Review: “No Way Home” is Fun Nostalgia Bait

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WARNING: Spoilers Ahead

Earlier in the year, I watched the sequel/reboot of the 1990s kids classic “Space Jam.”

“A New Legacy,” as it was called, starred LeBron James this time taking on a computer program named Al-G Rhythm who wants to create the perfect entertainment program to appease the masses and traps King James in the digital world known as the Server-verse. In order for LeBron to escape he must form a basketball team to take on Al-G’s Goon Squad and thus enlists the help of the Looney Tunes to beat them.

Each scene of this movie is littered with references to these Warner Brothers corporate IP. Whether it’s King Kong, Superman, IT, or agents from the Matrix they’re in just about every shot of this movie. The real push of this movie, rather ironically given the nature of the villain, is to be a giant trailer for HBO’s streaming platform HBO Max. It’s pure corporate synergy in a way that you can hardly classify the movie as a film so much as it is a commercial.

The film is created to make people go “Ooo *reference*” over and over again until the credits roll and it’s cynical as hell.

Not sure why the director of this movie decided a reference to a famous rape gang should be referenced front and center in a kids’ movie…

There’s a bit of this feeling in the MCU’s latest film and Spidey venture, “Spider-man: No Way Home,” as Peter Parker is confronted by ghosts of Hollywood Spider-man’s past with villains from previous iterations of the famous Wallcrawler under Sony all making an appearance. Though it can indeed feel cynical watching it too, as clearly such a decision to bring these characters back wasn’t motivated by narrative choices so much as it was economic, the result is at least a far less irritating story comparatively to a film like Space Jam even if narrative choices were made using basically the same logic.

“No Way Home” takes place directly after the events of “Far From Home” where Peter is persona non grata after being framed for the murder of Mysterio. He struggles trying to lead a normal life alongside his friend Ned and girlfriend MJ as the previous film’s events have estranged them all from the public, not to mention made college admissions considerably harder for all of them. But then Peter gets a bright idea to ask Dr. Strange for help wiping the memory of the world of his true identity which leads to catastrophic consequences as multiple super villains emerge from the multiverse claiming to know who he is, looking to kill him and those he loves.

I’ll start this review by saying that whatever I say here should be taken lightly as I am definitely not this film’s target audience anymore. A few years ago, there’s a good chance I would’ve loved every minute of this movie and would highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the MCU. I’m not that type of movie-goer anymore for the most part and I will not try to convince you here at least to see things my way.

I’ll try to remain as fair as possible here.

So, with that said, “No Way Home” is…fine. It’s a solid superhero flick with plenty of good action, some funny lines, a couple of heartfelt moments, and plenty of nostalgia bait. If you’re really fond of any of the old versions of the Spider-man movies, you’ll probably like some of the ways this film revisits characters from those movies.

That’s really the main strength of this movie though; the sheer amount of star power and charisma packed into the movie between the MCU cast and the original Sony Spider-man characters, both from the Sam Raimi trilogy and the much-maligned Andrew Garfield reboot, carry this film from start to finish. It’s hard not to have a good time even if the plot feels completely ridiculous and to its credit, it can even be earnest at times in ways that other MCU films typically aren’t.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a little joy out of seeing Alfred Molina show up on the screen as Doc Ock again for the first time since 2004, or hell I even liked seeing Andrew Garfield show up again as reboot Spider-man in the third act. It’s fun to see old friends again, even if it feels manipulative, and for what its worth “No Way Home” doesn’t waste these characters all that much.

But really this is Tom Holland’s show as the titular friendly neighborhood Spider-man, and though I have issues with the way he’s been depicted in this series of movies, he by far delivers his best performance as the character in this latest movie. We started to see stronger glimpses of the character that I at least know Peter Parker as in the second film, as we feel the weight of responsibility lean heavily on Spidey’s shoulders in “Far From Home.” But here we start to really get this version of Peter Parker and what makes him tick. He’s trying to be all things at once as both Peter Parker the man and Spider-man the vigilante. But what makes this movie really work thematically he does find a way to do things his way in the end even if it comes and great expense. The focus and theme of responsibility extend to these villains from Spider-man movies’ past and we get a new sense of closure with them that the older movies didn’t give. We even get a nice figurative passing of the torch by the previous Spider-men that reminded this Star Trek fan of “Generations” in a mostly good way.

Not quite with the same end results though.

It’s kind of beautiful, if not extremely silly, at the end and though it doesn’t completely stick the landing Spidey still lands on his feet in a way regardless by the film’s close.

The movie is still a bit of mess, understandably given its dealing with story elements surrounding multiple universes and a fuck load of additional characters, but it leads to some headache-inducing scenes where the focus can feel too much on the spectacle of such a script and not on the story. While the charisma of the cast carries the film for the most part a lot of what made many of these villains interesting in their original forms is removed here. It’s probably due to time constraints, again understandable, but it leads to some flat characterizations of this mega cast.

While they are still enjoyable to watch, I can definitely not say that I enjoyed the Raimi cast villains more in this film than their original forms. Doc Ock is reduced to mostly one-liners from the second movie and Willem Dafoe goes pretty full caricature as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (which too be fair the original is over the top too). Sandman is a gigantic waste of time in this movie and probably didn’t need to be added. Given how much pathos that character is given in the third Raimi flick he’s pretty one-dimensional here and completely uninteresting. Jaimie Fox is clearly just playing himself as Electro, and to be fair nobody cares or even remembers who he was in “The Amazing Spider-man 2″ originally. And The Lizard is pretty much a straight afterthought scene to scene.

He still looks like a slightly better-designed dinosaur koopa from the awful “Super Mario Brothers” live-action flick to me.

But again, the pull of a movie like this is the spectacle. We don’t watch a movie like “No Way Home” for depth and Shakespearean storytelling. We watch it to see multiple Spider-men punch bad guys in the film’s epic final act and to its credit, it is definitely le epic, my fellow nerds.

There isn’t much else to say here. Again, this movie isn’t really made for people like me anymore but if you’re a fan of the MCU chances are you’ll love it. Everyone else though need not apply. You’re probably better off watching “Into the Spider-verse” again if you want to watch another Spider-man flick with a similar-ish premise.


3 out of 5

Speaking of which…hype!

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