One could argue that there has been no movie more anticipated in the last couple of years than SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME. Spider-Man fans and moviegoers alike were dripping with anticipation to see how Tom Holland’s version of the character would handle the Multiverse, and now that the moment is finally here, fans are exploding with excitement. After all, if there is one thing that NO WAY HOME excels at, it is giving the die-hard fans an experience that will leave them in a state of euphoria for weeks. This film is one that is unabashedly created for fans, which is admirable given how well it gives Spider-Man followers what they want and more. However, when it comes to being an actual movie with a solid plot and humor that sticks the landing, the film often comes up well short.
Describing the plot of this film is like walking through a field of landmines, so everything I describe will have to be maddeningly vague so as not to spoil the surprises. The film continues from exactly where the end-credits scene of Spider-Man: Far From Home left off, with Holland’s Peter Parker being accused by Mysterio of murder and with his identity as Spider-Man revealed. These revelations alter his life and the lives of those around him, causing him to turn to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for some help. However, Strange reveals more horrible problems that may not only impact Peter, but the fate of the entire universe.
NO WAY HOME starts off as a somewhat typical superhero movie with a decent yet forgettable plot and humor that often falls flat on its face, making the first act the weakest stretch of the movie. Much of the movie’s plot revolves around the main three characters (Peter, MJ and Ned) attempting to get into MIT, which comes across as a cheap device to get the actual interesting superhero stuff started. Parker makes some very poor decisions near the first half and ends up accidentally causing all of the catastrophe that ensues. The movie reminds the audience that Peter is just a kid and his decision-making skills are naturally not the best at his age, but the plot relies on these poor decisions to such an extreme extent that the film falls apart if one thinks about it for more than five minutes. The first half contains the same fundamental issues that dragged Far From Home down, including a sense of humor that falls flat just as often as it makes the audience chuckle.
However, the film also contains a lot of the strengths that power the previous two films — mainly Tom Holland himself as Spider-Man. Holland embodies this role like no other has before, and delivers an emotionally charged performance that surpasses any expectations of a superhero movie such as this. The other performance that stands out here is Willem Dafoe, who steps back into a role that he hasn’t played in almost two decades as if he never left. (That is not a spoiler, it was in the trailer.) The villains in general are surprisingly well-fleshed out and supply some of the strongest scenes in a somewhat underwhelming first half. The last performance that should be highlighted here is an actor who brings more emotion than every other, and who proves to fans that more material should be created starring his rich and interesting version of an iconic character. (Have fun deciphering the possible subject of that last sentence.)
Luckily, NO WAY HOME picks up in a major way during the last hour of the film, with plot elements that prove to be far more interesting and emotionally compelling than anything presented previously. Even the humor seems to land more in the last act, and the chemistry between certain characters is electric, making me wish the entire film had this degree of quality. As some expected, the last act of the film has a substantial amount of fan service — moments that pander to fans’ expectations and which will have little significance to the uninitiated. Sometimes fan service can fail miserably, but in this case it works so well that the movie becomes far superior as a result. The writers also blend the fan moments with important plot points and very powerful scenes, making the last act as satisfying as it could possibly be. The saving grace for NO WAY HOME is the knowledge that despite the lackluster first half, the writers knew exactly where the destination of the plot was located, creating an satisfying experience overall.
SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME is an experience worth having, especially in the theater with a large crowd of fans on every side. As a fan-centered project, this film is an unqualified success of epic proportions, and is already on track to become one of the most successful movies in history. Nothing I can say in this review can minimize an achievement like that. However, for a movie that is endlessly praised and hyped up, NO WAY HOME fails to deliver an unique and new experience other than the fan service. At the end of the day, the film is another MCU movie, and no amount of moments that are created for crowd reaction will remedy a decent and forgettable script. This movie will be justifiably remembered for being an ode to Spider-Man, what the character means to people, and the fans that make the character the phenomenon it is today. If only it proved to be a better stand-alone story without relying on the Marvel Cinematic Universe to curate the mediocre plot.