“In your opinion, if anyone around the world wants to take their revenge on the assassination of Soleimani and intends to do it proportionately in the way they suggest—that we take one of theirs now that they’ve got one of ours—who should we consider to take out in the context of America? Think about it. Are we supposed to take out Spider-Man and SpongeBob? They don’t have any heroes. We have a country in front of us with a large population and a large landmass, but it doesn’t have any heroes. All of their heroes are cartoon characters—they’re all fictional.”
— Cleric Shahab Moradi, 2020
I was raised by television. Who amongst us wasn’t? It’s cheap daycare, the memories of its entertainment outweigh those of when it’s boring, and it’s watered-down enough so that we all get a healthy dose of widely accepted social conditioning. If you weren’t, don’t worry, any American child born after the rise of the digital tablet is filling in for your lost time. I don’t know what they’re watching, probably getting groomed by MINECRAFT YouTubers, but I know I was partly raised by Steve from BLUE’S CLUES. Of course that early Fall promotional video where a middle-aged Steve Burns returned to tell me that he “never forgot me, ever,” made me cry. From my nascent developmental stages, I was electrically aligned too. Judging by the two million likes on that tweet, I think a lot of us were raised by Steve from BLUE’S CLUES. So while we can scoff at the high-and-mighty whining of mean old Scorsese and emptily proclaim that “art shall persevere” or “superhero movies aren’t the problem, they’re the scapegoat,” there’s qualitatively no weight to denying the gravity of our media’s effect on every participating member of society. We’re instinctively drawn to content for babies.
Make no mistake, this piece of content, titled SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME, is written for babies. Even after being publicly outed as enemies of the state, Peter Parker keeps studying for his mid-terms, MJ carries on her coffee shop waitressing with zero customer abuse, and Ned maintains dumb and Filipino—that’s all they gave him, and it will continue to be all they give him. Just as FAR FROM HOME treated the post-apocalyptic coda to AVENGERS: ENDGAME as NATIONAL LAMPOON’S EUROPEAN VACATION, NO WAY HOME immediately backpedals on the shattering consequences of the films before it. What proceeds is a Saturday morning cartoon catalyst to the biggest box office event of the decade, wherein Dr. Strange’s entire mythology is thrown into whack as Peter somehow interjects into his spell-casting. It makes absolutely zero sense, but has one small, incredibly strong detail that keeps the scene held up with the writing equivalent of bubblegum and toothpicks: in this case, of course Spider-Man’s motormouth gabbing would disrupt the space time continuum. The entire movie unfolds this way, jettisoning candy down your throat to assuage the raw poultry.
And, reader, it worked. SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME made me cry. So many of these Marvel movies—movies made for children—are homicidal to the point of fascistic. Franchise heroes only save the day because they found the correct way to murder their foes. They’re not really heroes, they’re just quippy autonomous weapons. Superpowers don’t create solutions, they end crises. I found it so moving to revert to the genus of all the bloodshed with Willem Dafoe’s death in the first SPIDER-MAN, a gory impaling that’s stuck in my memory since I was horrified by it when I was six years old watching it in theaters, so that NO WAY HOME can craft a story about restorative, rehabilitative, multi-dimensional justice instead. Our homeboy Spider-Man sacrificed everything up to his entire identity just so some of the most iconic villains in modern film history could live to see another day. This sounds small, but it makes a huge difference. A majority of folks could not give a single fuck about politics or policy. Our pop culture figures are the American Gods. When it comes down to the wire, a whole lot of people will reflexively resort to “What would Peter Parker do?” in times of duress and I’m glad that this is what SPIDER-MAN: NOW WAY HOME decided to make him do. For once, he’s heroic! When Doc Ock was restored to his former self, the one who playfully challenged his potential muse before being manipulated into evildoings by a rogue computer chip (I love comic books so much, dude), I welled up. It also doesn’t hurt to have faces like Alfred Molina and Willem Dafoe’s splayed across an IMAX screen. It’s a really clever read on the material, one that dissects a horror that’s been floating in my mind for 20 years, and, listen, if we’re going to continue making movies for fully grown babies, we all should be happy this has the aspiration of making those hogs a little less rabid.
