Martin Scorsese once made a comment when he unintentionally began waging war on Marvel fanboys everywhere a few years back: “Marvel movies are theme parks…”. As someone who has been a huge fan of the MCU since its inception and has loyally watched every piece of media they have put out…I kind of agree. Do I agree about the MCU movies “not being cinema”? Not entirely, but I see where he comes from. These are movies that dominate the box offices yet haven’t felt like they moved the needle in a very long time. The films are more often than not easily accessible (if you’re caught up on plot), digestible and “safe”, and really, that’s not a terrible thing. What the MCU has managed to do is capture a dedicated fanbase that’s been growing exponentially over the past decade through one reason or another. For many, they are an exciting form of escapism that more or less seems to be never-ending. To me, they are very similar to aforementioned amusement parks; flashy with quick thrills that can really only be enjoyed in small doses.
Since Avengers: Endgame broke the box office and shattered the collective minds of every diehard fan, Marvel has been struggling to justify their continuing story ever since. Whether it be through new standalones meant to introduce new heroes into the world or television series that give some of Marvel’s B-players time to shine, it certainly hasn’t been smooth sailing in my eyes. Maybe its burnout, maybe its the growing awareness of Disney being a company out to make money over creating compelling stories, but Black Widow, Shang-Chi and The Eternals didn’t stick the landing as much as I hoped they would. Still, I held out hope that at least one of these films would at least meet my expectations, maybe even exceed them. My hopes and expectations were running high, because I knew Marvel would be closing out the year with their signature ace up their sleeve: Spider-Man.
Full disclosure: I’ve always been a HUGE Spider-Man fan. Whether it be through movies, television, toys or even the few comic books I’ve actually been able to read, Spider-Man has always been my go-to superhero. He was relatable, funny and honorable, always trying to do what’s right no matter the risk. This is the quintessential bread and butter of what I think makes a successful Spider-Man story. However, we’ve had various incarnations over the years that have toyed with the formula to varying degrees of success. Sometimes these decisions work, sometimes they don’t. In the three main, live action Spider-Man incarnations, there’s always been things I’ve loved and things I didn’t. Like many, I grew up with the Sam Raimi trilogy of films starring Tobey Maguire as the titular web-head. The films are cheesy and over-the-top at times, heavily inspired by the Richard Donner Superman films, and I love them for it. Have their visuals and effects aged well? Not entirely? Is Maguire a particularly charismatic Spider-Man? Eh. He’s got the nerd, off-putting nature of Peter Parker down, but he’s hardly ever that funny or quippy. Years later, The Amazing Spider-Man duo of films attempted to rectify some of the complaints I had with the original trilogy, opting to ground the universe more and casting a much younger looking (and funnier) Andrew Garfield in the lead role. While the short series got off to a promising start, it eventually collapsed under the weight of trying to build upon a greater universe instead of fully focusing on a strong, individual story.
That leaves us in current day with the third installment in the live-action legacy, with Tom Holland trying to stand among a greater Marvel universe as the newest Peter Parker. Hollands performances so far have been pretty solid, managing to capture a little bit of Maguire and Garfield to create a Spider-Man that feel authentic to the character but also different enough to stand out on his own. However, the normally city-level hero has found himself wedged between intergalactic wars and multidimensional shenanigans almost since his arrival in the MCU. While Spider-Man is technically no stranger to these things in the comics, the MCU’s Spider-Man has been thrown headfirst into these grand-scale events before really feeling coming of age, both in the context of the story and the eyes of the audience. It makes you wonder just where they can take the high schooler after he’s already punched a galactic despot on another planet.
The answer? Down memory lane.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is undoubtedly another addition to the Marvel amusement park, and in doing so, manages to be the most fun the MCU has produced this year, as well as being perhaps the best outing for this incarnation of Spider-Man yet. While its tied to the usual trapping of the MCU and an absolute ass-ton of nostalgia, Marvel has surprisingly captured the roots of what made the character iconic in the first place. In a way, this film marks the end of a coming-of-age arc that may have finally given us a Spider-Man that may just go down in history as the definitive version.
