top goofy) fan of Spider-Man who feels like he’s been betrayed. In all of these films you have an emotional connection that drives the story forwards. For instance, Osborn figures out Pete is Spidey because he eats dinner at Peter’s and the two sides of him clash over what he should do about Spider-Man. All the other MCU Spider-Man films do this as well; Peter may not be personally connected to the Vulture until he realizes his girlfriend’s dad is his newest foe, but the mentor connection to Tony Stark is prevalent throughout the whole movie and every effort to take down the Vulture is inevitably a slight rejection of Tony’s authority over him. Even Mysterio offers a connection to Peter by being his fake manipulative friend.
Either No Way Home is a genius for breaking the formula, or it made a serious oversight, and in my opinion I think it was an oversight. Near the beginning of the movie Spider-Man, with Dr. Strange’s help, unleashes a number of Spider-Man’s old foes into this universe. Those familiar with the old films should already know them. Doc Ock, Goblin, Electro, Sandman and Lizard all join the movie as the main set of enemies that Spider-Man need to face off against. There are three main acts to his battles against them. First, he captures them, then he releases them which will result in major consequences, and then he fights them one final time. The fights are flashy and exciting; however, they lacked an emotional core until the final fight (for reasons soon to be discussed). Throughout the film there seemed to be no emotional connection between this Spider-Man and our villains from another dimension, which makes perfect sense, but makes for a rather unfortunate problem. The villains had no real connections to this Spider-Man. The only people who have a connection to them is we as the audience, and while I was excited to see them on the screen, until the final they seemed to miss any on screen connection that is needed to tell a compelling story. This problem could have been avoided if they at least focused on one main villain and gave him more screen time with Tom Holland’s Peter Parker (which seemed to be The Green Goblin when we consider he was the final villian they had to fight). The villains as a whole may have represented Spider-Man’s failures, but as individuals they felt out of place. Again, this makes sense, however it does not make for quality storytelling.
The closest connection Peter had with any of the villains was with Norman Ozborn. Introduced to him by Aunt May, Norman is trying to reject his Goblin side and is looking for help. He enables Spider-Man to begin helping the other villains until he snaps back to Goblin and turns against Spider-Man. There is a semblance of an emotional core as Aunt May is killed by Goblin with his glider, however up until this point there was no real development made between these characters, instead each villains had their fair share of reexplained backstories and meme worthy quips.
It could be said that the villain, in fact, was Spider-Man himself, and I respect that. I think this might have been what they were going for, however, bringing back memorable faces and not allowing at least one of them to forge a strong relationship with the protagonist on an emotional level is a wasted oppertunity in my optinion.
With that said, I do want to awknoledge that there is actually one strong emotional core to this movie, so the film is not without one. The friendship between Pete, Ned, and MJ propels the first and last act of the movie forwards, which is probably why I enjoy those parts of the movie most. I look forward to watching the film again and to focus on what it does right next time. There is real chemistry between then, and his connection to them causes them to be unable to be accepted into college. His care for his friends and how well this movie and the ones proceeding built up these three characters make the ending all the more powerful, so this cannot be ignored. So, the movie does have an emotional core, but I think it lost track of that when the villains first enter the stage.
PANICED PACING: A BIT TOO MUCH
This one is hard to pinpoint since I still am trying to master the art of pacing. The pacing and tone of this film felt off at time. For the first half of the movie there was hardly any time to breathe, and when the movie did slow down it was basically for exposition that explained the wibbly woblly rules of multi-dimensional travel. Again, I feel like the core of this issue was that the movie was trying to do way much with the villains. In a matter of minutes after we meet Doc Ock, the Green Goblin is revealed. In addition to that, Sandman, Electro, and the Lizard are all revealed in the same sequence as well. Between running from the paparazzi and chasing down his numerous enemies Spider-Man hardly had a moment to relax. This, in turn, means important character moments were sideline to make room for the expansive long reaching plot. I think if things were spaced out a bit more and Peter had more one on one moments with his friends to further solidify the themes and emotional stakes, then this movie could go from something that is good to great.
As a side note, I can’t quite remember a single time Peter was alone in this move or was able to talk one-on-one with anybody, until the last quarter of the film. Perhaps that is the point in a movie filled with paparazzi, however, in almost every scene there are at least three or more people involved in each conversation, and most of the conversations are filled with witty one-liners that often distract from what is happening, which is a major issue with most Marvel Films these days. For all its faults, No Way Home deals with some very deep and heavy subjects: Peter needs to either kill his enemies with a click of a button or help reform them, he needs to face the consequences of his actions, both good and bad, and understand that his failure to do so will always harm someone. I just wish we would have had more time to sit in these moments. We did at the end, granted, but the buildup felt overcrowded and cluttered.
But that’s enough complaining. It’s time to analyze some of the things this movie does great and why I want to give it another shot!
INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE: NOSTALGIA DONE WILL
Right now, this movie isn’t high on my Spider-Man movie list, however, there is one thing I absolutely LOVE about this film.
Tobey Macquire and Andrew Garfeild are back!
When they came on screen the theater began to cheer and my annoyance with the film faded and was replaced with one big and happy smile.
