Back in December, audiences became enchanted by the comic book appeals of Spider-Man: No Way Home. The multiverse-driven take on the beloved web-slinger ambitiously melded each live-action iteration of Spider-Man (and their respective foes) into one grandiose package. Most critics were impressed, while audiences unanimously swooned over the film’s attempts at multi-generational fan service.
Amidst waves of cheers, I sat through No Way Home in a perplexing state of disappointment. Everything about the film felt so soulless and manufactured during my initial watch, especially when comparing the final product to Sony Animation’s breathtaking animated/multi-verse offering, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
I may not be a dedicated MCU fan, but I assumed that my history of growing up enjoying the high-flying superhero would at least inspire some goodwill from me. I am a sucker for Toby Maguire’s three Spider-Man entries, and I still think Andrew Garfield deserved more credit for the two Spider-Man movies he shepherded. Ultimately, I decided not even to review the film due to the busy holiday schedule and my disinterest in callously raining on everyone’s fun parade.
Thanks to a dearth of new releases, Sony is now re-releasing No Way Home in theaters with an additional 11 minutes of footage. The film still leaves me with mixed sentiments, but I am happy to report that my rewatch elicited a wave of newfound feelings toward No Way Home.
Let’s get the “director’s cut” gimmick out of the way first. The new footage is an utterly thankless addition for audiences who’ve seen the film countless times in theaters. Most of the added scenes, which are almost exclusively set in the opening act, come across as bad bits that deserve to remain on the cutting room floor. The already-overlong 148-minute runtime does not benefit from unnecessary padding. Several other extended cuts bring interesting new elements to the table (Blade Runner and Almost Famous, to name a few); No Way Home does not benefit from the director’s cut trend.
As for the film itself, much of the charm from the prior MCU web-slinging efforts remains intact. Tom Holland continues embodying the nerdy charisma and vulnerable emotionality of Spider-Man like a glove. His puppy-dog eyes, affable personality, and emotional gravitas all help Holland extenuate Spider-Man’s dual struggles between being a hero and maintaining a personal life. Likewise, Zendeya’s satirical bend and insular talents help make MJ a rich character onscreen, while Jacob Batalon provides vibrant energy as Peter’s loyal best friend. The trio forms an unabashedly affectionate dynamic – a strong relationship that successfully reimagines Spider-Man’s lionized lore with a fresh perspective.
I took issue in my initial viewing of how the core trio often takes a backseat for the multi-verse story arc. I still think the screenplay could’ve achieved a more effective balancing act, but there are enough heart-tugging moments that explore the characters’ evolving relationship amidst new challenges. The ending is especially moving and should set up the inevitable Spider-Man 4 with some thoughtful textures.
The multi-verse approach of No Way Home highlights the distinct strengths and weaknesses of the MCU formula. When the hommage-centric moments connect, the film reincorporates Spider-Man’s 20-year cinematic history with a warm, open-hearted embrace to fans.
Scenes between Holland, Garfield, and Maguire elicit genuine reverence for their distinct takes on the role, often modulating between sly bits of humor and authentic reflections on Spider-Man’s persona at different stages of life. The return of several veteran stalwarts as supervillains, like Alfred Molina as Doc Oc and a wonderfully unhinged Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin, also ignites interest. Screenwriters Erik Sommers and Chris McKenna deserve ample praise for rallying an extensive list of characters into a cohesive narrative experience.
Other moments of fan service feel like an unwarranted distraction. No Way Home strains itself in its constant utilization of nostalgia-gazing moments – often throwing haphazard jokes and needless retreads without questioning whether these moments benefit the narrative. I don’t mind some attempts at humor, but the general MCU comedic style is starting to become tiresome due to its lack of versatility.
I also wish director Jon Watts imbued more imagination into the film’s visual presentation. After witnessing Into the Spider-Verse’s creative and technical verve, I can’t help feeling that Watts’ competent yet predictable aesthetic choices are somewhat vanilla by comparison. The film lacks those moments of hero-centric iconography that make other cape features boldly stand tall against their peers.
Some elements of No Way Home still frustrate me to no end, but I am glad a rewatch helped me appreciate the film’s distinctive strengths. I plead to anyone on the fence about an initial viewing of a movie to give it a second chance – you never know what thoughts or feelings may change.
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