Spoiler-free, for the most part. I do point to when I’m about to spoil some very small elements, so be careful!
I have not tried to hide how fatigued I am of the new phase of Marvel movies and similar, CGI-spectacles; I’ve also grown tired of nostalgia-bait and fan service as items on the checklist that every movie has to check now. So, why did I watch the new Spiderman movie? Because, there was no escaping it this time and because I enjoy Spiderman movies; I loved the original Sam Reimi trilogy (even 3 had some great moments), I liked the Amazing Spiderman duology (again 2 had some moments), and Tom Holland’s most recent outings as the character have surprised me both times as more fun than I expected. The newest Spidey flick is no different; I had more fun than I expected to, but I also left hoping for much more. Before I get into why that is, I want to establish a couple of “rules” for this review: I am not a huge Spiderman fan and I am even less of a Marvel fan, so I don’t care about how it connects to other movies or easter eggs or any of that; I went in expecting to see a good blockbuster and I watched a great one that I have numerous issues with. Moreover, as I already said, I’m feeling very fatigued by Marvel movies and their brand of blockbusters, as well as actively annoyed by nostalgia-bait and fan service as features instead of brief levity or nods. This movie is both of those things and that is one of the reasons I did not enjoy myself as much as everyone else clearly has; also, I will try and avoid all spoilers (even the ones revealed in the trailers), because had I had a deep interest in this movie (like the new Matrix), I would have avoided those and would not like them spoiled.
Directed once again by Jon Watts with returning writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, starring Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spiderman, Zendaya as MJ, and Jacob Batalon as Ned, this movie picks up directly after the end of the previous Spiderman movie (Far from home and spoilers for the end of that movie) with Mysterio revealing Spiderman’s identity to the world. As Peter begins to panic over the consequences of his identity being revealed – not only for himself but for those around him as well – he decides to ask Doctor Strange for help, which sets off a sequence of events that lead to a life-changing adventure. Right off the bat, I want to praise once again the director and the writers for understanding this character, as they keep delivering on most of what we want to see from these movies. The tone, the quips, the chemistry of the relationships, these are all still present and well-done, while Watts manages to merge lots of different visual ideas into a coherent whole that is bursting with energy and fun in every shot. The characters are still so fun to watch react to these situations and interact with one another, while the chemistry between the actors only grows better with each entry. This is also the point where I lament the fatigue of Marvel’s take on action for this phase of their universe; this is not because I value realism or practical stunts (although I do prefer practical stunts) over the spectacle affordable by CGI, it’s more that I get diminishing returns each time since the scale and the bombastic nature of the action set-pieces feel like something I’ve seen before and have not really missed since last time I saw it. Having said that, I did find some of those scenes – in particular the fights with a villain with a menacing laugh – to be very physical and brutal, which was a welcome change.
Overall, then, “Spiderman: No way home” sounds like a pretty good time, right? It is. It is an experience that should be seen in theaters, as it captures that movie magic with people cheering and clapping, murmuring amongst themselves about what had just happened on screen, while the spectacle and the effective ending will leave most people queuing up for another screening the next day. While the movie certainly deserves that high praise – and it is the first time in ages where I would not be against a second viewing of a Marvel movie – I do have a lot of issues with it. My biggest one being that, while the fan service is of another level and the nostalgia bait was even successful for me for one particular character (it is that same villain I mentioned before if you were wondering), I found that the premise had such potential for more curiosity and more experimentation than what was delivered upon. There were moments where that was the case (all I will say on that is that it involves someone being saved), but I found the movie to be all too comfortable with just quipping and being fun, rather than being inquisitive and taking its characters and creating something that breaks away from the norm; as soon as I realized what the idea of the movie was, I wanted something that would question certain things about Spiderman and Peter Parker or reveal something more about them. It takes ideas like Spiderman working alone and resolves them under a minute after with a joke (I honestly can’t go into it more without getting into spoilers, but maybe after another viewing, I’ll do a spoiler discussion).
A lot of that comes from a very poor pace; in previous movies, since my fatigue was nonexistent, I loved the pace, but now that the action didn’t really do anything for me, I found the pace to be too abrupt. The movie would go from these characters interacting with each other and working off of each other’s chemistry, to a lackluster set-piece where a lot of the ideas and themes of the movie’s setup would be put on hold until it was time to move them along when the fighting and the quipping was over. An example of this (I don’t consider this a spoiler since it’s a theme consistent in Spiderman movies, but be warned if you want to know absolutely nothing) is Peter’s attempts to live a double life as if the responsibility of being Spiderman is a switch that he can switch off whenever Parker’s needs are more pressing; while that is set up in the beginning and comes to a crescendo by the mid-point, I did find that there was no build-up to it besides a few lines here and there, and after that point, it evolves into a different, fairly-common Spiderman theme. This happens a lot in this movie, and while the ending does pack a punch and there are notable exceptions, on the whole, I found this lack of narrative consistency to be fairly disappointing.
There was a particular moment (which I won’t spoil) that the disappointment really hit me, and all I could think of was that infamous Scorsese article, about movies slowly turning into theme park rides instead of being cinematic experiences. Obviously, I respect a legend’s take on the current state of the industry he made his mark on, but I’ve always felt that it was a bit unfair; cinema and movies can come in lots of varieties and have different goals, and dismissing that spice and the value it brings is not something that is of the best interest to anyone. At that moment though, I do wish that the decisions made with this movie were less driven by videos of people in the cinema cheering or nostalgia or serving the fans so they would watch over and over again, but instead had an inquisitive and detached view of it. I wanted someone who would look at that scenario and take bold decisions and ask uncomfortable questions or introduce a new idea that would allow the audience to question and interpret. I’m not saying that would make more money or would have made fans happier – I’m pretty sure most Spiderman fans are in love with it and most moviegoers are already speaking with their wallets as the movie is approaching the billion-dollar mark from just its 2nd week – but, that’s what I wished had happened. Instead, I got a pretty good blockbuster and I get to talk about it when the inevitable discussion starts at the next social gathering, so I can’t complain all that much.