Spider-Man: No Way Home (2022)
Directed by Jon Watts
Starring Tom holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jacob Batalon
Why don’t we gush over Spider-Man: No Way Home director Jon Watts the same way we gush over Matt Reeves, who released The Batman (2022) last month?
Watts wrote and directed his first two features, Clown (2014) and Cop Car (2015), before going on to helm the first of three Spider-Man films with Tom Holland in the title role. Reeves, on the other hand, started his film career by directing something called The Pallbearer (1996) starring Ross from Friends before bursting onto the scene with Cloverfield (2008). It’s a great film, but how much of its success goes to Reeves and how much should we attribute to writer Drew Goddard and producer by J.J. Abrams?
The other two films in this modern Spider-Man trilogy, Homecoming and Far From Home, were refreshing additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Both are visually stimulating and create an excellent character arc for a young Peter Parker who’s been thrust into the bright and shiny world of superheroes and villains. Here, Watts shows us something different. The magic of Dr. Strange (played with effortless panache by Benedict Cumberbatch) adds to the darker aspects of No Way Home, which isn’t as bright and shiny as its two predecessors. And the film’s locations and night-time settings convey a more subdued visual language.
Plot-wise, Dr. Strange tries to help Peter solve a riddle Mysterio created in the previous film’s finale, but this leads to madness — as in, “a multiverse of madness.” Enemies from parallel dimensions invade Peter Parker’s universe and it is only with the help of a few friends – a few friends who share his name – that he’s able to send them back.
Tom Holland and Zendaya, who plays Peter’s girlfriend MJ, are excellent dramatic actors trapped in roles that could be thought of as “just a paycheck” to other actors. But they live and breathe Peter and MJ on screen, (and maybe a bit off screen too). Just like they do with other characters not set in the fantastical world of the MCU, (see Holland in The Devil All the Time <2020> and Zendaya in Euphoria).
We are far enough away from the film’s premiere to include an enticing list of actors that grace the screen and truly make this an ensemble film for the ages. Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina are just some of the players I was delighted to see. Of course, after grossing almost 2 billion dollars, it is safe to say to you already know that both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield make an appearance.
The world needed this Spider-Man film. The packed theater cheered for each villain on opening night as they appeared and straight up roared when both legacy versions of Peter Parker appeared on screen together alongside Holland. The collective nostalgia channeled through the style and craftsmanship of Jon Watts was a welcome relief. It’s an engaging watch that felt like half of its two and a half hour runtime, along the way both honoring the past and propelling our new Peter into the future. By the time it’s over, we get to see the MCU’s Peter Parker as our Friendly Neighborhood Spiderman instead of a globe-trotting, armor wielding Avenger.
This film isn’t for everyone. If you don’t enjoy the MCU and its previous 20+ films, if you think superhero films should only be grounded in realism, or if you hate nostalgia and think it is a cheap trick to elicit joy—if any of these statements describe your feelings, then by all means stay away from this stylized, expertly crafted film by Jon Watts and go see The Batman (2022) by Matt Reeves instead. It may be more of what you are looking for.
If Rami’s Spider-Man Trilogy is a B+, A- and C respectively; if the Marc Webb Amazing Spider-Man films are a C and a B-, and, finally, if Watt’s first two “coming” of age films are a B+ and B-, then his third rises above all and comes in as an A.