Spider-Man: No Way Home
WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
After Mysterio revealed Spider-Man's identity to the entire world, Peter Parker is pushed to seek the help of Dr Strange to create a spell that would make the world forget this fact. As spells are wont to do, it goes very wrong. As a consequence, villains from across the multiverse (and previous Spider-man movies) suddenly find themselves in the middle of Peter's world, the world we know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
It feels an awful lot like, over the past couple of years, there have only been two real conversations centred around the world of film. First, after the pandemic gave streaming services first rights to brand new film releases and people got more and more used to watching even fairly big blockbuster releases on their TVs, laptops, Tablets, or, heaven help us, their phones, the question has been asked time and time again what place there still is for increasingly expensive visits to the cinema.
The second conversation, of course, revolves around the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself, as big-time director after big-time director has decided to come after the MCU for not just ruining cinema but for not being cinema in the first place. Sure, huge blockbusters have been a staple of cinema since Star Wars blasted onto our screens forty-five years ago. A great many of those blockbusters fall well short of even the worst MCU films, but, apparently, it's not Michael Bay's Transformers or the increasingly imbecilic Pirates of the Caribbean movies that are ruining cinema but the likes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Thor Ragnarok.
As I sat through the credits of this, the eighth live-action Spider-Man film of this still very young century, waiting, as always, for the latest tease for what's to come in the saga of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, these discussions once again came to mind. I realised then that not only had Spider-Man: No Way Home given a most definitive answer to both whether the MCU is "real cinema" and whether we still need actual cinemas, it proved that maybe there is such a thing as a stupid question, after all.
Because the film was not available for press previews, I watched the movie in a genuinely crowded (within Covid-19 restrictions) 2D cinema with paying, "regular" cinema-goers all around me. I know. Poor, poor film journalist me. However, while we all surely have our horror stories of watching movies with just the worst audiences on Earth, this easily ranked among one of the best experiences I ever had in the cinema. Not because the audience was quiet, but because they were noisy in all the right ways.
I want to give away as little about the film as humanly possible, but let's just say that No Way Home is a true love letter to Spider-Man and a culmination of everything that came before (in a way unmatched by anything outside of Avengers: Endgame). So, when the audience around me broke into an explosion of cheers and wild applause multiple times throughout the film – and sometimes clearly choking back a tear or two – it spoke to me not just of how very, very, very good the film itself is, but something more profound about the cinema experience and superhero movies as well.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is an exceptional Spider-Man movie and as good a piece of blockbuster filmmaking as you could hope to find outside of a very small handful of established classics. Director, Jon Watts, is far from the MCU's most visually exciting filmmaker, but what he lacks in style, he more than makes up for in control.
Featuring the return of the main cast of the previous MCU Spider-Man films, as well as Dr Strange, six returning villains from across all three iterations of the franchise, J.K. Simmons as J Jonah Jameson, and several other undisclosed characters besides, No Way Home looked doomed from the outset to fall for the same trap that undermined The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and, most especially, Spider-Man 3 -- too many villains, too much story, just too much, in general. Putting aside the brilliant Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (with which this film obviously shares certain similarities), the third time proved to be the charm, though, because this film entirely manages to circumvent that particular pitfall.
A lot happens in No Way Home, and it does indeed feature a cast of seeming thousands, but Watts and returning screenwriters, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, bring a focus to the film that ensures it never loses its central thread. When you get right down to it, the plot is actually pretty straightforward even with its twists and turns, and it always serves both the characters and the primary theme of the film: (say it with me now) "With great power, comes great responsibility." Yes, this is Spider-Man 101, but it hasn't been dealt with quite like this – at least, not in any of the previous movies.
Watts and co. also keep things moving by creating action set-pieces that are effective rather than spectacular, but also very character-driven and crafted in such a way that they never devolve into interminable sequences of nothing more than people in bright costumes hitting each other. The plot, too, may throw in some big twists and, in theory, "major surprises" (your mileage may well vary on just how unexpected they are), but the reason they work so well, regardless of whether you see them coming, is because of the pure emotion built into nearly every single one of them.
And this, really, is the crux of it. There's a by now well-worn cliché that superheroes are modern-day myths. Not just because of their garish costumes or larger-than-life powers, but because they are archetypes that evoke the purest (even child-like) aspirations, morals, and, most crucially, emotions that we possess. Even as superheroes became more complicated and featured in increasingly "grown-up" stories, there remains a simple core to them that appeals to us on a primal level.
It's why Spider-Man, a character who perfectly encapsulates both moral responsibility and endless resilience (life beats the crap out of Spider-Man time and time again, but he always picks himself up with a wise-crack and a need to do the right thing), can draw such an unabashed emotional response from audiences; especially when that audience experiences his adventures communally and even more especially when that experience brings the full weight of years of similarly powerful Spider-Man stories behind it.
It's also the same reason, incidentally, why it's always around the likes of Buffy Summers, Captain Kirk and Luke Skywalker (all of which are superheroes in all but name) that passionate fan bases are built.
Now, take all this, add an A-list cast of actors, playing a group of unforgettable characters that each get their own moment in the spotlight, and then centre it all around a sweet, fully convincing romance between Peter Parker and MJ (played, in keeping with what is now a clear Spider-Man tradition, by real-life couple, Tom Holland and Zendaya) and some seriously emotional story beats, and you have a film that lives up to Roger Ebert's definition of cinema as "an empathy machine" like few others can and do.
And, though there should always be a place for all sorts of different films at your local cinema, Spider-Man: No Way Home makes the most compelling case imaginable that great superhero films are no less "true cinema" than quirky indies, challenging foreign-language fare and major masterpieces by the world's greatest filmmakers – and that they possess a cinematic power all of their own.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: