Spider-Man: No Way Home is a spectacle but nothing more.

(This review is filled with Spider-Man: No Way Home spoilers. Turn back if you haven’t watched it yet.)

By Deep Guha

I’ve been itching to write this review. More than anything else because I’ve never felt so polarized by a film. I enjoyed this film, for obvious reasons; and I’ve felt let down at the same time. While the internet has formed pockets of opinion, as it does on every matter, no other film, in recent times, has generated public discourse like this one. It’s nuts because following its release comes a film from a series that revolutionized the sci-fi genre. Yes, I’m talking about The Matrix: Resurrections. But more on that another time.

Tom Holland’s Spider-Man was different from the beginning. Unlike his predecessors, he was introduced to us in a different set of circumstances. Unlike the others, he was mentored by Tony Stark, had Stark tech empowered suits, went to space, and threw hands with Marvel’s first big-bad, Thanos, all the more trying to capture what Spider-Man has always stood for. But therein lied a critical problem. He wasn’t the ‘blue-collar’ guy everyone cheers and hates at the same time anymore. He’s a gadget-infused human mutate, having access to a plethora of weapons and affiliations that could take out an army. Don’t agree with me? Well, you’re entitled to your own opinion and I respect it. And yes, I know that in the comics, he does this stuff too, and more, but the initial representation of Holland’s iteration of the world-renowned web crawler didn’t capture the Spider-Man spirit. And I stand by this statement. Perhaps the writers of Spider-Man: No Way Home wanted to straight out, or more accurately speaking, reboot this aspect of the MCU’s Spider-Man.

The movie starts right where Far From Home left off. We see how Peter’s world starts to crumble and it starts to affect his and his close ones' lives. They are wanted by authorities, constantly criticized, and attacked by the media, especially by J.J.J, the citizens are in splits about him, with one half trusting Mysterio’s words, while the other still trust Spider-Man and his accomplices. Parker, heartbroken after he and his friends couldn’t get into MIT because of the recent controversy, turns to Doctor Strange to undo the damage and things, as they tend to do, go south. After Strange botches, the spell, villains from the other universes, who know Peter Parker's true identity, come to Holland’s universe. Holland apprehends Molina’s Otto Octavious through controlling his arms during the bridge fight. Later Peter is summoned by Doctor Strange, who wants to send them back to their respective universe, while Peter wants to cure the villains. While he successfully replaces Doctor Octavious’ broken chip, the rest flee, after Electro, and Sandman are manipulated by Dafoe’s Green Goblin. During the escape, comes a pivotal point, the demise of Aunt May. After this, Holland is consumed in guilt and grief, Ned, who now does magic, conjures portals to welcome the worst kept secret in superhero film history.

By this point in time, No Way Home was shaping up to be a beefy threequel, but it gets jittery after this. No, not because of pacing, but because of how the storyline gets convoluted. Incoherent at times. I say this because after this pivotal point the film focuses more on the spectacle and fan service more than the story itself, it digresses from its own path, which is never a good sign. And I had a hard time grasping that because it was turning out to be a decent film. I will not go into the details of the final fight that is as majestic as the one in Avengers: Endgame. It has to be enjoyed with your own eyes because something like this can not be explained, it can be only experienced.

There are takeaways from the film, takeaways that will stick with you. Most of them came from interactions, not action. When people from other parallel universes interact, it becomes interesting. The three Spider-Men, the villains talking to each other is one thing that the film gets almost right. The villains and their motivation are actually defined. Jamie Foxx as Electro redeems himself by giving a solid performance. Rhys Ifans’ The Lizard is also a convincing addition to this film's rogues gallery. But the ones that elevate the story are Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock and Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin. Doctor Octopus has the most screen time out of the villains and is probably the most deserving one. While he brings the gravitas for which he shone in Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 as the tragic villain, he adapts well to the MCU’s storytelling ethos and presents a synthesis that is as glorious as the first cinematic iteration, yet also a little bit different. Goblin is as menacing as he was in Raimi’s Spider-Man and brings the most ferocity out of all the villains. The Goblin carries his ideas of being a god and taking anything that he wants. He IS the main threat. And this is also a marker that points out the MCU’s inaccessibility to great cinematic villains save two or three. Another thing that the filmmakers botched was the treatment of Church’s Sandman because this film erases his character development without any valid reason, only just for the sake of it.

Similarly, Aunt May’s death carries impact but loses some because just some moments after, Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield get pulled into the narrative in all their glory. While Marisa Tomei does own the screen when delivering the “With great power, comes great responsibility” monologue, the much-awaited appearance of both Spider-Men just some moments after May dies takes much power away from Aunt May’s demise, a moment ingrained in the Spider-Man mythology that makes him who he is.

While the final fight offers some extravagant moments, it ends with a Men In Black-inspired ending which is okay, but not an ending that lived up to the rest of the movie's magnitude.

Another thing that bothered me was the film’s obsession to do fan service. I mean it’s good that Cox’s Daredevil finally showed up on the MCU big screen, but it doesn’t matter if he does it without true purpose. I know he's there to counsel Peter but to reduce Cox's appearance to a footnote just as a means of fan service is not acceptable. At least to me. It is very apparent that he was inserted just for the claps and nothing more. Another thing was the constant nod to the memes circulating on the internet. I know, some of you enjoyed it, but when a film constantly does that, it breaks the illusion of the film. Yes, give Deadpool to do it, he’ll do it and it will make sense because that is what Deadpool does, breaking the fourth wall, being meta. Maybe a reference here and there would’ve sufficed, but too much of something is not a good thing.

Now moving on to the worst kept secret of superhero movies. Yes! It was a surreal moment, the coming together of three Spider-Men because this was another thing that was expected of this Spider-Man film. It was the celebration of multi-generations of Spider-Men and their stories and a sort of passing-of-the-torch ceremony. Both Toby and Andrew help Holland’s Peter understand what it means to be Spider-Man. The tough choices and the sacrifices that he has to make and still has to go on. Because that is what they stand for, what heroes stand for. And it was priceless to see the three different Spider-Men connect with each other on multiple levels.

In the movie, there’s a time before the final battle, when Andrew Garfield says he ‘always wanted brothers’, and Maguire, Garfield, and Holland’s chemistry is not far off from that comment. On a meta-level, the three heroes and their respective franchises are like siblings. Maguire’s is the responsible elder and successful one, Garfield’s is the drowned-out, underappreciated, laid-back middle-child, and Holland’s is the jovial one of the family.

Yes, it is probably the Spider-Man fan in me that’s talking right now, but Kevin Feige and co. have done a wonderful job with this film. They’ve at last set Holland's Spidey on the path that he has always taken. They’ve pulled him out of Tony Stark’s towering shadow, and the future is looking promising with Holland becoming the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man we all cherish and love. And with the doors to the multiverse being opened, a plethora of dream situations is now possible. As the latest addition in the superhero franchise of the MCU, this film is a great feat, a spectacle in every definition of the word, but in the end, I am disheartened to say the truth out loud; Spider-Man: No Way Home does not live up to its full potential and almost crumbles beneath its own weight. But is saved by its heroes and villains. It falls short of what made Sam Raimi’s trilogy so humane, yet has offerings that will bring a smile to your face from time to time.

Spider-Man: No Way Home is now playing in theatres.