The word is out: Peter Parker is Spider-Man! After a fatal battle with Mysterio at the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home, the deceased villain enacts a failsafe plan that reveals Spidey’s identity to the world. Now hounded by authorities, the press, and the greater public eye, Peter finds that his friends and family begin to unfairly share his pain just because they know him. In a drastic moment of desperation, Parker incites the help of Benedict Cumberbatch‘s Doctor Strange to cast a spell that would make the world forget he’s Spider-Man. When Peter attempts to change the spell after hearing the fine print, a multi-dimensional cataclysm occurs that begins to pull in villains from multiple different realities. Not just any realities though. Villains from the Maguire and Garfield film universes return once again to reek havoc for Spidey, leaving him with a choice: help cure them or send them to their fate to die in their own universes.
Before we even knew what the story was going to be, the headline attraction for this film was always going to be the return of these iconic Spider-Man villains, along with their respective actors. For some, it feels like they never went away. For others, its a breath of fresh air and a chance at redemption. Jamie Foxx‘s Max Dillon/Electro was a geeky, relatively insane, bright blue misstep that failed to be either sympathetic or threatening in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, although he did have a cool dubstep theme song. His return redesigns him and retools him, and while it mainly just means Foxx just gets to act like himself, it turns out to be much more entertaining. Alfred Molina‘s Dr. Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus gets a chance to stomp around once again, maintaining the same charisma and menace his character had 20 years ago. Yet, I still felt him to be surprisingly underutilized by the end of it. Of course, if we’re going to talk about the biggest and best Spider-Man movie villains, it’d be impossible to ignore Willem DaFoe as Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin. Unhinged, uncaring and unbelievably menacing, DaFoe is by far the standout of the returning villains, adding a new layer of depth to the character that honestly surprised me. Even with his pumpkin bombs and his glider, Osborn is still a tortured soul that’s struggling to fight the darkest parts of himself from taking over. In the original Spider-Man, this duel-personality was always kept purposefully ambiguous as to whether the Goblin was a completely different personality or the personification of Osborn’s repressed anger and shortcomings. While I would’ve liked them to keep this motif, it makes sense in the context of the story as it makes Osborn susceptible to the idea of redemption. Every scene the Goblin is in kicks ass, and though I was extremely happy with his return, I couldn’t help but feel I was left yearning for more.
Rounding out the Frightening Five (they’re just one short to be called the Sinister Six) is Flint Marko/The Sandman from Spider-Man 3 and Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard from The Amazing Spider-Man, two completely CGI characters that honestly just feel like they’re there to take up space. Taking them out of the film would change practically nothing about the plot, which is a shame since Flint Marko was one of the most sympathetic villains from the Raimi trilogy. Not every villain can be as engaging as Green Goblin, but their motivations just aren’t nearly as interesting to really warrant a return in my opinion. While I didn’t hate this spin on the characters, their presence is easily forgettable, especially when you realize they couldn’t even get the actors to return to portray the baddies.
The villains are no longer simply an obstacle for Spider-Man to defeat, but an opportunity to solidify the familiar moral code we associate with the arachnid hero. Realizing that most of the villains die in their timelines, Peter is struck with that pesky weight or responsibility his dead uncle is always harping on about. The easy answer isn’t always the right one, and despite all the torment and pain the villains will cause Peter over the course of the film, he must decide whether or not they are worth saving. It’s an interesting dynamic that I believe finally legitimizes Hollands Spidey as a faithful representation of the character and not simply the Iron Boy it seemed he was heading towards. The film allows Spider-Man to be resourceful and independent, making his own decisions that aren’t just imposed on him by a Tony Stark or Nick Fury. In doing so, Holland delivers the most heart to the character I’ve seen in this current run. There’s still a big enough difference between the past iterations in both character and development, and while some purists may hate having Uncle Ben swept under the rug or having Peter be handed much of his utilities, I think it allows for a unique take on the character that combines both the familiar and the new. Consequences finally seem to have weight to them, and Peter is left having to make the hardest choices he could make in the pursuit of righteousness.
