Spider-Man: No Way Home swings into theaters with a heavy load of expectations on its shoulders. As the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it needs to match a certain level of storytelling and spectacle that fans feel is the de rigueur for the superhero-focused Marvel Studios. The intrinsic nature of the MCU’s interconnected storylines – now expanded out to encompass spinoff shows on the Disney+ streaming service as well as films – helps to create an investment in the ongoing narratives that keeps people coming back for more. Add a helping of potential spoilers that Marvel has continued to play coy about and you have a potent cocktail that has fans buzzed with anticipation.
But Spider-Man: No Way Home delivers on much of those expectations, leaving only a few of the far-fetched fan theories peddled by clickbait genre “news” sites out in left field where they belong. And while that does mean the film does contain some of the rumored cameos, it never gets too cluttered or overrun with fan service to become a detriment to the story. The result is not so much yet another big punch ’em up big superhero epic as it is to the various past cinematic incarnations of the character. But it is still a crackling fun and exciting film as well.
Spider-Man: No Way Home picks up literally seconds after the last installment, 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home, ended on its cliffhanger. Spider-Man’s secret identity of Peter Parker has been publicly disclosed by J Jonah Jameson of the muck-raking Daily Bugle, who also accuses the superhero of murder. While an investigation does clear Peter of the murder charge fairly quickly, his very public outing has proven to be a hindrance to both himself and his closest friends. Turning to fellow New York-based superhero Dr. Stephen Strange, Peter asks for a spell to be cast that would cause the world to forget that he is Spider-Man. However, the magic goes awry and soon Peter finds himself confronting villains he has never faced before but whom seem to recognize his name, if not his face. And then things get more complicated from there.
Screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, settled in with this, their third Spider-Man film, really taking the character to one of the pivotal moments of the Spider-Man mythos – where Peter learns the lesson that “with great power comes great responsibility.” That ideal is part and parcel tied in with the character’s origin story, and since Marvel chose to skip over telling this version of Spider-Man’s origin after audiences had seen it twice before on the big screen, there was always the feeling that this version of the hero hadn’t learned that lesson nor was motivated by it. But McKenna and Sommers finally touch on this trope with this installment and do so in a way that makes it become the primary plot engine for the second half of the movie. It is always a hard lesson for Peter to learn, and it really moves Peter from being the kid-with-superpowers to the young man-with-super responsibilities in a way that feels fresh and organic for this iteration of the character.
(This lack of a spelled-out moment where this cinematic version of Peter is told about great power and responsibility has been a bone of contention for some fans. Its rectification here is not the only complaint about the character some might find addressed before the closing credits start to roll.)
Between his own two previous solo outings as well as his other appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spider-Man has built up quite a roster of supporting characters. McKenna and Sommers’s screenplay does its best to give everyone involved a least a moment or two to shine. Even some of the villains get a few moments to show some humanity, touches which will resonate by the time the film reaches its closing moments.
Third-time franchise director Jon Watts clearly knows what he is doing when it comes to staging the kinetic action sequences, keeping them brisk and energetic while still easily follow-able. Given everything that this film needed to do in terms of its own story and furthering ongoing MCU plotlines, Watt keeps things moving along nicely, demonstrating a deft hand at the fan service sprinkled throughout the movie. Currently, Watt is set to move onto Marvel’s upcoming Fantastic Four film and that would be a shame if it meant precluding him from overseeing the further Spider-Man adventures this film’s ending clearly leaves the door open for.