Does whatever a spider can.

Normally the policy on How About Notflix in terms of potential spoilers is to only discuss the plot premise, scenes that appear in the trailer, and things that overall wouldn’t spoil a person’s good time. With Spider-Man there were a lot of things that became obvious as time went on, and I’ll be discussing those. Nothing I’m talking about will come from leaks, just bits and pieces that were clearly going to happen despite numerous denials from the studio. If you want to go in completely blind, I suggest not looking up reviews of movies before you go see them.

No Way Home is finally here, the closer for the Tom Holland trilogy and the end product of five years of film appearances. It feels like a lifetime ago that we first saw Tom Holland’s Spider-Man when Tony Stark recruited him to take on Captain America. I try not to talk about how memorable the MCU movies are, as while I enjoy the films after 14 years and 27 movies, plus like 10 tv shows and other bitties, the whole thing has become like identifying the components of a wad of many chewing gums in my brain. I enjoyed Iron Man 3, I couldn’t tell you anything that happened in it other than when Tony Stark’s house goes boom. There might have been a fight with many Iron Mans. Iron Men.

At the end of the prior movie, Homeward Bound, Peter Parker defeats Mysterio and starts to get smoochy with MJ. In the mid-credits scene we see none other than J. Jonah Jameson himself (welcome back J.K. Simmons) revealing Spider-Man’s secret identity to the world, playing a doctored video to portray him as a killer, and naming him public enemy #1. Considering that the MCU likes to show its hand a few steps in advance, I’d like to think Far From Home was the first revelation that we’d be seeing characters from the past movies come in at some point. That and everyone loves JK Simmons as JJJ.

As it turns out, having his identity known to the public was just as crappy as he expected it to be, as not only does the public believe that he’s a murderer and he gets no privacy, but the lives of his friends and family are upended as well. Peter goes to who else but Dr. Strange to ask if there’s a way to modify everyone’s memories to forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. I did like the self-referential joke where Peter messes up the spell because he just can’t keep his mouth shut, a nod to the MCU’s heavy reliance on characters constantly getting a quip in at the least appropriate times. The spell not only fails, it starts to pull in people from other worlds who know that Peter Parker is Spider-Man.

No Way Home shows the power of good writing, as a film of this type could easily have become shoddy, cynical nostalgia bait that left the audience unsatisfied. The elephant in the room of course is the return of Toby McGuire and Andrew Garfield as their respective Spider-Man portrayals, and they’ve done it masterfully. Toby McGuire’s Spider-Man takes on the role of the older, more experienced super hero. He knows how it feels to lose, and he’s embraced the whole message of “with great power comes great responsibility.” Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man is also experienced, but is haunted by the death of his timeline’s Gwen Stacy. There is a joke at some point referencing (and foreshadowing) Miles Morales as they comment that surely there’s a timeline where Spider-Man is black.

If I had to choose an MVP award for No Way Home that award would go to Willem Dafoe. What Mark Hamill is to the Joker, Dafoe is to the Green Goblin. His performance in this movie is absolutely chilling, darting between the terrified man and the psychotic killer in a way that every sentence kicked out is intimidating and I was constantly on edge wondering who he was about to kill. Kicking up the rear is a digitally de-aged Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus, perhaps the only other villain to have a major character development throughout the movie. And then of course you have Jamie Foxx reprising Electro, Rhys Ifans reprising Lizard, and Thomas Haden Church as Sandman. It’s probably the closest we’ll get to a Sinister Six type situation in the MCU.

There are a few more smaller cameos, but let’s not blow the whole film.

The crux of the plot basically becomes the Spider-Men needing to defeat the villains in order to take them back to their home dimensions where they belong, while the villains see a new world to exploit and make their home. The three Peters have great chemistry and play off of each other far better than I expected, including relaying their own stories with Andrew Garfield’s Parker admitting he’s probably the lamest of the three. There’s even a heartfelt moment when Octavius comes into contact with Norman Osborne for the first time, being reunited with a dead friend. Octavius and Toby McGuire’s Spider-Man have their own “hello old chum” moment as well.

On a chart of films handling big casts you have Avengers: Infinity War on the great end and Eternals on the bad end, No Way Home is up there with Infinity War. It’s impressive that they juggle this many characters and give everyone a satisfying amount of time in the spotlight. There are plenty of genuinely heartfelt moments to get those tear ducts working, and it’s incredible how many scenes happen in the film that you saw coming a mile away that didn’t feel lessened by that knowledge. It feels like a reunion to the Toby McGuire trilogy, a redemption arc that Garfield’s Spider-Man never got (the third film in the planned trilogy was cancelled), and a fitting if perhaps the darkest conclusion to a Spider-Man series for Tom Holland.

This probably isn’t the last we’ll see of Holland however, both in the Sony universe and presumably the MCU.

Rating: A