In two words, Tom Holland, that’s how. In the 3rd film of the Sony/MCU hybrid trilogy in which he stars as the latest, and greatest, interpretation of the character, the actor proves why he is the perfect embodiment of what Peter Parker/Spider-Man means to generations of fans. The trilogy, wholly helmed by director Jon Watts and writing team Chris McKenna / Erik Sommers, with added development via his appearances in Avengers movies, has created a coming of age story within the superhero genre that, as ridiculous as this may sound, borders on the profound. With all of the contributors to making this series so successful, it’s probably not fair to lay credit solely on Holland, but without his game portrayal and spirit, it’s hard to see this all working so well.
Going into this capper to Peter’s high school days, the MCU’s version of Spider-Man had pulled from a wide variety of comic book eras, even blending aspects of Miles Morales. The main movies have also taken a relatively grounded approach rooted in teen comedies, in contrast to the hero’s participation in facing larger threats with the Avengers. The films have followed a high-school aged Parker as he navigates all the trials that this time in life entails (friendship, first loves, thoughts of the future), all while simultaneously absorbing the wisdom of various mentors (Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May, Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan) and fending off complicated, dynamically realized villains (Michael Keaton’s Vulture, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio). Without going into too much spoiler territory detail, ‘No Way Home’, ratchets up all of these elements in the most clever, surprising, and truly devastating ways, with the result being a character emergence that encapsulates the essence of the source material that the various movie series’ have been mining from over the past nearly two decades.
It’s no secret based on the trailers where this film starts and leans into. ‘No Way Home’ begins where ‘Far From Home’ left off. After defeating the illusion-producing drone tech manned by Mysterio, the clever villain had one last card up his sleeve, outing Spider-Man’s secret identity to the world via J.Jonah Jameson’s (the glorious reprise of J.K.Simmons) web “news” outlet ‘The Daily Bugle‘. This goes realistically how one would expect it to go in these modern times – immediately tagged in every trending topic on social media, captured by every cell phone camera in NYC, and cornered in the apartment he shares with his aunt/guardian, Holland’s Peter Parker has nowhere to hide. After being equally hounded and lauded by people on ‘both sides’ in his community, school, and the world at large, he turns to the only option he thinks he has – magic. Realizing that those around him are also badly affected once he, his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya, killing it as usual), and best friend Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon, uproariously hilarious) are simultaneously rejected from MIT for being too “controversial”, Pete seeks the help of fellow universe- saver Dr.Strange (a reliably wry Benedict Cumberbatch). Mayhem ensues after a botched spell to erase the knowledge that Peter Parker is Spider-Man goes sideways and instead starts pulling in villains from other universes who know this information.
These other universes happen to be the previous two franchises that cemented Spider-Man as THE superhero of the past two decades. The Stan Lee/Steve Ditko comic book creation has been the poster boy for the relatable hero since the 1960s. Far from obscurity but never quite reaching godlevel status amongst the Supermans and Batmans, Spider-Man stands alone as the mask that anyone could be under. Sam Raimi’s 2002 film, the first mass budget, fully studio supported endeavor, changed the perception of the character and maybe even the trajectory of the superhero genre in general. His film was an origin movie that adhered relatively closely to the ethos of the 60s comic, complete with a healthy dose of camp, and led to what many consider the height of this kind of comic-booky aesthetic with ‘Spider-Man 2’ two years later. After losing momentum with the troubling third film, Sony put the brakes on the franchise. Trading Tobey Maguire’s earnest, wide-eyed approach for Andrew Garfield’s punk, emo version with the two “The Amazing Spider-Man” films of the mid 2010s, the series threatened to fully go off the rails. Enter Tom Holland and Kevin Feige’s MCU version in ‘Captain America: Civil War’ a scant two years later to save the day.
Many fans and critics instantly responded positively to Holland’s portrayal and the MCU’s choice to tie a teenaged Parker to Tony Stark. Gone was the mopey soap opera and guilt-ridden origin story, replaced by a real sense of fun and neighborhood-level stakes of ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’, a movie that introduced a whole new supporting cast and age-appropriate concerns for the character. Here was a Peter Parker, psyched to be a part of something bigger, but still struggling with getting a date to the titular dance, and navigating the responsibilities of his ultra-tech suit. As so many were so tragically affected by Thanos and the snap of ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ and ‘Endgame’, so too did the story of Spider-Man have to contend. As a result, ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ delves into Parker questioning whether or not he should be even sacrificing a normal life, as he once again interacts with a potential mentor figure in Gyllenhaal’s Beck, an ill-fated relationship that directly leads into ‘No Way Home’.
It’s hard to discuss the specific merits of this enormously anticipated movie without spoiling it, but suffice to say it miraculously lives up to the hype and ends up in a surprising, but somehow inevitable place. As already revealed, many of the villains of the previous two franchises show up here, giving the veteran actors who play them the chance to reprise and even remix their roles. Particular standouts are Alfred Molina as Doc Ock, Jaime Foxx as Electro, and in particular, Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn. The situation presented here forces Peter Parker to make more complicated choices and to further interrogate what it means to be a hero. Holland outdoes himself here. The dynamic between he and his support staff has never been better – funny, touching, and real. He takes his most famous role to new places, closing this chapter of the character in a wholly satisfying way. Expect this film to be huge, with multiple classic moments for audiences to gasp and gawk at, a purely cinematic experience that can only be appropriately described as AMAZING . . .
Directed By: Jon Watts
Written By: Chris McKenna & Eric Sommers
Running Time: 148 min.
* * * * (out of 4 stars) -OR- A