Admittedly, I was a bit worried about the multiverse being a new central theme of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (And, for that matter, the DC movies.) It just seems like a lot, especially at a time when the MCU is also doubling down on the cosmic side of things, too. It just seems so far removed from where it all started with “rich guy builds a suit of armor.” Now, look, with Spider-Man: No Way Home, I’m not saying my trepidation was unwarranted, but if there was a character to do it with, it’s Spider-Man. And not just because he’s Marvel’s most popular character and easily accessible and lighthearted, but it kind of, strangely, resets our timeline. With villains appearing in No Way Home that go back as far as Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie, it’s now that Spider-Man, from 2002, that begins the MCU. (And it’s kind of fitting that Raimi himself will direct the next MCU film, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.)
Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: No Way Home picks up right where Far From Home leaves off. Peter (Tom Holland) has just had his identity outed to the world and is swinging through the streets with MJ (Zendaya) trying to escape the mobs of people who want a piece of Peter for killing Mysterio in the prior film. (Which he didn’t do, but people don’t realize this.) After MJ and Ned (Jacob Batalon) get rejected from MIT because of their association with “the vigilante Spider-Man,” Peter shows up at Stephen Strange’s house looking for help. Doctor Strange can’t fulfill Peter’s request to go back in time to fix all this, but Strange is open to casting a spell that would make people forget that Peter is Spider-Man, the only problem is it’s an all or nothing proposition and Peter would still like a few people to know. So this messes up the spell and instead of people forgetting Peter, everyone who knows Peter is Spider-Man shows up. Which, as you know from the trailer, includes old friends like Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Electro, The Lizard, and The Sandman – all played by their respective actors from the five previous non-MCU Spider-Man movies. (Which, now, technically, as I said earlier, they all kind of are.)
So now Peter has to deal with all these new (old) villains who all hate Peter Parker, but also don’t recognize Peter Parker and, mostly, just seem really confused why any of this is happening. Strange has a fairly easy way of sending them all back, but once Peter realizes that most of them meet a grizzly fate back in their own universes, he has, with some urging from May (Marisa Tomei), a crisis of consciousness and vows to help them – even though Strange does not think this is a good idea and most of the villains certainly don’t want Peter’s help and still basically just want to kill him.
Honestly, this movie kind of should be a mess. There are so many villains, played by great actors, who need attention here – keep in mind, even the Avengers movies all kind of focus on one main villain – that it’s pretty remarkable this movie feels so in control of itself. Now, it’s controlled chaos, but it’s still in control. And, yes, I will concede that the only reason all this controlled chaos succeeds is because of the multiverse. Or, at least, a byproduct of the multiverse in having all these (some beloved, some not as much) characters back from previous movies and, most importantly, played by actors who originally played them. (And the “not as beloved” characters have been given, let’s say, some nice improvements and often poke some fun at their origins. Jamie Foxx is really having some fun in this regard. There are numerous references to “electric eels.”)
This is now the eighth solo live-action Spider-Man movie since 2002. And, in this movie, at least one character shows up from every single one of those past movies. In a world inundated with superhero movies, it’s difficult for any of them to feel special anymore. Remember that first time we saw all the Avengers on screen together for the first time in the first movie? That felt special. Bringing back some of these characters we haven’t seen in 19 years made Spider-Man: No Way Home feel special, in that “I can’t believe they pulled this off” kind of way. Yeah, sure, some of that’s nostalgia. I’ll admit it! And sure, yes, some of it is fan service. Whatever! It’s the giving season, so, sure, give us some fan service. But the story is still there (though the second act does start to feel a bit long) and I felt some actual emotion, even with all this chaos swirling around. And in the end Spider-Man: No Way Home somehow finds a way to keep it all together.
‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ opens in theaters on December 17th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.