Published on December 17th, 2021 | by Craig Silliphant0
Spider-man: No Way Home
With Spider-man: No Way Home, Jon Watts, Tom Holland, Zendaya, and company finish out their MCU trilogy. It’s a fun movie with a frustrating concept.
Note: This review contains spoilers for not only Spider-man, but also Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
If there was any doubt we’re in the age of intellectual property (IP) and franchise filmmaking, Spider-man: No Way Home swings in to declare itself peak IP. The very idea of a multiverse has gone from being a fascinating corner of science fiction to the main way IP juggernauts like Disney can dominate the marketplace without coming up with new ideas. While I do have some good things to say about the movie, I can’t wait until the cultural zeitgeist moves on to something more interesting than multiverses and cheap nostalgia. Smarter people than me have expressed this, but basically, we’re at the point where culture is eating itself.
As Spider-man: No Way Home opens, we find Tom Holland’s Peter Parker as the most famous person on the planet, his secret identity as Spider-man blown at the end of the last movie. In a metaphor for our divisive, conspiracy-fueled times, some people also think he’s a murderer that killed Mysterio and wrought destruction in London. Peter approaches Doctor Strange to help him find a way to erase what has happened and inadvertently causes a problem that brings some familiar foes to his Earth (well, familiar to us, not him).
Let me get the critical bitching out of my system, before I double back and say some nice things.
So, I’ve dreaded this concept from the moment they announced it. Bringing back characters from Sony’s previous Spider-man films seemed like a gimmick with a capital G to me. And while the MCU has been laying the groundwork for multiverses and variants and all other plausible explanations, I still thought it was a cheap idea. Especially when you consider that while the first two Tobey Maguire films are great, the third one went off the rails — and both Andrew Garfield films are so hateable they shuttered the whole series and a bunch of spin-offs.
The problem is, the filmmakers didn’t pull in fully-formed people from other universes — they pulled in wooden characters from movies that they own the IP to (actually, they pulled in great characters and make them wooden, simply because there wasn’t enough screen time to flesh them out). Richard E Grant as a Loki variant is brilliant. Shoehorning Tobey Maguire in so people remember their childhood is some carnival barker crap.
They try to be meta about it, but it doesn’t always work. They make references to plot holes and stupid ideas from especially the Garfield films (which were mostly nonsensical). If you’re pointing out the crappy writing in your older movie, you’re going so meta as to yank me right out of the story. You’re not referencing Max falling into a tank of eels. You’re referencing how stupid the writing in that movie was, reminding me that Amazing Spider-man 2 was a movie and that it had a total breakdown of suspension of disbelief. Now you’re transferring that breakdown to the movie at hand. You’re reminding me that I’m at a movie, instead of immersing me in a story.
It’s also worth noting that while the movies are very different, we have already seen this concept in the superior Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse. It’s like they saw how successful that film was and just copied it. And believe me, I wouldn’t have put it past them to have Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-ham show up so they could Roger Rabbit that shit. I guarantee that came up in a studio meeting at least once.
Again, what we have here is ugly nostalgia and IP colliding. It masquerades as big ideas, but when you see Disney pushing out terrible, unfunny Simpsons
shorts commercials with the Avengers or Mickey Mouse, it just feels like a calculated excuse to flex their IP and give you a hit of memberberries.
Just tell me a story, man.
Because we have all this Ready Player One stuff crammed in there, we lose the most important part of the story in all the noise; Peter Parker/Spider-man himself. Which isn’t to say there aren’t a few great, emotional moments that peek through the din like the sun through clouds. But that ongoing trilogy narrative feels like an afterthought a lot of the time.
Heck, even the villains are fairly poorly painted cyphers (though Willem Dafoe steals the show and it was great to see Molina again). The film also totally sidelines a lot of the other characters we’ve grown with, like Peter’s teachers and fellow students. The smartest bit of the movie was a throwaway gag where Hannibal Buress is the conspiracy theorist while JB Smoov and Martin Starr are Spidey fans. I would have liked to see more of this whole idea explored, including J Jonah Jameson’s blowhard by way of famous idiot Alex Jones. Though I guess, I’m supposed to be at a popcorn movie to forget all the conspiracy theorists guzzling misinformation who want to keep us locked in Covid.
Whoops. Almost got political there. And I know how haters gonna hate when I think about anything other than just movies.
What I will say though, is that I give them kudos for committing to the idea. Feedback writer Kim Kurtenbach complained to me a few weeks back that Ghostbusters: Afterlife didn’t do enough with the original Ghostbusters in the story. They show up at the end, deus ex machina, and hologram Spengler fights Zuul before taking off to headline Lollapalooza. Spider-man introduces Garfield Peter and Maguire Peter midway through and makes them an integral part of the story (to much audience applause). Of course, part of this annoyed me because cheap nostalgia and fan service, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a smile on my face when they appeared. And I readily admit I enjoyed a lot of their interactions. Even Garfield. Especially Garfield.
The story itself is pretty cohesive considering everything that’s going on (as long as you don’t think too hard about it. I mean, how does Happy know May through Spider-man if he no longer knows who Peter is? I know…a wizard did it. Sigh).
But, to be clear, I didn’t hate this movie. I liked it. It was fun, it had some humour, a lot of great action, and some pretty big emotional beats. In fact, it worked best when it focused on May’s death or Peter’s relationship with his friends.
Even if I think the concept is gimmicky and that it’s a nadir example of culture eating its own tail, I will say that it was an ambitious gimmick. People will either love this movie because they don’t care about nostalgia being cheap, or they’ll begrudgingly enjoy it because it was still fun, which is probably where I was on the spectrum.
I was happy to hear that they are doing another trilogy with Holland. He is an excellent Peter/Spidey and I look forward to more adventures with him, especially as he begins to navigate the adult world. Hopefully they can put some of their IP away and just tell a great Spider-man story. He’s got decades of history to pull from, so there’s no need to make another fan service spectacle.
Last note: re: the post credit sequences: thank god they didn’t actually include Tom Hardy and Venom into this movie. Venom 2 was especially stupid/boring and I’d hate to cram that silliness in here as well. And you can skip the final credit scene. It’s not a scene at all. It’s a commercial for the next Doctor Strange movie. This was perhaps the laziest thing I’ve ever seen Marvel do.