Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films, especially the first two, burst with style and eccentric details. These movies were filled with A-list actors playing villains with all the hamminess they could muster. So when some of these same actors appear in the latest entry in the Tom Holland run of Spider-Man movies, you can't help but remember that the best effect in comic book movies is often the scenery-chewing acting.
Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina reprise their roles as The Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man: No Way Home and they are both great. Even looking past the uncanny digital de-aging applied to them, these two bring back the capital-A acting. I will be careful not to spoil anything here plot-wise and their inclusion is already made apparent in the trailer. It is pretty widely known who is returning from the Multiverse, which includes Sandman and Electro (Jamie Foxx).
No Way Home picks up right after the events of Far From Home. The opening Marvel logo is stretched out to fit an audio montage that catches us up. Peter's identity was revealed and the fallout of that has made it impossible for Peter, his best friend Ned (Jaco Batalon) and his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) to get into college, specifically MIT. These early moments are interesting but miss the high-school humor from the previous Spider-Man films. The stakes are relatable however.
Peter is out of choices, or maybe just unwilling to deal with things, and so he enlists help from Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to fix everything with a spell. Thanks to Peter's indecision, the spell goes wrong and soon villains from previous franchises start popping up. Not much is done with them however. After a run in with Doctor Octopus, the film largely keeps these foes caged.
As you might expect, with all of these characters the film is messy and bloated. It can often feel like the film wants to be several movies. Director Jon Watts isn't a particularly stylish director but he does do a pretty good job at balancing everything. Aside from the tonal whiplashing that goes on scene to scene, his direction is workman like and focused. The best bits of the film borrow from previous films but that is kind of fitting given the plot line that opens up the multiverse to pull characters from it.
While the film's first half is a bit clunky, the second half hits way more than it misses. Once it is clear that Peter is going to try to save these villains instead of just send them back, much to the dismay of Doctor Strange, then the film gets a hold of the story. The third act in particular is satisfying and thrilling. Once other heroes show up, hint-hint, the film gets the boost of humor it needs.
Fan service is often a dirty phrase but No Way Home shows that it can work if done right. There is loads of it here but often it serves the story and not just to ellicite whoots from the audience. There is something moving about how this film attempts to tie up things from all of the Spider-Man films before it. Marvel seems to know how to end large storylines and No Way Home will be the satisfying conclusion to Peter Parker that many are hoping for. Sure, it doesn't have the style of Raimi's trilogy but it finishes much stronger and the whole thing has a lot of heart.