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Monday, Feb. 26, 2024
The Observer

‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’: A spoiler-filled review

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Emma Kirner | The Observer
Image sources: IMDb, Epicstream


“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is the latest entry in the cinematic oeuvre of Hollywood powerhouse Marvel Studios. It is awesome!

In “No Way Home,” Peter Parker squares up with the most intimidating villain he’s faced yet: college admissions. The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s embrace of the multiverse was always inevitable, but it is still the coolest thing they’ve done yet. All three major actors that have portrayed Spidey in live-action film over the past 20 years, teaming up — not to defeat, but to save the collected villains of the first two film series. Who wouldn’t want to see that?

Spider-Man is a character that is essentially charming, down-to-earth, yet tortured. Watching Tom Holland, Andrew Garfield and their sad dad Tobey Maguire bond over the suffering intrinsic to the Spider-Man experience was really heartwarming, as was watching them work together to redeem their tragic villains. As is always the case in Marvel films, the action was a ton of fun, especially the fight between Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, a father figure to Peter after his scenes with Iron Man in “Avengers: Infinity War.” And as is always the case in Willem Dafoe films, Willem Dafoe was awesome.

Now that I’ve gotten through the obligatory yet genuine praise, I’d be remiss if I neglected to take a deeper look at the message “No Way Home” sends about Marvel Studios itself and, by extension, about its parent company Disney. After “No Way Home” hit theaters, Jimmy Fallon — ever the hype-man for the latest products of mass culture — suggested it’s “probably the biggest movie of all time” while introducing Willem Dafoe on The Tonight Show. If that is true, then “No Way Home” will have stolen that title from “Avengers: Endgame,” which is also an entry in the MCU. The criticism that Marvel Studios most frequently receives — which can best be summarized as accusations of artistic bankruptcy — has proliferated in recent years. Marvel responds to that criticism in “No Way Home” in the only avenue really available to them: a demonstration of power.

The multiverse conceit in “No Way Home” is exactly the mechanism through which Marvel demonstrates its power. That conceit itself is lifted from the only cinematic Spider-Man film that doesn’t show up in “No Way Home”: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” which, in my book, is not only the best Spider-Man movie, but the best superhero movie in general. That borderline plagiarism is another aspect of Marvel Studios’ demonstration of power. They took the conceit and said, “We’ll do it better,” and by their metrics — which equate quality with quantity of profits and tickets sold — they succeeded.

In drawing the previous cinematic incarnations of Spidey into “No Way Home,” Marvel Studios subsumes the narrative content of the previous live-action Spider-Man films into their multiverse. Not only are those earlier film series retconned into being a part of the MCU, but the entire conflict of “No Way Home” involves an active effort by the collected Peter Parkers to retcon its very narrative content. To use terminology from “Avengers: Endgame,” they pulled a time heist. Finally, the icing on the cake that is Marvel’s eternal quest to give the fans what they want: They made Spider-Man poor and miserable again.

Outside of their films, Marvel Studios and their lackeys have responded to the criticism of their work with claims equating popularity with quality. Marvel claims, as was said, that it gives the people what they want. They’re correct, and the MCU was built upon the extremely solid foundation and promise of the first “Iron Man” movie. But if Marvel Studios truly gives the people what they want, it is largely because they also tell those people what they want.

“Star Wars,” Marvel, “Harry Potter” and new for this decade, “Dune” — the cultural ubiquity of franchises like these constitutes a prescription for consumers of what they want. “Dune” would never have been greenlit if Marvel hadn’t demonstrated success with their business model. In the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy, there is an unmistakable post-Marvel inflection in the humor compared to the previous trilogies. Consumers seem to love Marvel, so it is only natural for other sci-fi and fantasy films to lift Marvel’s biggest selling points that are otherwise absent in their own work.

The culture industry runs on a homogenizing principal. In seeing only (or mostly) films that exist exclusively to make money, consumers (myself included) are conditioned to seek only those mass culture products which bear similarity. Marvel’s cultural ubiquity derives largely from the volume of their output, producing multiple blockbusters each year, each of which rewards consumers for familiarity with all the others. They pump films out at a calculated pace which maximizes profits while giving enough time to keep the task of catching up for those who fall behind relatively easy. It’s Marvel’s world, and we’re just living in it.

To quote a peer, “What else are we gonna watch, DC?”

 

Film: “Spider-Man: No Way Home”

Director: Jon Watts

Starring: Tom Holland, Andrew Garfield, Tobey Maguire

If you liked: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

Rating: 4 out of 5 shamrocks