With Great Cameos Come Great Nostalgia: My Unpopular Thoughts on “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

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I finally had the opportunity to see Spiderman: No Way Home. The film hit theaters six months ago, but since I have a) small kids; b) a wife who actually likes these kinds of movies; and c) no time to get away for a movie date with her, I resigned myself to small-screen viewing. I even waited until I was able to get the film for free from my local library (support your local libraries, gang).

Finally, after months of anticipation and trying very hard to avoid major plot spoilers (I couldn’t avoid them all, so I knew about most of the cameos already), I sat down and watched the movie.

And it was…fine?

MCU Later

I remember seeing Iron Man in the theater back in 2008 with two good friends of mine. The three of us absolutely geeked out when Nick Fury stepped out of the shadows and said the words “Avengers Initiative,” and I was an MCU mark ever since. Even the Marvel films that weren’t quite as good (sorry, Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3) were still great because I was 100% bought into the epic plotline. Captain America was my guy (#TeamCapForLife), and every new film that filled out the sprawling Infinity Saga was an absolute joy, culminating in Avengers: Endgame and one of my favorite images in all of cinematic history.

“No. You move.”

Once Endgame closed the book on the main storyline I’d been following, I started to lose interest in what came next. I understand, times change and actors move on, so you rotate in new characters with new histories and plot lines. But when you couple the loss of iconic characters like Iron Man and Captain America with the introduction of new narrative threads that seem to be written to make ideological statements rather than tell good stories, my interest really starts to wane. I watched the direct-to-streaming Black Widow; it was decent. I enjoyed some of the Disney+ Marvel series like WandaVision, Loki, and Hawkeye. (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier should have been great, but it really left me cold. Plus Bucky should get the shield; I won’t budge on that fact.)

In other words, Marvel Phase Four doesn’t really do it for me. I almost watched Shang-Chi, and I heard it was pretty good, but I just never cared enough to commit for 2 hours. I passed on Eternals because I heard enough about the plot and content that I knew it would just tick me off. From what I gather, Doctor Strange 2 is weird and dark and could be fun, but making Wanda OP and focusing the whole plot on America Chavez is kind of a buzzkill. I’m not even going to bother with Love and Thunder, because Jane Foster as “The Mighty Thor” was a stupid idea when the comics rolled it out in 2015 and it’s stupid now. Thor is a name, not a title.

Okay, okay, enough blather. That’s a long way of saying, when it comes to the Spider-man films, I consider Tom Holland’s Peter Parker as the last of the old guard. I like his performances and thought they stood up to (if not exceeded) the best of the other two big-screen adaptations. Since I found myself ready to move on from pursuing any new Marvel entertainment, I figured No Way Home would be the last Marvel movie I’d actively seek out to watch. I’m not saying I’ll boycott future Marvel films; I just don’t expect I’ll care much either way. Plus, it sounded like NWH was universally adored, so I’d be going out with a bang.

Which is why No Way Home ended up falling short of my (overly-inflated) expectations.

[SPOILERS HENCEFORTH–YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.]

Your Friendly Neighborhood Teenaged Melodrama

The first half of No Way Home was okay but I found myself siding with Doctor Strange–I was getting increasingly exasperated with Peter. So much of the narrative’s first half falls into the trope of “complication caused by grown[ish] people not having a simple conversation”–in this case, Peter not realizing he could reach out to the MIT Admissions office and plead for his friends’ case. I know, I know: he’s just a teenager, he’s got big stuff going on, cut him some slack. But that’s just the thing: I found myself becoming frustrated with the character and realized it’s another case in which I’m shifting from sympathizing with a story’s young protagonist to siding with the mentor/adult. Middle-age comes at you fast, man.

I was also annoyed by Peter’s response to otherworldly supervillains being “I can fix them!” There’s so much about these people that Peter didn’t know, but his na├»ve assumption that they just needed rehabilitation or a helping hand was sweet but pretty stupid on the face of it.

And yes, I realize that the narrative beats of the movie essentially justified Peter’s idealism, but that made zero sense to me. Flint Marko? Stupidity and bad luck turned him into Sandman; he could be turned around, sure. I’ll even buy Doc Ock’s restoration, since it was established that he was being mind-controlled by the tentacles. But Norman Osbourne? No. Norman Osbourne became the Green Goblin because the goblin was always inside him, even before he injected himself with serum. His greed, his lust for power, his willingness to cut corners and succeed at all cost were part of his character. The serum only magnified it.

