Do you remember when you were young and you went to the movie theater? See, I grew up in the 90’s and the fluorescent neon lights are such a distinct memory of going to the movies. I remember walking up and looking up at the marquee to see the words “Spider-Man” in black letters. It was all I thought about during school that week. Fourth grade meant nothing compared to the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. I had been watching Spider-Man cartoons and playing the games for years, but none of that compared to seeing a living, breathing Spider-Man.
When you’re a kid, you walk out of every movie wanting to be the main character. Your body is electrified, thinking about the possibilities that could be if you were just like that hero on the screen. In this case, Spider-Man. I was 10-years-old when I walked out of the theatre after seeing Tobey Maguire light up the big screen. All I wanted to BE was Spider-Man.
It’s been 19 years since I was that 10-year-old kid walking out of the theatre, dreaming of being like Spider-Man. I cannot say that I left this evening feeling any different after seeing Spider-Man: No Way Home. I am still that same 10-year-old wanting to be like Spider-Man.
Reviewing a film like Spider-Man: No Way Home, and keeping it spoiler-free, felt like a task I could not achieve. My strength doesn’t come from my brain. I am not a writer who approaches things with a critical, analytic mind. My power comes from my heart. I have such an ability to put my entire heart on the page. That’s what I am going to do here. I’m going to tell you how it felt to see Spider-Man: No Way Home. I am going to tell you how I felt seeing Spider-Man: No Way Home, because a true review is impossible.
As I sat in the theatre, I couldn’t help but get nostalgic with even an inkling of what Spider-Man: No Way Home had in store. Even with numerous leaks, I still sat there with goosebumps waiting for the lights to go down. I wanted to let go. I wanted to swing alongside Spider-Man for the film’s 2 and ½ hour run time. I wanted the fear of leaving my house to fade away as I let myself be fully absorbed in the movie. I wanted all of my pain, worry, and sadness that I have collected for months to just circle the drain while I watched someone struggle with things much larger than myself. I wanted to just be Spider-Man till the lights came back up.
As I watched Tom Holland send off his trilogy with his best performance yet, I thought about how he wasn’t the Spider-Man I grew up with. He is a new Spider-Man for this generation, but he is still Spider-Man. He embodies the feeling that no matter the odds, you can make a difference. That even when you falter or fall, you can always pick yourself up. I have two younger brothers who are in High School, like Peter is in Spider-Man: No Way Home. After the film, I texted them to ask who they thought of when they thought Spider-Man. My younger brother, Jackson, told me that Tom Holland has been his Spider-Man because he grew up with him, as I had grown up with Tobey Maguire. Just like others have grown up with Andrew Garfield. No matter who is behind the mask, all three bring you the feeling that everyone can do better, be more, and use their gifts to make things better.
If I had to make one critique, I’d say that I think the film had typical MCU quips and jokes that sometimes fall flat or cut the tension in a scene. With Spider-Man though, it feels almost natural to the character. What makes a Spider-Man movie feel so much more meaningful to me, rather than other heroes, is that you can see yourself in him. You can see yourself making jokes that don’t always land. You can see yourself caring so deeply about people that you’d give up everything for a chance to make their futures brighter. So while this film does have the typical MCU thoroughfare, it still incorporates the feeling of the previous Spider-Man films. Now that could be the nostalgia in me, but as I said, I am sharing my feelings with you. From start to finish, I felt every punch, every pain, and every emotion that they wanted me to feel. Tom Holland feels more vulnerable in this in ways he hadn’t before. He’s afraid of what his actions have done to the people he loves. Those fears come to life as the multiverse is ripped asunder.
I gave myself over fully to Spider-Man: No Way Home. I wanted to enjoy the film because, again, I truly love this hero. He makes me feel okay for those 2 hours that I get to share with him. If 4K discs had the wear and tear that VHS tapes once had, I would have burned through multiple copies of Spider-Man. But Spider-Man is nothing without his villains.
All of the important villains of the Raimi and Webb Spider-Man films have been brought to the MCU for this grand finale. Each has enough screen time and space to be themselves with some very good character moments for each. Alfred Molina returns as Dr. Otto Octavius who in Spider-Man 2 we last saw perishing after proclaiming “I will not die a monster!” His performance in the film is an absolute delight as he struggles with the world of the MCU from magic to a Peter Parker who is not his own. But if I am going to talk about my feelings while watching it, I cannot finish this review without talking about my favorite actor and villain, Willem Dafoe.
Willem Dafoe’s performance as the Green Goblin set a bar for me as a child. Even the action figure I had of Dafoe struck a tinge of fear into me when I was a kid. As I grew older and rewatched the film on repeat, I started to see more to the performance. I saw Norman Osborn as someone who would stop at nothing to be the best version of himself even though it costs him his humanity. Willem Dafoe’s performance of a man struggling with his own demon inside is front and center in Spider-Man: No Way Home. Even after 19 years away from the character, Willem returns full force to to build upon the groundwork from the first film in incredible ways against a new Peter. We get glimpses of the man who he could have been to his own Peter, or his own son, if things had went differently. Willem’s performance once again made me feel the gamut of emotions from fear to pity for the man who could have been so much more.
When I sat down at my desk to write this, all I felt was dread that it wasn’t going to be enough. There are a thousand other writers reviewing this film. But I started to write. I started to remember how I felt every time I got to pick up a controller to BE Spider-Man. How I felt every time I got to talk about Spider-Man with the people I care about. How I felt pure joy as the lights came back up after Spider-Man: No Way Home had ended. As all of those feelings crashed into me, I realized I wasn’t 29-year-old me sitting at a desk. I was the same 10-year-old Dan from back then and that I will always be when it comes to Spider-Man and those faithful words: with great power, comes great responsibility.