I wasn’t all that impressed with the first three MCU movies that released in 2021. Black Widow was my favourite of the three, but it was held back by Scarlett Johansson looking kind of bored, Black Widow being a background character in her own movie, and a climax that was way over the top for what was otherwise a decent, down-to-Earth spy thriller. I’ve got other complaints, but that sums it up. Shang-Chi had way too many ideas for its own good, and would have been much better by removing Katy as a character, half of the fantasy elements, all the CGI monsters in the climax. The movie was at its best when it focused on pure martial arts, the ten rings, and the family drama. The nicest thing I can say about Eternals is that it’s a viable cure for insomnia. Thankfully the fourth time’s the charm, because Spider-Man: No Way Home is very good.
And just think – this movie almost didn’t happen.
During the production of Spider-Man: Homecoming, Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures started planning two sequels. Spider-Man actor Tom Holland talked about how each movie would focus on a different year in high-school for Peter Parker, the third being his senior year. As part of their co-operative deal to share Spider-Man, Disney would earn 5% of Sony’s profits off of their Spider-Man films. However, Disney didn’t like the deal as it stood, while also expressing concern for MCU head Kevin Feige’s workload. Long story short, a dispute started around the release of Spider-Man: No Way Home. They didn’t come to an agreement. In September of 2019, Sony Pictures chairman Tony Vinciquerra said that “for the moment, the door is closed” on Spider-Man returning to the MCU. He would instead be integrated with Sony’s own shared Spider-Man universe.
The fan backlash was intense to say the least. Months of fan backlash forced Disney and Sony to continue negotiations. In the end, they agreed on Disney co-financing 25% of the film’s budget in exchange for 25% of the profits. It was around this time when Holland signed a contract extension (at the time, No Way Home was to be his last). At the time of the negotiations, Jon Watts (director of both previous MCU Spider-Man movies) was also in talks to return for the third film.
At the time when the MCU tie-in was in jeopardy, they were considering Kraven the Hunter as the film’s main antagonist. Watts also liked the idea, but as time went on, they veered towards what he described as their own version of It’s a Wonderful Life. Basically, Peter would make a wish to hide his now public identity, which also brought Dr. Strange into the movie. The end result is a group of Spider-Man villains from the two previous Spider-Man trilogies somehow arriving on MCU Earth, which also happens to be a teaser for this year’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. American Chavez was briefly considered for an appearance in this movie, but her role was later given to Ned instead, while Chavez would be introduced in the Doctor Strange sequel.
The original plan was to begin filming in mid-2020, but with all the virus shutdowns, the film as a whole got delayed to November of 2021. The film was originally set to happen after the Multiverse of Madness, but with all the other schedule changes with Disney’s MCU movies, No Way Home would actually release first. Several minor plot elements had to be re-written, including Doctor Strange knowing very little about the multiverse before this movie’s events.
I find that these delays and negotiations are actually more interesting than most of the remaining behind the scenes details, so let’s move onto the cast.
By now, most people have seen this movie, which is part of the reason why I waited this long to post this review. That said, in case you haven’t seen it, and somehow avoided spoilers, stop reading right now. Don’t even read the conclusion.
As hard as Sony and Disney tried to hide the casting details, rumors, leaked photos and fourth party reports popped up, claiming that there would be more than one Spider-Man in this movie. These rumors turned out to be true. Both Toby Maguire from the 2000’s Spider-Man trilogy, and Andrew Garfield from the Amazing Spider-Man movies, return for this one. Yes, you see all three live-action Spider-Men working together against five villains from the previous two series’. You’ve also got Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus, Willem Dafoe as Green Goblin, Thomas Haden Church returns as Sandman, Rhys Ifans reprises his role as Lizard, and Jamie Foxx also returns as Electro.
Other returning cast members from the MCU Spider-Man trilogy include Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, Jacob Batalon as Ned, Zendaya as Michelle Jones-Watson aka. MJ, and Jon Favreau as “Happy” Hogan. On that note, Batalon actually lost over 100 pounds in preparation for his appearance in this movie. Last but not least, J.K. Simmons portrays J. Jonah Jameson. Although he’s mostly known for that role in the original Spider-Man trilogy, he also appeared in the role in Far From Home, so technically he’s that version of the character. This is probably his most significant portrayal of the Spider-Man hating journalist yet though. He’s directly involved in the main story on several occasions.
On top of all these characters returning from all three Spider-Man universes, you’ve got cameos from Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock/Daredevil from the Netflix shows. This is his first appearance in an MCU movie. Tom Hardy also reprises his role as Eddie Brock/Venom from the Venom movies in an uncredited mid-credits cameo.
Spider-Man: No Way Home ended up destroying several records in the theaters. It ended up earning $1.9 billion worldwide, and $804.8 million in the United States and Canada alone. It’s easily the highest earning movie of 2021, second and third both going to Chinese movies ($900 million and $841 million respectively), followed by No Time To Die at $774 million. It remains the highest earning movie post-lockdown, the highest ever opening for a December release, and it even beat Avengers: Infinity War’s opening weekend with $260 million, making it second only to Avengers: Endgame for its opening weekend. On that note, it surpassed Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle to become Sony’s highest earning movie in North America. The movie also set presale records in Mexico, Portugal, Spain, Brazil and throughout Central America.
