Marvel Studios has had a problem for the better part of two years now.
Ever since the release of Avengers: Endgame in 2019, the Disney-owned franchise has been wallowing in a dilemma partially due to the COVID-19 pandemic and partially due to their own making.
With most of their Avengers core retiring from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, producer Kevin Feige has had to start from scratch building characters like Shang-Chi, countless Eternals and elevating secondary characters through their Disney+ miniseries.
Their one saving grace: a web-slinging superhero with the charisma and comic book nostalgia to bring the MCU into a post-Endgame era and reinvigorate dying box offices for theaters across the country.
Spider-Man: No Way Home, the third in a trilogy of films from director Jon Watts, brings Tom Holland back inside his spandex suit to take on even more classic villains, push a film franchise forward and captivate audiences with the most powerfully dramatic superhero film in two years.
It’s a film that does almost everything possible to rectify the star power issues created by the end of the Avengers saga and is the first universally beloved blockbuster since the pandemic changed how audiences watch movies.
Coming immediately on the heels of the events from Spider-Man: Far From Home, the final film in this particular trilogy finds the hero facing unwanted celebrity status after his secret identity is revealed to the whole world. When he asks Doctor Strange to cast a spell to make everyone forget his identity, the fabric of reality is torn and villains from other universes are thrust into Peter Parker’s path for him and his friends to capture.
Holland gives the best performance in his MCU career as Peter/Spider-Man, providing a deeper emotional impact than in previous films. It’s clear that at this point in his career Holland knows how to balance a character driven performance with a lighter, more accessible touch common to blockbusters.
He’s also deft at being a capable scene partner against any of the many more outrageous villains and other supporting characters, giving people like Willam Dafoe and Alfred Molina the width to delve into classic characters they haven’t visited in more than a decade.
His pivotal scenes opposite Dafoe and also Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May are among the most emotional of the entire MCU and maintain a darker tone that helps propel Spider-Man into a new era of cinema.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange ably plays the surrogate father figure to Peter that Robert Downey Jr. once did as Iron Man. While not carrying the film, Cumberbatch gives a great counterbalance emotionally to Holland that helps set up Peter’s uneasy relationship with the film’s many villains.
No Way Home features an assortment of classic Spidey bad guys, but the standouts among them are Dafoe’s return as Norman Osborn and Molina’s second stint as Doctor Octopus. Both veteran actors perfectly tiptoe the line between friend and foe with Peter and elevate relatively cheesy comic book dialogue with gravitas.
Watts does a phenomenal job of balancing the film’s complicated narrative with special fan service moments intended to satisfy comic book nerds and fans of the Sam Raimi trilogy or Marc Webb Spider-Man films.
Nothing feels too heavy for casual audiences and ardent Marvel fans who are careful enough to avoid major spoilers will be rewarded with truly special moments that will make audiences gleefully applaud.
There are several surprise cameos – both brief and extended – that elevate No Way Home and it’s the final ones that bring both unparalleled comedic and emotional impact that will help finalize decades of unresolved Marvel-related conversations.
One Oscar-nominated actor is the film’s most valuable character in spite of not appearing until the final act, offering up a heartfelt, earnest performance that reflects on Spider-Man films past and opens opportunities for new features.
No Way Home is the strongest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Endgame and helps to balance a franchise struggling to find their footing both creatively and at the box office.
Cinephiles and comic book fans who crave being in the middle of the conversation about big blockbuster films like this should rush to theaters as soon as possible to see 2021’s most impactful studio movie.