Now you might be wondering why I am so happy to see them back and not the villains. To which I say, I did not say I didn’t like the villains being back, I said I didn’t like the way they were handled. However, I loved the way they handled the Spider-Men.
Here’s the bottom line, bringing back Toby and Andrew added the emotional core that I think this movie needed. Green Goblin just killed Aunt May and Peter is nowhere to be found. Peter has lost everything. Everyone knows he is Spider-Man, he was unable to save any of the villains, and all of this is his fault. Spider-Man need a mentor. He needs someone who has gone through this and come out the other end. He needs someone to be able to connect with him, failures, faults and all, and to urge him to come to the other side as a better man. These people are Toby and Andrew’s Spider-Men (who were also introduced through a plot convenience, but I thought it was funny that Ned could use magic, so it gets a pass). Both of them have faced incredible losses, and yet both of them continued to fight and to do what’s right. There was nuance to these characters, it was cool hearing what happened after their movies, but they were ultimately there to remind Peter to take responsibility for his actions. He may not be able to change the past, but he can do something about what is going on now. The let him sit with his pain, but they also offer the hope that he so desperatly needed. As soon as they were introduced, I must admit, that I really fell in love with the latter half of the movie. They gave the story the emotional core I felt it lacked, the pacing slowed down a bit for Peter to process everything, and he was able to find the resolve to get back up and try again.
Now that’s what makes a great Spider-Man film!
I also started caring more about the final battles as well, and for no other reason than the fact that I knew there were emotional stakes in this battle. Toby seeing Doc Ock help him and Goblin being cured are short yet sweet moments that will tickle any Rami-verse Spider-Man fans, while seeing Electro be de-electricized also gave a bit of closure to Andrew’s Spider-Man. And let’s not forget him successfully catching MJ… oh my heart!
Anyways, I thought I was supposed to be critiquing this. Well, I think you get it. The final battle worked because the characters’ conflicts were more than just physical movements but were also accompanied by real and driving emotions. Tom Holland’s battle with the Green Goblin still felt a bit lacking in that area, but it did have the added benefit of Goblin being Aunt May’s murderer.
The final battle worked because it had authentic, emotional stakes for each of the characters. And every interesting conflict is driven by some sort of desire or inner conflict. Which brings me to my last point.
MENACING CONEQUENCES: A THEME STILL DELIVERED
There will always be consequences. This is an important theme in the Spider-Man universe. While this film may lack the emotional depths of this theme as explored in the Insomniac’s Spider-Man on the PS4, it does a rather good job at conveying this information despite the movie’s villain issue.
From the beginning we see the consequences of Peter’s double life. The entire world knows he is Spider-Man and from the very beginning Dr. Strange tells him that everything that happened is the consequence of him living a double life. Peter tries to change this by making everyone forget he is Spider-Man but messes up the spell by adding too many addendums to it. Once again he is faced with a consequence, the spell backfired and causes everyone who knows he is Spider-Man, from alternate universe, to begin seeping into this one. Here he is faced with a decision, either kill the villains, or break the multi-verse. Spider-Man, of course, tried to save the villains however this decision would lead to even greater consequences and indirectly cause Aunt May’s death. From here on, Peter must face his consequences head on, however he continues to take Aunt May’s message with him and tries to help people, including his villains. And so, with some timely help from the other Spider-Men, both of which have faced their fair share of consequences, MCU Spidey takes them head on, and is able to cure them all, until he comes to his last and final decision: In order to save the multi-verse, everyone needs to forget who Peter Parker is.
On one hand I hate this, because it resets and erases the big “everyone knows Peter’s identity” conflict, but on the other hand I love this because it really encapsulates the theme of this movie: be prepared to face the consequences for every action you take. In the end, everyone forgets who Peter is, he loses all of his friends, his mentors, and even his enemies. The only ones who will know him are those who can’t see past the mask. It’s a really sad thing for Peter, meaning that from here on out, he will have to start from square one in refriending his friends, however it also could serve as a potentially interesting storytelling challenge that if handled carefully, could add an entirely different depth of creativity to the character.
Or it could just be reversed again by magic.
However, this ended was done perfectly. The let us sit in the pain for a moment, feel Peter’s emotion, and gave us a glimpse at what is to come. It’s a perfect ending to a very flawed Spider-Man movie, and its an ending I truly do appreciate.
WITH GREAT POWER:
Well, there’s my analysis!
I am honestly torn on this movie. On one hand I love the last half of it, which takes all the good parts of the first half and brings it to a fitting conclusion, on the other hand, much the first half annoys me with its breakneck pace and underdeveloped connections to the villains. And yet, the core theme is strong enough, and Spider-Man-y enough, to make me really appreciate the broader strokes of the film and what they were saying. Ned and MJ’s excellent relationships with Spider-Man was able to solidify that gut-punch-tears-in- your-eyes ending, but it also seemed like the writers felt like it necessary to replay the Rami verse’s greatest memes on repeat. I still really don’t like certain parts of this film but there is also so much I love.
Whats your take on Spider-Man No Way Home? Did You love the film or do you have major issues with it like me? Am I wrong or did I miss anything? I’d love to hear your take!
If you expect disappointment, you can never really be disappointed.
With great power, there must also come great responsibility.