THB #56: Review - Spider-Man: No Way Home
The first 20 minutes of Spider-Man: No Way Home had me a little nervous. It felt a little too clever. A little too hyper-real. A little too jokey. A little like it was trying too hard.
And then, it changed.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is everything you don’t want in a Marvel Movie… until it becomes the act of genius that overcomes everything that, in lesser hands, would be an eye roller.
This is a phenomenon in movies that I often cite. The combination of ideas (usually too many) or flights of imagination are a disaster unless you happen to show the extremely rare ability to overcome them… magic… true movie magic. Making the impossible into something that almost feels obvious.
In many ways, Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse did that, as The Lego Movie did before. This is why Phil Lord and Chris Miller are the guys pretty much everyone wants in their room. It’s the stuff of Coens and Kubrick and Spielberg and Coppola and Paul Thomas Anderson.
And now, this combination of Jon Watts, making just his 3rd feature film, and a couple of TV writers, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, are having that kind of moment.
It’s not Apocalypse Now or Miller’s Crossing or E.T. or Dr. Strangelove. It’s not trying to be. But it is doing something that should not be underappreciated. This group has built the greatest fan-service movie of all time. And within that universe, it has created the best of what it can be.
I am not going to spoil the movie, which has a LOT of spoilers to come. It’s not only extremely complicated, but there is a joy in pretty much every revelation throughout the film.
But the basic premise - which you can broadly get from ads - is very A Christmas Carol. Peter Parker has regrets. And Dr. Strange’s effort to help with unleash the ghosts of Spider-Men past… or from other timelines.
The hugely daring step that Watts & Co took was to rehabilitate all of the history of the Spider-Man movies from the last 19 years. Amazingly… it’s only been 19 years. This is a fool’s errand. Messing with the past of a series is asking for trouble. It’s arrogant and you’re touching memories that can be very deep and passionate for people.
But they manage to deliver the very best version of what Sam Raimi and Marc Webb were chasing in their 5 Spider-Man films.
Part of the experience is remembering and experience again what brilliant actors they have hired on these 7 films, both as Spidey and as villains. It’s a murderer’s row. And for my money, pretty much none of the villians in the series have worked, starting with covering Dafoe’s face with a hard shell mask.
Tobey Maguire was THE actor of his day. He was the Timothee’ Chalamet with less height, less pretty, and more complex energy. He was a revelation in The Ice Storm, Pleasantville, The Cider House Rules, Wonder Boys, and others. And then he became Spider-Man, married into Hollywood’s monarchy, and has not made a movie as an actor in 7 years.
Andrew Garfield has talked about being hemmed in by Spider-Man. The guy is magic. And he’s about to get another Oscar nomination for work for which no one else would get an Oscar nomination. A great actor.
And still-young Tom Holland (25), has shown himself to be something special beyond Spidey. Here he is in our interview from The Impossible in 2012, cued to Tom explaining how he ended up in that movie.
And the villains… Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Thomas Haden Church, Rhys Ifans, Jamie Foxx… wow. Dafoe and Molina go through the greatest rehabilitations in this film. And what a joy seeing those two unleashed. Church and Ifans are both stuck in CG land. And Jamie Foxx is still the character they haven’t quite perfected… but better than in his first appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
This movie should not work. There are too many trap doors. Too many opportunties to miss connections and bend what we already loved the wrong way.
But it’s shockingly good. And solid. And solved.
I hope the film doesn’t become a template for other Marvel movies and that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness bends in a somewhat different cool direction. Like the powers Strange unleashes in this film… this could all go so very wrong.
But I would like to see this screenplay nominated for an Oscar. It is as complex and intricate and of value as most that you will see. It was impossible and they solved it… with the help of a really amazing cast and super-smart insights into the character of the characters that have been a part of this journey.
I look forward to seeing the film again… bought tickets for this Saturday to take my family.