Written by: Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers
Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Jamie Foxx
Reckoning with moral dilemmas has never been in the strong suit of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as its attempts usually get bogged down with trying to have the most mass appeal with their features. Something plaguing their latest entry with the moral quandary at its center, but given the emotional stakes and the sheer scale of what this feature achieves, it can certainly be excused.
After having his identity exposed as Spider-Man, Peter (Tom Holland) sees the negative impact it has on the people he loves. He pleads Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to cast a spell that would make everyone forget his identity and after a mishap, an issue in the multiverse has caused adversaries of Spider-Man from other dimensions to appear and try to take on Peter.
Months of speculation on who would appear in this feature, and the final product finally arrives and the large swing this feature took in integrating characters from previous Spider-Man movies meant this film would be trying something only thought of in fantasy. The Spider-Man of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has faced his own share of members of the rogue’s gallery, but now individuals like Dr. Octavious (Alfred Molina), The Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Lizard (Rhys Ifans), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), and Electro (Jamie Foxx) from the other films have found their ways over in this universe. A daring tactic that would only occur in the minds of fans who would make fan fiction of this but never believed it would happen in a feature film. This comes with its pros and cons in how it impacts the narrative.
What has often plagued other Spider-Man films was the overabundance of villains stuffed into the narrative. This occurs in the often-maligned Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 where it gets out of control and the villains lack real substance due to the lack of runtime to dedicate to them. Now Way Home dares to bring nearly all of them together in one feature and it sidesteps the overstuff by the simple fact that these are pre-established characters that fans of the other films already know, so all of the legwork has already been done for them. It leaves plenty for audiences to come in with, which is quite presumptuous on the filmmakers. However, it also plays into the issues plaguing this iteration of Spider-Man as a whole. So much of this character predicates on others and callbacks from other properties. Whether it be Tony Stark in Homecoming, Nick Fury in Far From Home, and now a whole flurry of characters from previous Spider-Man movies and Dr. Strange, this version of Peter Parker just cannot stand on his own in a substantive way. Taking this route only makes this reality even clearer, which does no service to the character as a whole.
This film, however, delivers on plenty of catnip for fans, which has assured its long-lasting success despite its gaping narrative issues. It plays into the nostalgia of the Raimi movies, it redeems the Webb films and pushes forward what Holland and Watts have done with this iteration. Quite the balancing act and certainly something it deserves credit for. It pieces together some incredibly emotional moments that feel particularly earned as Peter truly begins to feel the weight of what it means to be Spider-Man. This makes for him having to make difficult decisions down the line.
While the weight gets felt emotionally, the same cannot be said for the action sequences in this feature. Sure, it provides the fan service they are looking for with some matchups that allow for some catharsis and callbacks. However, the use of visual effects and the general way in which Marvel shoots these films continue to drag them down in the dynamism of their scenes. This leaves a plastic-looking Spider-Man swinging around with no real emphasis on the damage occurring here. Again, considering this is practically still a child, it does not have the severity it should in the way it gets presented.
This goes without talking about the moral quandary at the center of the film of whether Peter should send these characters back to their timelines, where, if you’ve seen the other films, they all ultimately die. An intriguing concept but not something handled with much depth in the movie outside of cursory conversations more so etched into the narrative to keep these characters here in order for some battles set in the second and third act of the feature.
Through all of the criticism, this feature still has so much to enjoy. It can be described as “fan service: the movie” but it also has plenty of substance to move everything forward in an emotionally potent manner. The best compliment I can pay this film is I have never been more excited for what might lie next for Holland’s Spider-Man than I have been for any of his three films. The final few scenes perfectly embody a level of Spider-Man I wish was present for this initial trilogy. It’s getting into something more geared to his independence as a character and while it comes with the sacrifice of what this film navigates for the service of having fans hoot and holler and understanding the references, it lays the groundwork for something potentially special. Hopefully, it gets passed off to more capable hands moving forward who can deliver a great Holland Spider-man movie rather than just these fairly good ones.