All in all, it’s estimated that the movie made Sony a net profit of $610 million, accounting for its budget of $200 million, advertising and other costs, when you also consider its home video sales. On an amusing note, several ticket sale websites, including Fandango and AMC Theaters, crashed because of how many people were trying to buy tickets when they went on sale at midnight, November 29 of 2021.
No Way Home also did very well with the critics, earning a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 7.9/10. It received a number of awards and nominations. Among them, the Visual Effects award nomination at the Oscars, and three nominations at the Visual Effects Society, winning the “Outstanding Created Environment in a Photoreal Feature” award. At the Critics’ Choice Super Awards, both Garfield and Dafoe won the award for Best Actor in a Superhero Movie and Best Villain in a movie respectively (Holland was also nominated for the actor award). The MTV Movie Awards named No Way Home the Best Movie, while also giving Holland the Best Performance award, and nominated the “Spider-Men end battle” for Best Fight.
As for myself, I love this movie. Spider-Man: No Way Home is essentially the ultimate love letter to Spider-Man. Even if you remove the multiverse characters, it’s the best movie in the MCU Spider-Man trilogy. It actually gives Peter Parker some deep, lasting consequences as a result of his mistakes. The entire movie only happens because of his mistake, even if you fully understand what led him to that mistake. It also gives us several deeply emotional moments, from Aunt May getting killed off, to the ending where everybody completely forgets who he is. As great as his relationship with Aunt May is in these movies, and as much as I’d like to see Tomei’s performance in the role continue, it shows that these movies are willing to take risks. The first two didn’t give off that impression.
On top of that, Aunt May in the comics has come close to dying so many times, yet she’s still alive as a very old woman. It’s kind of ridiculous at this point. This movie has the guts to do what the comics do not. I respect it for that.
Not only does this movie contain great moments for Holland’s Peter Parker, it gives the other two a much needed sense of closure. You get a vague idea of how Maguire’s Peter Parker managed to salvage his relationship with Mary Jane with the line, “We made it work.” For Garfield, you learn how Gwen Stacey’s death affected every aspect of his life, especially the “Stopped pulling punches” part. They also get to use their experiences to help Holland’s Spider-Man move forward. The best part is when Garfield’s Spider-Man saves Holland’s MJ, in a very similar situation to how Gwen died. It’s a brilliantly written and acted moment, that Watts apparently thought of while watching a pre-vis of the climactic fight.
It’s not just the Spider-Men that get satisfying conclusions either. All five of the villains (save possibly for Sandman) somehow got sucked into the MCU Earth moments before they were to die, and they’re all given a second chance. It’s fun seeing them interact, finding ways to connect while still finding ways to oppose each other. The only thing they can truly agree on is that they don’t like their home universe’s Spider-Man. Well … again except for Sandman, who at some point seems to have become friends with his Peter Parker.
Another complaint I had about several of last year’s MCU movies is that the CGI looks and feels cheap. It’s come out lately that Marvel Studio’s visual effects artists have unrealistic demands, and their workload is way too much. It’s probably because this movie is mostly made by Sony, but this movie doesn’t have those problems. Most of the visual effects in this movie are too-notch. Even the digital de-aging on the Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus is very convincing. That said, The Lizard e looked better in The Amazing Spider-Man, whereas here he looks like he’s from the mid-2000’s. Not sure why they couldn’t have used the same model for both movies.
The performances are good all-round, but special props go to Dafoe as the Green Goblin. He’s straight up terrifying at times. He convincingly showcases the difference between the kind and helpful Norman Osborne when he’s in control, and the Green Goblin’s alternate, psychopathic persona. You can tell from his voice alone who’s in control, but his facial expressions sell it just as well. He also makes for a very entertaining villain.
By the time they sorted out the dispute between Disney and Sony, they started planning a fourth movie in the franchise. They treated No Way Home as a conclusion just in case Holland wouldn’t return, but they’re optimistic that he will. In the meantime, they recently announced that No Way Home will be getting an extended edition. It is to be released in Indonesia first on August 31, followed by a September 1 release in North America and a number of other markets. This is partly to celebrate the character’s 60th anniversary. As far as I’m aware, they haven’t yet announced how much longer this extended cut will be, but if it means more time with all three Spider-Men working together, a bit more of Aunt May, and some more scenes with the different villains interacting with each other, count me in.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is my favourite Spider-Man movie. It manages to give all three live-action Spider-Men a satisfying conclusion, while also opening the door for some great new stories for all three of them. It brings back the franchise’s best villains in a convincing way, while still acting well as a standalone film. It actually makes me want to go back and watch all 5 previous Spider-Man movies again, which I haven’t done since Homecoming released. Is it perfect? Not quite, but Spider-Man fans of any era will most likely find something to enjoy with this one.
Next month I’ll be revisiting a couple of Disney movies I watched for the first time in 2017, but feel that I need a second viewing to re-evaluate my thoughts. I’ll also catch up on Disney with Encanto, and the two Pixar movies that have released since I last looked at their studio. At this point I believe I’m going to do a Tom Hanks month for September. Then I’m going to look at the 5 previous Spider-Man movies in October. In November I’m doing a War Movies month, then for December I’ll look at four cheesy Christian movies just for the fun of it. It’ll be a different way of celebrating Christmas. I have ideas for next year’s theme months going forward, but I’m also hoping to get back into novel reading and reviewing, especially now that I’ve got back into fiction writing recently.