Last night I went to see Spider-Man: No Way Home, a week after I changed my blog theme to a Spider-Man theme. This is the long-awaited film that pits the Spider-Man of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, portrayed by Tom Holland (not the historian and novelist), against the villians of the previous cinematic incarnations of Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire in three films in the aughts, Andrew Garfield in the tens), alongside Burniwell Curlypants’ Dr. Stephen Strange.
I ordered a new Spider-Man t-shirt at work a few months ago, and since it arrived in my shipment two weeks ago that’s what I wore to the theater, along with a Cookie Monster mask. Even at eight o’clock on a Sunday night, the theater in York was a sell-out.
No Way Home was… well, it was cinematic Esctasy, wasn’t it? It was, for me, a lot like Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who — in the moment, it felt good, but it’s insubstantial and when I started picking at it I started going, “What?” It’s a competently made film that throws enough fanwank at you to overwhelm you into submission, and the plot is so amorphous that even an MFA student would say, “Hey, I get this is pomo and all, but that’s really a bit too far out there…”
Don’t misunderstand. I enjoyed the film. Having rewatched the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb films in the last week, I got the callbacks because they were fresh in a way that the audience I saw it with yesterday clearly did not. But I also left the theater thinking that the script for Amazing Spider-Man 2, which has a reputation for being an overstuffed mess, was better constructed than the script here.
I can easily imagine a rewrite that plants seeds for payoffs later in the film and better addresses the key problem in the story — Peter wants to cure the Ferocious Five (Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, and the Sandman of the Raimi films; the Lizard and Electro of the Webb films) of their afflictions, knowing that when they return to their worlds, they will (in at least three of the cases) die pretty horrible deaths. Frankly, a line of dialogue from Otto probably would have handled it; he knows it’s tragic, he knows it’s their fate, and yet he accepts that this is what needs to be done. “I once called my Peter ‘brilliant but lazy,’ but you, Peter, you’re brilliant and far from lazy. It has been my pleasure to know you, however briefly, before I meet my fate,” is probably a starting point.
I keep thinking of more interesting routes the film could have taken, like a post-credits scene in which Flint Marko, cured of being the Sandman, reunites with his daughter, calling back to his first scene in the film and paying off that thread from Spider-Man 3. I also thought it would have been cool if a character from one of the older universes could have remained in this universe, like Otto, who perhaps goes to work for Stark Industries or Horizon Labs — and yes, I’m aware of the post-credits scene.
The Ferocious Five are underdeveloped and lacking in motivation and clearly-defined goals. They’re more problems for Spider-Man to deal with than actual antagonists. One thing that would have helped would have been some villain POV scenes. There’s really only one — Norman smashing the helmet in the alley. The rest of the film, we’re seeing them from Peter’s perspective. Relatedly, Was Norman’s “Green Goblin no more!” scene staged in the same alley where Peter had his “Spider-Man no more!” scene in Spider-Man 2? If so, nice touch.
While much of the Dr. Strange material was interesting, I felt there was too much of it and, as imaginative as the Mirror Plane fight was, that’s time that could have spent on better developing the returning characters and their arcs. The weird thing is, Strange is probably the closest character in the film to an actual antagonist for Peter, and even though there was, for me, a little too much of Strange and the Mirror Plane fight, while visually impressive, took time away from developing characters and planting seeds, a rewrite that upped the conflict between Peter and Strange — Peter wants to cure the villains and keep them on his Earth where they won’t die, Strange doesn’t care and wants to send them back to their deaths to fix the multiverse — that ends with Peter realizing that Strange is correct and that sometimes doing the right thing leads to bad outcomes (a very Spider-Man story there) would have been effective. This would, in a way, make the villains Peter’s allies, at least temporarily because they want to live and Peter wants them to live, and because of Peter’s interference (stealing the box and trapping Strange) the little problem (sending them back to their respective worlds) has become a much bigger problem (the cracking of the multiverse coming through) which forces Peter to make the hard decision to wipe himself from human memory.
While J. Jonah Jameson has always been an asshole, and having J.K. Simmons back is a nice touch, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him portrayed as openly malevolent as he was here. Hunting down where Peter was holed up escalated the situation there, and who ordered the SWAT team and why were they on shoot-to-kill orders? Tobey Maguire’s JJJ may have been a jerk, but it was clear that, deep down, he had a grudging respect for Spider-Man. Tom Holland’s JJJ is irredeemable — and more of a monster than Spider-Man ever was.
The conversation with Ned about how, in the other universes, Peter Parker has a best friend who turns villainous and tries to kill him is a comics deep cut that probably went over-the-head of most people. I got it — in the comics, Ned becomes the Hobgoblin — but I’m not sure anyone in my audience did.
There wasn’t enough of New York as a character in this film for me. Also, adding Captain America’s shield to the Statue of Liberty is really gross, perhaps even straight-up fascist.
I seem nitpicky, and I suppose I am. No Way Home was okay, I liked it, and I wanted it to be better. B-, maybe.