“Spider-Man: No Way Home” celebrates its beloved characters (Spoilers)

The movie is a love letter to its fans and a thank you for 20 years of continued devotion.

by Eleanor Schifino | 1/7/22 2:05am

by Sophie Bailey / The Dartmouth

One of the most highly anticipated movies of the year, “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” incited a mass exodus of fans from the comfort of their couches back to the theater’s big screen. With various spoilers circulating on the internet since the movie’s release on Dec. 17, the movie demands an in-theater viewing for the most genuine experience. Racing to see it myself, I was struck by the emotionality woven into the action of this film that celebrates Spider-Man’s legacy and future. 

“No Way Home” begins immediately after its predecessor, “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” in which Spider-Man’s identity has been revealed as Peter Parker. Reeling from the immense consequences of this revelation and desperate to save his friends from its negative effects, Parker (Tom Holland) approaches Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to magically erase people’s memories of his secret identity. However, the spell goes awry. It opens the multiverse by inviting in everyone who knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, including the villains Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), Electro (Jamie Foxx) and The Lizard (Rhys Ifans). Rather than immediately sending them back to their predestined fates to die at Spider-Man’s hand in their respective universes, Parker strives to cure the villains of their various ailments. 

Balancing nostalgia with the development of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, “No Way Home” exceeds its predecessors as it shoots to the top of Marvel fan-favorites. With poignant portrayals, well-timed cameos and a perfect balance between the old and new, Spider-Man’s iconic characters are elevated by phenomenal acting and exceptional writing. By bringing in Tobey Maguire to honor his beloved performance and finally giving Andrew Garfield a fair shot at the role with lucid plotlines, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” identifies the core of its character — formed of heartbreaking loss, intense love, vast intellect and quick wit. 

The power of Spider-Man’s character is in his morals, something “Spider-Man: No Way Home” emphasized through a return to and subsequent breakdown of the “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.” His incorruptible view of the goodness in the world and unmitigated genius were lost in previous Holland portrayals, as he was used to develop the agenda of other Avengers and sculpted to fit into the larger Marvel universe. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” removes Parker from this grander tale and instead refocuses on his story. It is emphasized that he is, fundamentally, just a kid who makes mistakes. Why else would he risk the fate of the multiverse to gain admission for his friends and himself into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology?  

What makes this movie so special is the elevation of seemingly mundane problems by presenting Holland’s Parker with a challenging dilemma: in order to save his world and the multiverse, he must accept a spell that erases him from peoples’ memory. Anyone who has ever known him would forget him. Essentially wiping out the past six movies that featured Holland’s Spider-Man, the Marvel filmmakers created a fresh slate for the character to grow as an individual by his own doing. Viewers are reminded of Parker’s selfless nature as he loses everyone and is left alone, without family or friends. The emotion in Holland’s acting proves his matured worth alongside acclaimed actors Maguire and Garfield. 

The age-old debate between comic fans about the best Spider-Man continues: Maguire’s performance is iconic and quirky, Garfield has sarcastic wit and a perfected web-slinging style, while Holland’s portrayal is youthful and eager. With each actor comes various strengths and weaknesses, but most forums agreed that Garfield’s version was the worst (a sentiment I have always detested). 

Stand-out acting came from both Garfield and Dafoe, who elevated their previous roles of Spider-Man and Green Goblin (Norman Osborn) by delving into the essence of their struggles, heartbreaks and complex mental states. Dafoe’s Green Goblin is the key to uncovering the true Spider-Man — a task he fulfilled for both Maguire’s and Holland’s renditions of the character by forcing their isolation. His indescribable insanity is the perfect foil to Parker’s pure morality. With subtle and skillful switches between Osborn and Goblin, the nuances of Dafoe’s performance demonstrate his depravity as he finalizes the “coming-of-age” portion of our hero’s story by spurring Spider-Man’s rebirth. 

Garfield’s acting is the highlight of “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” as he explores the potential darkness in his character and finally earns his shot at redemption. In “The Amazing Spider-Man,” Garfield was a Parker immersed in a grittier, darker universe. Going as far as to study the comics and how spiders behave, he never got his fair chance at the role, as poor writing and plot execution cut his tenure short. When given distinctive writing, an interesting plot and the opportunity to explore Parker’s depth, fans are now able to see what could’ve been for “The Amazing Spider-Man” franchise — and have already begun to circulate petitions demanding the production of a third film. After failing to save Gwen Stacy in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” Garfield’s Spider-Man finds redemption by saving MJ, overcoming some of the trauma that haunted him in an emotional moment that could bring tears to even the most stoic of viewers. 

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” successfully weaves together two decades of Spider-Man-related content, celebrating the nuances of different versions to create a cohesive universe in which the versatile experience of each Spider-Man comes together to fight for a single cause. At the core of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” are the themes of redemption and legacy, giving actors like Garfield and Foxx new chances at old roles while teaching Holland’s Spider-Man the lessons learned already by Garfield and Maguire. As the movie celebrates the past to create Holland’s future, it expands its scope while getting at the core of Spider-Man’s character and value. The creation of a film with three Spider-Men and five villains in one conflict seems like an impossible task due to the complexity of competing storylines, but it turned out to be a stand-out production that reveals why Spider-Man’s character is so beloved  — no matter the actor who plays him. 

Rating: ★★★★★