More than an event than a movie, you enjoyment will heavily hinge on your attachment to these characters and the multiple Spider-Man properties that span the past 20 years. This is the definition of a fanservice film, with an insane amount of references and speculative wish fulfillment that constantly sways between clever and so on-the-nose that you can’t even see the face anymore. Most of it is in service of the story, but it can get very tongue in cheek at times and cheapens the story; a problem that Marvel really can’t seem to shake off. Similarly to the complaints had way back when with Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, there are just so many characters and plot points to juggle that it struggles to remain coherent and evenly paced, with quite a few questionable plot points that muddle the already mind-boggling idea of the multiverse. The rules seem to be stretched until holes start to form, with a few too many conveniences coming in to patch them up. It should come as no surprise, but the abundance of CGI will be hit or miss with many, especially with much of the practicality of the Raimi trilogy still holding up to this day. Obviously a big lizard man is going to be completely computer generated, but things like obvious soundstage backgrounds and rubbery character movements still rub me the wrong way. I’m sure it was easy and cost efficient for the studio, but at the end of the day are we making art or a product?
Even with all the “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” pandering afoot, I couldn’t help but smile at my childhood being honored and brought to a new generation of audiences. I don’t think I’ve become enough of a jaded cynic yet to have this ruined by me understanding its all about profit, so there were multiple instances where I was both engaged and entertained. Bias may not even factor into it; structurally, this is the best film Marvel has put out this year. It all comes together in an emotional, wish fulfilling final act full of classic Spider-Man action and more than a handful of surprises. Some of these surprises are fairly obvious, but I won’t dare rob you of the satisfaction of experiencing it yourself. If you’ve enjoyed Spider-Man for many years like myself, there’s bound to be something that makes you happy. However, if you have no real connection to the MCU or past Spider-Man films, I really can’t see this winning you over. Its cluttered nature can only really be forgiven if you’re already invested. You may just find it to be a confusing, noisy funhouse, which it honestly is.
The Spider-Man “Home” trilogy is at an end, yet it finishes with a surprisingly refreshing and bold note that genuinely makes me want to see where they could possibly go next. It may have taken a while to fully engross me in this iteration, but Spider-Man: No Way Home brings the character and his journey full circle in an enjoyable way. Perhaps a bit too grand for its own good with weaknesses that still plague the cinematic universe, the film still manages to capture the hopefulness and resilience that solidified Spider-Man as one of the best superheroes of all time. If anything, the film is a celebration of the character’s history, leaving the door open for even more Spidey stories to be told down the line. It took time this year, but Marvel somehow managed to recapture a little bit of the magic from a pre-Endgame world.
Amusement parks are fun every once and a while, especially when they manage to thrill you despite everything working against it. Sometimes you go to the theater to have fun, and this film gave me one of the best theater experiences I’ve had this year. Kudos, Spidey.
Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater!
If there was one character worthy of a cocktail it’d be DaFoe‘s Green Goblin. The man is an absolute menace, with enough brains, brawn and bombs at his disposal to disrupt the entire multiverse. Speaking of bombs, his iconic pumpkin bombs are a staple of the character, capable of blowing stuff up and even vaporizing you until you are nothing more than a poorly rendered CG skeleton. Considering the colder months of the year give people a hankering for the titular gourde, I’ve decided to focus this film’s cocktail around it! Filled with the festive flavors of cinnamon and vanilla, the Pumpkin Bomb is sweet, creamy and packing a kick! To double down on that creaminess, the drink is topped with green heavy cream, which is a simple mixing of heavy cream and green food coloring. I would advise using heavy cream specifically because despite the name, its gravity and density allows it to float on top of the cocktail when poured with care. To make it even easier, be sure to give the cream a good shake to capture some much needed air to make it much more floaty.
- 1oz vanilla vodka
- 1oz cinnamon whiskey
- 1/2oz half-and-half
- 3/4oz maple syrup
- 2tbsp pumpkin puree
- Dash of vanilla extract
- Float: 1oz heavy cream
- Float: Green food coloring
- Add all drink ingredients to a shaker and shake with ice.
- Strain into glass.
- Gently pour the green heavy cream over the back of a spoon into your glass, layering the cream on top.