Spider-Man: No Way Home

I regret putting off writing this for so long, but those who enjoy brevity may appreciate that I likely have less to say now.

I liked this film a lot, and in fact, I saw it twice. Once, alone, because I felt I had waited as long as a person could reasonably be expected to wait for the crowds to die down at the height of the latest pandemic surge, and also, because having caught COVID myself late in December, I felt on the other side of it that I was essentially indestructible with regard to joining a crowd of strange idiots with their mouths open for two and a half hours. The second time, I twisted Adam’s arm joining me (and had to watch the Luca Guadagnino Suspiria as penance; more on that another time).

Spider-Man is nearly everyone’s favorite superhero. In a pre-MCU world, if you asked just about any normal person without an account at their local comic shop, they would tell you that their favorite superhero was either Batman or Spider-Man. This film, for perhaps the first time since Spider-Man 2, or even Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man depending on where your priorities lay, reminds everyone why that is.

Has it been long enough that we may discuss the point of spoilers that anyone capable of making basic logical connections could spoil all on their own without seeing the movie, but just by thinking about the possibilities of it based on its trailer for about ten seconds? Can we proceed without anyone, at the end of January 2022, acting hurt about having the surprise ruined?

I’ll proceed as if we can.

We’ve reached a point where you cannot even Google the movie without having ‘that thing’ spoiled. It’s nice that we all tried to protect each other but the cat’s out of the bag on this one.

I don’t want to get bogged down in analyses about why Spider-Man is so popular, even though I reveal myself as a worse writer for having started this review as if might. If you’ll remove yourself one layer further to the outer crust of the review, right in that first line, you’ll find I did promise brevity. By merely walking you through my intentions, I’m already risking this whole thing coming down around me.

I enjoyed Spider-Man: No Way Home for a number of reasons, and I suppose I’ll just go in ascending order of importance.

This is inarguably Jon Watts’s finest directorial display among his three Spider-Man pictures. For me, they escalate in quality. The first movie was comparatively safe and establishing, representing itself at all times as a literal homecoming for the character back into the Marvel brand proper. A quick aside: I have found it very annoying how many critics and speculators have waxed befuddled about the ‘home’ theme in Watts’s films’ naming convention since the release of this third film, apparently forgetting the wry ‘home’ gag which was so obvious back in 2017.

Where Homecoming gave us all our new alphabet blocks and let us know which letters were on which sides, Far From Home allowed the audience (or the writers; however you prefer this metaphor to go) to actually play with those blocks. As we arrive at No Way Home, Watts finds himself crafting statements with those blocks: well thought-out, evenly measured, and with most of the right words carefully chosen to resonate with practically any audience member.

One must be very cynical to have a bad time with this movie. Even those who rightly point out the agonizingly stupid plot holes which allow for all of this to take place had to begrudge the film its undeniable charms.

I’ve failed in my promise of brevity. Let me redeem myself by jumping to my favorite point.

If you’ve consumed any other review of this picture before this one, then you have already heard about this franchise-best performance from Tom Holland, the livelier and more interesting direction and cinematography from Watts and Fiore his cinematographer, the franchise-best performance from Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin reprisal, the impressive CG de-aging on Alfred Molina or the character redemptions of a couple Amazing Spider-people. These observations are all true and appropriate. But here’s what really got me:

This is a film in which its male, most masculine characters sob and hug and are hugged and feel and express themselves and learn emotional lessons about how to be better men. Regularly.

I’m not being disingenuous.

It is never laid on too thick. It never feels like something handed down from a group of executives who see that men learning to be more sensitive and for their masculinity to be less toxic is really trending right now. It all feels entirely sincere. It is in service of the plot. It is in service of the characters.

A grieving Peter being embraced on all sides by his girlfriend and best friend before ultimately being mentored by other men who have already struggled with these issues and are now acting as agents of positivity for a younger man who needs guidance is so refreshing, and I didn’t know I even wanted that in an action movie. Or any movie. It’s not something I realized I was seeking until it was served to me, and that’s because I live in this awful world where ideas about manhood have traditionally been shaped by Abrahamic religion, cultural patriarchies and the media legacy of America’s Hollywood. I don’t care which lefty snowflake meme you think best fits me in making this claim.

Forgive me this schmaltz, but it is in service of all of our youngsters. The media landscape is now a little healthier with this film’s existence.

Before our media had lessons to teach about empathy and sensitivity, or the lived concerns of marginalized peoples, all of society understood and mostly appreciated that representation in media matters. Now it’s very wishy-washy. Some people will say it isn’t the place of entertainment to be preachy. Some people will say that all the preachiness in the world can’t, or shouldn’t change kids’ values, or by extension the values of society. Those people are almost exclusively men in whatever in-group happens to dominate their local culture.

But you and I know that representation in media matters. And I think it is deeply reassuring that the world’s greediest entertainment monolith saw fit to use the world’s most beloved superhero to show little boys by example, and not by insistence, that it is good and necessary to weep and embrace your way through the toughest obstacles and moral challenges a person can face. That one needs to love and be loved by their family and peers. That mentors need to be present, and that the brash and young need to be protected from their baser instincts by the wizened and wounded survivors among us.

On a basic level this movie is entertaining. On a meta level, this movie is very satisfying. Its fan service is never pandering, but always rewarding. I have both enjoyed and mocked The Amazing Spider-Man 2. What they did in this film for the closure of Garfield’s Peter Parker made me feel so good.

It’s still mostly a popcorn chomping, empty-headed experience. But just in the way the Raimi Spider-Man films are fondly remembered in spite of their cheese, I think this movie will be fondly remembered in spite of whatever MCU, of-the-moment baggage may hang from it. It isn’t a cinematic classic. Few comic book movies are. But it is a very good movie about men crying and I love that.

I’ve been on the fence about this, and I think for now I’m giving it a 7 out of 10 and calling it Good. I’ve reached a point in my life where I really struggle to give truly high marks to comic book movies. But, to absolutely pilfer YMS of his every last piece of identity, I’ll say it’s closer to an 8 than a 6. So. Make of that what you will.

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