Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
The world of Spider-Man is a legacy of unfinished projects. While Sam Raimi's series did have closure of sorts it was originally meant for the next films to start a new chapter, while Andrew Garfield's tenure as the webslinger came to a crashing halt with the failure that was The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Though a Marvel character, Sony owns the rights to Spider-Man, and Raimi's series pre-dated the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Therefore when it came time for Spidey to be introduced in the MCU it meant doing a deal with Sony and, since The Amazing Spider-Man had been released just two years prior, Tom Holland's version came pre-bitten and plopped down in the middle of Captain America: Civil War. It was a relief since it meant not having to go through retelling half the story again, and it let this version of Peter Parker have his own path once he got his own films - and also be an integral part of the Avengers.
Despite him helping to defeat Thanos, Spider-Man becomes a controversial figure at the end of Spider-Man: Far from Home as his defeat of Mysterio leads to a video being published that attempts to make Spider-Man look responsible for mass destruction as well as making Mysterio look like a hero killed out of jealousy. No Way Home begins right at that point, with J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) revealing to the world that Peter Parker is actually Spider-Man. This has an immediate effect, with Parker and everyone around him, including M.J. (Zendaya), Ned (Jacob Batalon) and Aunt May (Marissa Tomei). As a result of the controversy surrounding them their promising college careers are dashed.
Concerned about the problems he has caused Parker consults Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who agrees to do a spell to make things better. Unfortunately, Parker causes the spell to become too complex, and Strange has to contain it. Before he does, though, villains from other Spider-Man universes come through: Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), Electro (Jamie Foxx), the Lizard (Rhys Ifans), the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), aka the Green Goblin. Strange wants to immediately send them all back, but Parker goes on a crusade to help undo what made them villains - and he may get a little extra assistance himself.
Early on Disney and Marvel began hyping Phase 4 as being more female-centric and, of course, they came under fire from the usual crowd. I am surprised they are not getting in trouble from the opposite side now since the true focus seems to be on the Metaverse. What big bad bunch of evil is going to pop up out of it, at least at the time of Spider-Man: No Way Home, has yet to be revealed. A lot of time is spent setting the foundation for the concept, both in this movie and in some previous animated series, that it has to be something equal to or bigger than Thanos - possibly Howard the Duck manipulating everything from behind the scenes.
What this does is at least give the third MCU Spider-Man film a chance to atone for the two movies that killed the first two franchises. One of the big complaints - too many villains - falls apart this time around, as bringing all these guys back gives the current Spider-Man something real to do, and allows him to grow up a bit more. Part of his happy-go-lucky demeanor is that he didn't experience as much tragedy as some of his counterparts did. The sad thing is he does this time around but, unlike his previous incarnations, this time he has someone around that understands.
That said, a complaint that has been leveled against this, and other MCU Spider-Man films, is that Jon Watts has no discernable style. I agree with this; his direction is bland, and the manic pace of the Raimi's three movies helped move the story forward. The MCU, however, hates taking any chance, and typically prefer someone behind the camera that will do as their told. The advantage of having two better movies before this having established the main characters can't be overstated.
Also, when bringing back some of these guys, one would think that after all these years there would be some improvements. Willem Dafoe is still great, of course, but the Sandman isn't given any of the deeper emotion that made him one of the standouts of Spider-Man 3. On top of draining him of any emotion except misplaced rage he is also animated just as badly as he was in 2009. 13 years is a long time when it comes to technology, so there is no excuse for that, nor is there for the Lizard looking worse than he did in The Amazing Spider-Man. The big problem with this is that it's hard to understand why this is so when Electro looks much better than he did before and Doc Ock still looks great, even if his arms are no longer largely practical effects. It's as if a professional company were hired to do half the effects while someone's 13-year-old was assigned to do the rest so he wouldn't get bored on house arrest.
This quickly became a beloved movie for many, largely because of the ties to the old film, and it is still one of the better MCU films. However, for the MCU Spider-Man films, it is definitely the least of the three. I like seeing a lot of the characters return, but I would have also enjoyed it more if this version went into his dark period - psychologically conflicted, rather than emo - and fought more personal demons rather than those of other versions of himself. Not having J. Jonah Jameson as the central villain was also a major lost opportunity, seeing how central he is to the events that unfold. Still, that would have been taking chances, which is something these movies are often loathe to do.
Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
Time: 148 minutes
Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Benedict Cumberbatch, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Jamie Foxx
Director: Jon Watts