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Spider-Man: No Way Home is one of the best Marvel films ever

“Spider-Man works as a relatable and fascinating character because the stakes feel real. We might not all be superheroes, but we understand the struggle to make good moral choices when the world seems pinned against us.”

In Spider-Man: No Way Home, Peter Parker has been unmasked, and his already complicated life becomes almost impossible. To regain some normalcy, he enlists the help of Doctor Strange, but things don’t quite go as planned. Not much else about the plot can be discussed without resorting to accidental spoilers, and this critic, dear reader, will not risk the wrath of the Disney corp and its fans by revealing any more than necessary. 

Spider-Man works as a franchise because Tom Holland is a cute kid who talks fast and seems incredibly earnest. He’s adolescent in the best sense of the word and achieves a careful balance of appealing to the intended audience (children) without alienating a fandom of adults. Unsurprisingly, the Spider-Man films are among the best of the Marvel franchise. They stick to what they do best and keep their audience to heart. If you’re a big Spider-Man fan, I can’t imagine not at least enjoying the latest film.

Spider-Man and Doctor Strange in Spider-Man: No Way Home

The dialogue is sharp and quick, evoking the fast-talk of late ’90s TV like Gilmore Girls and Buffy. For better and worse, the long, twisted legacy of Joss Whedon on these films still packs a punch. It’s difficult not to think of the parallels between Spider-Man’s hero’s journey and Buffy’s. A single “mother” figure raises both high-school students and is forced to make enormous sacrifices to fulfill some terrible destiny. Their journey is marked by hardship and dead-end jobs. Opportunities dry up, and they are forced time and again to choose a solitary path to save the ones they love from pain. Dr. Strange even jokes about Parker and his gang having to “Scooby” a solution — a reference Buffy fans will know well.

Spider-Man works as a relatable and fascinating character because the stakes feel real. We might not all be superheroes, but we understand the struggle to make good moral choices when the world seems pinned against us. The way that Parker, in this iteration and beyond, is defined by grief and misplaced guilt similarly resonates. For children, especially coming off of a devastating two years, it’s hard for me to begrudge a sensitive film as it intimately deals with these ideas, especially Parker’s rage. It isn’t pat or oversimplified, but it speaks to a younger audience in a way that feels pertinent and engaged. 

Overall though, the film does struggle in terms of storytelling consistency. Without going too deeply into spoilers, it misses the mark in understanding how the archetypes of superheroes and villains operate. The treatment of the bad guys doesn’t ring very true, and there’s a huge missed opportunity in exploring the motives of those who make bad choices. It undercuts many of the film’s other strengths. 

Spider-Man: No Way Home
Zendaya and Tom Holland in Spider-Man: No Way Home

For obvious reasons, the film also sets itself up to an impossible standard as it evokes and references previous Spider-man films. Compared, especially to Sam Raimi’s movies and more recently the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (probably the best Marvel film ever), it just doesn’t hold up. It’s very grey and monotone, lacking the comic book “pop” of the other two. While the dialogue is sharp, it’s also just a lot of talking in rooms. Honestly, so much of the Marvel films are people talking fast without doing much of anything. It’s okay, but aesthetically it’s pretty dull — especially when you see the innovation from Spider-Verse. Why are we doing live-action again? Since so much of it is done with VFX, it is animated anyway.

As someone who does not derive a considerable amount of joy from Marvel films, Spider-Man: No Way Home ranks on the better end of what Disney is capable of. A lot of it is due to the actors’ charm and the strength of Spider-Man as a character. While this film indulges in some hefty fan service, it’s also well integrated within the text and doesn’t feel as indulgent as some more recent examples (the new Ghostbusters as one example). Overall, this film is charming and is relatively self-contained. It works well as a standalone and benefits those deeply invested in the Avengers and superhero universe. ■

Spider-Man: No Way Home opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Dec. 17.

Spider-Man: No Way Home, directed by Jon Watts

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