I was born in 1976 which means my formative childhood years were spent in the 80s. The 1980s was full of fantastic entertainment. As technology improved, movies became more spectacular. As television transitioned from three networks to a pile of cable channels, shows became more interest-focused allowing for our granular interests to be addressed.
All of that continues to be the case moving past the 80s but I frame this review in that setting because the 80s were mostly bereft of one big thing I wanted—great comic book movies and TV shows. The mass audience viewed comic books as silly, largely thanks to the Batman television series of 1966. While there were noble attempts such as the Christopher Reeve Superman series, not much in this specific genre was of an extremely high caliber. Or, if it was, it shunned its comic book roots for something else (see: The Incredible Hulk TV series).
We did have cartoons throughout the 80s, but there is something about seeing superheroes in the live action format that just scratches some itch deep in our brains. We want to see an actor or actress in the costume saying the lines and fighting the bad guys. DC Comics had some success moving from page to screen, but Marvel struggled. That is, until 1998’s Blade followed by 2000’s X-Men. These two set the stage for what would become a never ending avalanche of superhero films.
Before 2002, our live action Spider-Man offerings were not great. Nicholas Hammond in the 1970’s TV show, Spider-Man from the Electric Company, the Japanese Spider-Man films mall appearances, and the cover of Amazing Spider-Man 262 was what we got. As a kid who grew up loving Spider-Man, I wanted a decent Spider-Man movie like crazy. And even though I was in my mid-20s by 2002, I very much tapped into the inner-8-year-old and got super excited for Raimi’s first entry.
Objectively, I can step back and see some flaws in Spider-Man 1. But all those flaws aside, this was finally Spider-Man on the big screen and after years of more miss than hits when it came to comic book movies, this was a welcome execution. The first movie moves Peter Parker out of high school and into college and it’s in college where Peter finds himself in the two subsequent films. While I was no longer in college, I wasn’t too far removed from that age and I quickly attached to this version of the character. When it came to the live action version, Tobey Maguire would be my Spider-Man.
Spider-Man 2 was even better than the first film! Doc Ock was amazing as a villain and the story was much more fresh rather than being the classic origin story. However, Spider-Man 3 was a letdown for several reasons. I would have welcomed a Spider-Man 4, but that was not meant to be.
Sony moved on with a reboot and while I did quite like Garfield in the role and thought the first film was good, it was no longer my Spider-Man. And even when the MCU introduced Tom Holland in the role…I was really excited to see the character interact in a larger universe, but I didn’t have the same attachment.
What is my point in all of this when it comes to Spider-Man: No Way Home? I’m trying to set the stage for why my reaction to the film could be summed up in one word: cathartic.
If I tackle the narrative of this film objectively, I have some issues with how the characters find themselves in the spot they’re in and why it matters. I don’t want to dwell on it because it’s not the point of the movie, but here are a few questions: Where are the Avengers in Peter’s plight? What does it matter that his identity is revealed in this world since all the other heroes we know don’t have secret identities? Why did Strange bring Peter into the room to cast the spell? Was there not a better spell to cast? — I could keep going but ultimately I think none of this matters because despite them being valid questions, the reality is we all make dumb mistakes. We all forget to be there for a friend. We all sometimes rush into a situation to fix something and make it worse. The plot holes here are the same ones we make in our own life.
If anything, these jumps in logic are the exact thing necessary to let the third act’s payoff have the potency it needs. We’ve all made mistakes that get us to where we are in the current moment. I know I did in high school, college, and in my mid-20s. Heck, I make mistakes now! What’s important is to learn from them and then step outside yourself and see just how far you’ve made it in the overall journey. Because the journey isn’t all about you. There are other forces at work. And these forces have been hard at work the last couple years.
In the third act of Spider-Man: No Way Home, a voice from our past that we haven’t heard from in a long time steps back into our lives and gives us hope in a world gone mad. Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man shows up and is the sensible older brother voice that we need.
(I’m loathed to bring this film up due to its divisive nature, but I will anyway.) THIS is the kind of thing we needed from Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi. Finding out our childhood hero has done pretty much nothing for a couple decades is massively disappointing. Is it accurate and realistic? Sure. But I can get that by turning on the news. I can see people give up all the time in “real life.” That’s not what I want from my childhood (or 25-year-old) heroes. And it’s not just The Last Jedi that has done this but I single it out as a large example.
I realize I haven’t talked much about the film qualities itself. I could go on and on about how delightful it was to see Dafoe and Molina again or appreciate how the Spidey Scooby gang seems to have really come into their own. I could talk about how I enjoyed seeing JK Simmons again or the really great fight sequence between Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. But there are a million movie reviews out there mentioning those things.
A few months ago, Steve from Blue’s Clues came back to deliver a little message to the kids who grew up watching Blue’s Clues. It was full of hope and inspiring. Even to me, a guy who didn’t watch Blue’s Clue. Ultimately, Marvel and Sony delivered to us their version of that but done over two hours and full of spectacle. And to them I say, thanks. I needed that.