DISCLAIMER: This review may contain minor spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home. While I do not reveal any major plot points, there is some brief discussion of some of the characters that show up. If you haven't seen the film yet and don't want anything spoiled, you might not want to read further until you have seen it. Otherwise, continue at your own risk.
I have been a fan of Spider-Man ever since I was a little kid. I distinctly remember watching the first of the Sam Raimi directed films not long after it came out in 2001, and being blown away. Since then, I never missed a Spider-Man movie, and I have always had a special place in my heart for the character. Fast forward to now, where we are in our third iteration of Peter Parker as Spider-Man (at least in the live action films). A lot has changed in the world of cinema since the days of the Raimi trilogy. Back in the early 2000s, superhero films were starting to become bigger and bigger, and now, they seem inescapable. As a kid, I viewed films like that with wide-eyed excitement, and now, I approach them with a healthy dose of skepticism. With No Way Home, I was extremely trepidatious. I've felt that the oversaturation of the MCU in pop culture has led me to become a bit tired of it, and with this film, it looked like it might reach its nadir. The trailers and promotional images just weren't hitting me the way they were hitting others. Not even the rumors of crossovers and cameos that surrounded this film were enough to take away my worries that this film might not be very good. But as I watched this film, I felt that same joy I felt as a kid, and was reminded why Spider-Man is one of my favorite superheroes.
When it comes to this newest Spider-Man trilogy, I have been somewhat mixed. I love Spider-Man: Homecoming, but was left a little cold by Far From Home. I appreciate that the films have a bit of a lighter tone, but feel that they can get bogged down by exposition at times. While this is still a bit of an issue here, it balances it slightly better than the previous two films. I think the key issue lies in Jon Watts, who never truly makes an impression in terms of his direction. Perhaps that is why Marvel is keeping him around, as he seems to be a rather malleable director that Kevin Feige and company can use to create what they want. This has never been more obvious than it is here, as it is the biggest film of the Spider-Man franchise, and he doesn't seem to bring much to the table. Thankfully, the film has some compelling plot lines, and leans on some iconic characters in order to make a thrilling film that will delight fans of everyone's favorite web-slinger.
It is hard to talk about this film without getting into specific, spoilery details, but I'll do my best. As we have seen in the trailers, this film brings the multiverse into the MCU fold. The concept of the multiverse has already shown itself to be a big part of this new era of the MCU. This has the potential to open the door to almost limitless possibilities, it's still a rather tall order to pull off. It is clear that this is the main focus of Marvel's upcoming projects, and in this film, it's dealt with nicely. It feels like more of a primer for mainstream audiences who may be unfamiliar with the basic concept of the multiverse, but it makes sense for it to take this approach. I'm sure that this will only be expanded on in the future, so at the very least, this makes for a good start.
I've already shared my gripes with Jon Watts's direction, but it is truly disappointing that he is not better suited towards directing action. That being said, it's not all that bad here. The film's climactic setpiece is actually pretty good, even if it gives in a little to Marvel's penchant for murkiness in their action sequences. I also felt that the big confrontation between Spider-Man and Doc Ock is not too shabby as well. It's not the best thing ever, but it did genuinely draw me in. I just wish that the MCU would actually focus on making the action look incredible, as it would make these movies so much better. But until then, I guess I'll just be satisfied with what we can get in the meantime.
What the film lacks in direction, it makes up for in heart. Emotional depth isn't necessarily the first thing I associate with the MCU, but it is something that it does fairly well when it chooses to. It might sometimes come across as maudlin, but it still can pack a punch from time to time. With No Way Home, I think it is handled quite well, and manages to make you feel for the characters without feeling overwrought. Perhaps its just that I have such strong ties to Spider-Man and Peter Parker, but I couldn't help but be moved in places. The film itself is a love letter to the character, and it illustrates this in such an effective way.
To me, where the film shines is in its performances, which is a sentence I never thought I would say in regards to a Marvel film. It's not that the MCU features bad performances, but they are typically not the aspect of the film that wows me. Tom Holland gives his best turn as Peter Parker yet, and is given some interesting things to work with here. He does get outshined by some of his co-stars at times, but he manages to stick the landing with his work in the third act. There are some specific characters that make a return here, all of whom are welcome and do a decent job in their own right, but I will avoid talking about some of the bigger surprises as not to spoil anything. I thought that this films take on J. Jonah Jameson was fun, and reimagining him as an Alex Jones-esque figure fits the film rather well. Of course, it helps that they got J.K. Simmons to step back into the role, but I digress. I do miss the version of him from the Raimi films, but I think they use him well here too. I will say that Alfred Molina is great as always here, and has an affable nature to this specific take on Doc Ock. And since he was shown in the trailers, I'll go ahead and bring up Willem Dafoe, who gives my personal favorite performance in the whole movie. Dafoe's original performance as Norman Osborn and the Green Goblin is iconic, and he reprises the role with such great energy and nuance. There are a couple of other performances I would love to talk about, but I don't want to spoil anything. So for now, I'll just say that there are a few other performances that I liked a lot, and will likely make fans of the franchise very happy.
Beyond this, the film largely plays out like I was expecting, albeit in the best possible way. This isn't a masterpiece, and some of the story beats don't fully line up, but I found it thoroughly enjoyable. This film hit me in a way I was not expecting, and it transported me back to watching the Raimi trilogy as a kid. I felt that same excitement and happiness I felt back then, and I can't remember the last time a film in the MCU did that for me. This might be one of my favorites of the franchise in quite some time, and I was not expecting it to hit me the way that it did. This is one of the better films that Marvel has put out recently, and a rather loving take on Spider-Man that makes for a guaranteed crowdpleaser.