Peter’s (and May’s) apparent belief that there’s no such thing as an irredeemable bad guy is short-sighted and foolhardy. Hey Pete, remember a guy named Thanos? Big, purple, wrinkly chin, Malthusian maniac committing planetary genocide across the galaxy? That experience alone should have showed Peter Parker that some guys just can’t be reached. And as a result of Peter and Co.’s foolish idealism, they put the lives of everyone in their condo building (and the wider city) at risk, and May is killed by Green Goblin as a result.

Finally–FINALLY–things start getting interesting when the other Spider-men enter the narrative.

Web-Slinger, Perspective-Bringer

I finally started enjoying the movie in earnest when Ned opened some portals (never mind that this is a skill that took students of the Ancient One concerted effort and practice to learn and yet Ned pulls a “Rey” and derps his way into it) and pulls in Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker from the Sam Raimi trilogy and Andrew Garfield’s Peter from the Amazing Spiderman films. Having these two actors inhabit these characters and interact with each other and Tom Holland was an absolute breath of fresh air. Their comedic banter and brotherly teasing/encouragement made me wish the trio were onscreen for most of the film instead of the last 45 minutes or so.

The unexpected benefit of bringing in these two alternate versions of Spiderman (whom I’ll call TM and AG for simplicity’s sake) is that the narrative deepened from a simple story about rehabilitating multiversal miscreants to wrestling with the impact of loss, regret, and vengeance. TM’s Peter talks about carrying the weight of Uncle Ben’s death for years before making peace with it, while AG’s Peter admits that he let his anger at the loss of Gwen Stacy get the better of him, leading him down a darker path. They each warn Tom Holland’s (TH’s) Peter of the dangers he faces in the wake of Aunt May’s murder.

Each of the alternate Spider-men also got a particular moment to shine. For AG, it was the mid-air rescue of MJ, which provided a surprisingly poignant moment in which he lowers her to the ground and asks if she’s okay. Then MJ sees that AG-Peter’s eyes are filling with tears and she asks if *he’s* okay. That one got me, gang. Andrew Garfield brought more emotional weight in that moment than most of the movie had up to that point. For TM, it was the climax of the final fight, as the TH-Peter was about to bring the Green Goblin’s glider down on him (one-upping the Goblin’s previous onscreen death by turning mere inaction into murderous intention). At the last moment, TM’s Peter slides in between the two and grabs the glider to prevent the death-blow (perhaps intended to be in a visual echo/counterpoint to the shocking violence of John Walker in FATWS). TM-Peter talks the new Spider-man down, convincing him not to seek bloody vengeance and allowing for Norman Osbourne to get an antidote serum (again, lame) and be sent home.

In the end, I think what I loved most about having Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield reprise their incarnations of the web-slinger was that they brought the element that Tom Holland’s Peter Parker most clearly lacked: perspective and experience. They each portrayed Spider-man as an actual man. Those versions of Spider-man seemed to have something interesting to say.

Don’t Look Back–You Can Never Look Back

Look, I can almost hear you screaming at your screen right now, “That’s the whole point about Spider-man!!! He’s a teenager grappling with superpowers!!!” And I agree. That’s what I’m trying to say with this review: I enjoy Spider-man as a comics/film character just fine, but I just can’t relate to him in his current incarnation because I want him to grow up and he’s not doing that in the MCU films thusfar.

Perhaps, you could argue, the resolution of the film–current-era Peter tells Doctor Strange to cast the worldwide forgetting spell, everyone in the wrong universe is sent home, and Peter accepts total relational isolation as a sort of penance for his mistakes–that will force Peter to grow up as a character. It’s possible. That could be interesting, if written well. I just don’t know if it will be, with the current trend of heavy-handed messaging in MCU Phase Four. (Plus, we all know that even though Holland signed on for another trilogy, at least one of those films will be a vehicle for introducing Miles Morales as his eventual replacement.)

In the end, here’s my final analysis of Spider-man: No Way Home: it’s a decently-good Marvel movie that leans heavily on nostalgia, but I think I might just be aging out of the MCU fanbase…and that’s okay. If the film teaches us anything, it’s that you can’t live in the past; at some point, you need to find closure so you can move on to other adventures.

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But hey, I could be completely off-base, with this overly-wordy and possibly terrible take. Feel free to tell me all the ways I’m mistaken in the com-box below, as long as you 1) watch your language, and 2) be respectful. (My com-box, my rules.) I look forward to reading your roasts.