Several years ago, when it was announced that Spider-Man would be incorporated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ever-expanding franchise of superheroes, it was the third time in recent memory that a new live-action version of the wall-crawler was bound for the big screen. Given the circumstances, fans could be forgiven for feeling some Spidey fatigue. However, Tom Holland’s interpretation of the high school student/burgeoning superhero was so endearing that it quickly won over skeptics.
Now, with Spider-Man: No Way Home, the MCU has turned the legacy of the two earlier Spider-Man movie series – starring Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield as the webslinger, respectively – to its advantage. Using characters from the non-MCU films not only enables the franchise to establish the existence of the multiverse, a concept that will have major implications for future MCU films, it’s also an act of fan service that will be appreciated by anyone who’s enjoyed a Spidey film since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man debuted in 2002.
It helps to have at least a passing familiarity with Garfield’s and Maguire’s Spider-Man outings as well as Holland’s previous appearances in the MCU to enjoy this latest film. For everyone else, Spider-Man: No Way Home will be less exciting, but given this is the third entry in a trilogy, it’s difficult to imagine too many uninitiated viewers deciding to venture to the theater for this movie. That seems like something Marvel is betting on as well given the story picks up right where the previous film, Spider-Man: Far From Home, ended: with professional conspiracy theorist J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) revealing Spider-Man’s identity as Peter Parker to the world and accusing him of killing the villain Mysterio during the earlier film’s attack on London.
This makes Peter the most famous person in the world, leading his already challenging life to become even more of a minefield, which Peter does his best to navigate with the help of Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). However, when the scandal negatively impacts his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), Peter goes to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in the hopes the Sorcerer Supreme can use magic to once again hide his identity and change his friends’ fate.
Needless to say, things go horribly wrong, leading to breaches in the multiverse that let a few choice characters from the previous Spider-Man franchises slip through into the MCU’s reality. With the help of Doctor Strange, Peter attempts to clean up the mess even as a percentage of the population, including the law enforcement officers who used to see him as an ally, view his actions as a threat.
To say more would lead to spoilers, but while the addition of actors from non-MCU films is exciting, Spider-Man: No Way Home still maintains a focus on its core cast. As a result, the movie’s most surprising and heartfelt scenes put Holland and his co-stars from the previous MCU Spider-Man films front and center, and give Holland the opportunity to turn in his most deeply felt performance as the webslinger yet.
Of course, the movie has its fair share of exhilarating action sequences as well, and director Jon Watts and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers do a good job balancing poignant character moments with death-defying stunts. Moreover, the filmmakers use the action to pay homage to the Maguire and Garfield Spider-Man series in ways that also have major implications for the MCU’s Spider-Man franchise. This approach to the introduction of the multiverse and the movie’s Spider-Man mashup make Spider-Man: No Way Home a thoroughly satisfying film for both casual and hard-core Spider-fans alike.