So I edited Wesley Kushner's review of Spider-Man No Way Home that was published yesterday and it was the first time I disagreed with his take on a movie. Not that I disagreed with 95% of what he wrote, but I just enjoyed the film considerably more than he did.
You should go read it now, so this review makes more sense to you.
Wes' big takeaway on the film is that it was that Spider-Man: No Way Home was "the perfect gift for anyone who thinks superhero movies can't have too many villains or cameos or too much fan service".
He's not wrong, the film is a figurative bukkake fest of fan service for all things Spider-Man over the past 20 years.
Now, usually when a studio decides to load a movie up with cameos, inside references and other things that fans have demanded for on message boards - the studio usually a) gets it wrong; or b) the fans are retards and what they wanted was very stupid. The end result is something cheesy, overly self-referential and, well, fucking terrible.
In this latest entry into the Spider-Man lore, Sony/Marvel made a movie that is literally based on movies, starring actors who previously donned the red and blue spandex and others that played ridiculous villains. . . and the whole thing just worked.
In fact, the worst part of this movie is the entirety of the time where the characters from other universes are not present in the story. The biggest failing of Tom Holland's Spider-Man is that his relationships with people other than Tony Stark are severely under developed.
This is especially true with respect to Peter's romance with Michelle Jones-Watson (Zendaya). I have very little emotional investment in their relationship, because they spent most of the previous two-films stammering like slow adults through poorly conceived plot and dialogue.
So, the movie does drag a little bit in the beginning as the film sets up the reason why Peter decides to enlist Dr. Strange to help him with his problem - because the world now knows he's Spider-Man, there are real life consequences suffered by people close to him (they can't get into MIT).
The use of Dr. Strange's magic spell - one that causes everyone to forget Peter Parker is Spider-Man - is a necessary evil for this film. On one hand, it's probably the only logical way the existing universe could bring the old Sony characters into the current one. On the other hand, the spell opens up a lot of questions that result in plot holes like this:
The film does pick up when the Sony villains arrive. Willem Dafoe is great. Alfred Molina is too. Jamie Foxx gets to redeem his comically terrible portrayal of Electro (which the film retcons without explanation).
The only other head scratching plot choice for this film was Peter and Aunt May's decision that "they must cure these villains" instead of just sending them back to their universes to die. These aren't just like, petty street criminals. Some of these dudes murdered a lot of people.
Like take Dr. Octavius for example - he straight up murdered the surgeons trying to help him in Spider-Man 2 - and is also responsible for the death of his wife.
Or Electro, he kills a guy on orders from Harry Osborne to help him. . . regain control of OSCORP (good lord, that movie was terrible).
Or The Lizard, that guy killed Gwen Stacey's dad and tried to turn all of New York into Lizard people!
Green Goblin, murdered people in Spider-Man (2002).
So what was Peter's plan here? Cure these dudes so that he could send them back to their universes to be tried for murder and spend the rest of their lives in prison? Ponderous.
Anyway, hijinx ensue, the Green Goblin ruins Peter's plan to cure the villains and then kills Aunt May.
Aunt May's death scene is probably the highlight of all three MCU Spider-Man movies. It's a legitimately emotional scene, Tom Holland and Marissa Tomei absolutely deliver the goods and And Aunt May says the line.
You know the one.
Things look bleak, our hero has lost his north star, our hero is broken.
Then we get to reunite with our Peters.
No, not like that. . . you deviants. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield find their way into the film and we get to reconnect with these Spider-Men, years after they hung up their web slingers.
And it's fantastic.
Tobey Maguire remains the best Spider-Man and his older, wiser, father-figure Peter Parker works wonderfully in a film where the in-universe Peter Parker recently lost Tony Stark and Aunt May.
It was a brilliant choice by the writers to have Maguire's Peter Parker assume the role of the elder-statesman Spider-Man and Tobey's brings a dopey earnestness to the role that made Spider-Man 1 and 2 such special films. It's a shame they never made Spider-Man 3 to finish off that trilogy, but I guess it's better than if they had made Spider-Man 3 and it was an absolute fucking dumpster fire.
I must begrudgingly admit that the best performance in this film is turned in by Andrew Garfield, who provides the viewer with a sense of regret that Garfield was given such shit material to work with in his franchise. Garfield plays his latest version of Spider-Man as somewhat emotionally stunted, self-loathing and damaged by the events that transpired in his back story.
Again, it just works and Garfield's meta-commentary on being "the lamest Spider-Man" and not having had fights with any good villains does a good job of winking at the audience without being over the top or obtuse.
This crossover would not have worked if not for the chemistry of these three actors, all of which seemed to appreciate the opportunity before them. The scenes where Maguire, Garfield and Holland interact with one another are more enjoyable than any of the action and they leave you wanting more. Even the witty banter between the Spider-Men - which is very meta and very Marvel - doesn't come across as distracting or lame.
Again, despite all odds, it just works.
The ending is the ending, the Peters fight the bad guys, everyone goes back to their universes and Peter saves the day at great personal cost - nobody, including his best friend, Ned, Doctor Strange, and his girlfriend, MJ, remember him. This decision clears the deck for Sony/Disney to provide Peter with stand alone films and future crossovers with blah blah blah who cares.
All that matters is that this was just a lot of fun to watch. There weren't any "feminist, bad ass, girl boss" moments, there weren't any "oh shit, here comes the social messaging" eye roll moments - it was just a movie, a well-made, enjoyable one that made 260 million dollars over the weekend. Let's hope the studios learn something from this data point, they likely won't - but they should.
So, in conclusion, I applaud Sony/Disney for having the balls to take on something so ambitious and for delivering - despite the high probability that the end product would suck.
Yes, there were plot holes.
No, it wasn't perfect.
But, in the end, the introduction of all of these Spider-Men, and all of their psychotic adversaries, doesn't feel forced, doesn't feel out of place, and, most importantly, doesn't feel undeserved. That's a huge triumph for Sony/Marvel, director Jon Watts and writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers.
Kudos to all involved.
Using Wesley Kushner's grading scale:
Cinematography: I don't know, good? Score: I never really notice this stuff when watching movies. Performances: Tobey Maguire is great, Andrew Garfield is slightly better, Tom Holland is slightly worse. Length: Seemed about right at 2 hours 28 minutes, though they could've shortened the lead into the fun parts. Final Rating: 9/10