'Spider-Man: No Way Home' Is Pure Fanfic

Directed by Jon Watts

Starring Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Jamie Foxx, Rhys Ifans, Thomas Haden Church

BY Alex HudsonPublished Dec 14, 2021

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is possibly the best film of the superhero boom — so why not do basically the exact same movie, except with real actors instead of computer animation? Spider-Man: No Way Home un-subtly piggybacks on the Spider-Verse concept, mashing up different eras of Spider-Man into an over-stuffed film that plays out like fanfic. And yet, just when it seems a little too self-referential for its own good, director Jon Watts pulls it all together in a tidy web.

No Way Home picks up right after the events of Far from Home, with Peter Parker (Tom Holland) just having had his secret identity revealed by the Alex Jones-like media figure J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons). The opening section of the film deals with Parker, his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and bestie Ned (Jacob Batalon) experiencing sudden fame and hiding from the paparazzi. The Spider-Man of No Way Home is far less relatable than in the past couple films, as Parker becomes quite literally the most famous person in the world.

He recruits Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to cast a spell to set their lives back to normal, but after Parker botches Strange's magic, the multiverse is torn open, allowing villains from past Spider-Man franchises to enter this world: Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin (from 2002's Spider-Man), Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus (from 2004's Spider-Man 2), Thomas Haden Church's Sandman (from 2007's Spider-Man 3), Rhys Ifans as Lizard (from 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man) and Jamie Foxx's Electro (from 2014's The Amazing Spider-Man 2). Do even more characters also return? You'll have to watch it and find out.

It's pure fan service for lovers of those prior films, as well as a mighty display of corporate synergy from Sony and Disney. There are many throwbacks and direct quotes from those early films ("I'm something of a scientist myself…"), which will be a lot of fun for viewers who remember them well and will totally go over the head of anyone who doesn't.

By having so many characters — and, in particular, so many villains — No Way Home risks falling into the exact same trap as 2007's bloated Spider-Man 3. Luckily, Dafoe completely steals the show as the dangerously unstable Norman Osborn, so even if there are too many villains, at least there's one who attracts much of the focus. No Way Home is a lot less lighthearted than Holland's prior Spider-Man movies, but the emotional tone hits the mark; without giving too much away, the surprisingly long denouement is a poignant payoff for Peter Parker.

No Way Home feels like cut-and-paste of prior films. But even if this trip into the Spider-Verse isn't quite as stunning as the prior 2018 film, it's a lot of fun to see the way all the past iterations of Spider-Man have led up to this.

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