Spider-Man: No Way Home MOVIE REVIEW: amazing fantasy explores sacrifice, what it means to be a hero
SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! (unless you don't already know who all the villains are in this film)
“With great power, there must also come great responsibility.”
This line is ingrained in my heart and has back-dropped my motivations and actions throughout my life. Simply put, Spider-Man is my role model for kindness and doing good even when it seems that such kindness may destroy you. This emotional connection is refreshed each and every time I sit in the theater to experience the latest trials of our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. However, I’ve not gotten this feeling from Spider-Man: Homecoming or Spider-Man: Far From Home. This isn’t to say they are bad films or that Tom Holland is a bad Spider-Man, but the magic of the character seemed a distant memory. Peter Parker didn’t experience sacrifice or consequences for his goodwill, since either Tony Stark or Nick Fury (?) were there to right the ship. This time, Spider-Man: No Way Home solidifies Tom Holland as the Spider-Man I know and love, closing out a trilogy with subtle magnificence that makes itself known when seen through hindsight as a long term origin story. Spider-Man: No Way Home is a meticulously curated story about the makings of a hero, the depths of sacrifice, and the empathy that exists within us all.
The ghosts of franchises past haunt this film in the best possible way. Doc Ock, Green Goblin, Sandman, Electro, and Lizard are an interesting trip down nostalgia avenue that manages to avoid the bloatation that killed Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (though I maintain the excellency of the latter). Rather than slapping their appearances down as a fond memory turned commercial incentive, each character is given their own emotional arcs that continue beyond their respective films.
Alfred Molina and Willem Defoe are the obvious standouts here as they are (subjectively speaking) the most adored of the screen villains. I worried that these actors would "show up for the paycheck" but was delightfully surprised by the genuine human moments defined by desperation.
Willem Defoe rocked my world especially, bringing a familiar yet sorrowful conflict to the character. Rhys Ifans, Thomas Haden Church, and Jamie Foxx also escalate their performances beyond their initial appearances but are obstacled by the film's clear focus on the two titular Raimi villains. What really ties these characters together is their similarity to Spider-Man.
These villains are victims of scientific accidents, imbuing them with trauma that is expressed with violence and a search for identity. Peter Parker is the side of this coin that chose to do good, who found identity in selfless morality no matter the cost to himself. The performances of our favorite villains fuel the performance of our "new" Spider-Man, using their unique histories to question the code of Holland's Peter Parker. The result is that Spider-Man: No Way Home explores the in-between space of this relationship and thus serves to redefine our Friendly Neighborhood Web-Slinger.
The Symbol of Spider-Man
Tom Holland's Spider-Man is unique in that he does not explicitly subscribe to the "great power, great responsibility" mantra that makes this character who he is. It serves as the most inspirational thing about him. Though he may suffer, he will never stop doing what is right. This has not been Holland's Spider-Man. Destroy a boat? Tony Stark will make things right. Don't want to deal with the heavy responsibility of advanced technology? Mysterio has a solution. This Peter has continuously put his personal life first with no consequences.
The spectre of Uncle Ben has been exorcised before having any meaningful impact on our new Spider-Man. However, Spider-Man: No Way Home addresses the turmoils of growing up and the burden of being a hero in such a way as to cause me to weep multiple times throughout the film.
Spider-Man has always been my favorite hero and my greatest aspiration. No matter the pain, Spider-Man keeps lifting, keeps fighting, and keeps trying to do the right thing. A hero is defined not by strength or power, but by sacrifice. This has always been a powerful idea to me that influences my every move. Spider-Man is a mask I've never been worthy of but will always work toward.
Now I'm here to say that Tom Holland has officially put the mask on and become Spider-Man to his fullest, going the extra mile and taking the hardest path even when pain and sorrow are the only personal benefit. From panel to screen, Spider-Man: No Way Home brings the heart of Raimi and Webb's films to bear, resulting in a new Spider-Man that brings the best of all possibilities, in a journey that will have every viewer hopeful for a better world.
You wanna know my seminal Spider-Man stories? The ones that inform my ideas of this character? Oh geez . . . lemme think . . . OH I HAVE IT! Just look below for some RECOMMENDED READING:
Spider-Man (Todd McFarlane Omnibus)
Austin Kemp read Batman #315 (Batman vs Kite Man) when he was 5 years old, and hasn't stopped reading comics since. Austin is a college writing teacher and has a masters degree in Comics Studies. Austin and his partner, Savanah, live in Massachusetts with their master, a cat named Chaplin.