The movie still looks and feels like dogshit. The entirely CG Lizard volunteers to stay hidden in a moving truck while all the other villains are invited into a condo, because of… budgetary restraints? The incessantly objectified Aunt May is exploited one last time for a tearjerker death scene, but the best they could do for her demise is injecting an antidote into Green Goblin that… doesn’t work? For the sake of generic drama, you couldn’t have even had her be tricked into injecting him with a strength serum? And then Peter, in his hormonal rage, just leaves her corpse behind? No fight with the cops, no expression of rage to solidify everyone’s projected fears of what he may be capable of when leading with anger? You don’t have to hover a blacklight over NO WAY HOME to detect the stains of an unfinished, feverishly rewritten screenplay; Marvel stans love a cum bath, and don’t you dare tell them different, snob.
The ending’s a doozy. One would think banishing Peter Parker, and all the multiversal villains his presence in our world threatens to spawn, to the singular multiverse where neither Peter nor Spider-Man ever existed would be the perfect lay-up to turn the upcoming ANT-MAN: QUANTUMANIA into a heist movie where fugitive Spider-Man is the payload. Naive, well-off Peter Parker is punished to an eternity of fighting every single villain in his repertoire, Paul Rudd and Chris Pratt swoop in for a cameo-filled adventure, and then Spider-Man and Star-Lord can bond over their shared pain of being in love with amnesiac girlfriends. That INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE could elicit such richer, potent inspirations with none of the MCU or Raimi nostalgia to anchor it is a testament to how fundamentally disinterested Kevin Feige is in long-form comic book storytelling. Any doofus knows that J. Jonah Jameson is so much funnier as Spider-Man’s boss than he is an impersonal Alex Jones stand-in, and I’m confident that Feige knows this, too. I believe he just doesn’t fucking care. He excelled in a Comic-Con realm of satisfaction, realizing that people have as fond a memory of the Hall H panel as they do the actual premiered movie. To keep profit margins in line, he’ll keep disguising Zoom-reunions as blockbusters until the sun literally don’t shine.
If only he cared a smidgeon for the staying power of any of his 30+ action movies. The spectacular climax is set at the murkiest dead of night, and action inserts start with static close-ups on People Magazine in newsstands: you have three acrobatic web-slingers and still zero kinesis. Watts’ action sequencing is laughable compared to Raimi’s. Problems don’t build, the screen only gets busier. In SPIDER-MAN 2, every visual effect was an intended gag, down to Spider-Man’s hand-animated brawling, but here, the computer is the essence of the total visual. Raimi’s VFX artists were animating a dude with superpowers, not a superhero. You believed New York had a hero, and with the Elfman score blasting at full volume, Raimi made you believe you’re watching the most important movie in the world. NO WAY HOME ends on a visual cue that left 80% of the audience wondering if Rockefeller Center would tie in with the HAWKEYE season finale in 6 days. Even in a story as seismic as this makes itself out to be, it can’t help but be a pop-up advertisement for the future to come.
I’m sorry, I’m still so taken aback by how haphazardly the biggest movie of 2021 is plotted. We don’t even have to start with this movie, just look at the post-credits sequence in VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE that has Eddie Brock teleport into the MCU before Dr. Strange even casts his faulty spell. And, if we are to understand the multiverse as objectively as the first season of LOKI presented it, then the Spider-Men’s efforts are in vain, creating a new timeline branch that exists alongside the one where every villain dies, ultimately affecting no one and nothing; your massive blockbuster, perhaps the last of its box office gross for the foreseeable future, will be understood in the grander canon as a mess that some janitorial space cop mopped up offscreen. The ending, rich with potential emotion of what Spider-Man stands for when he’s no one to fight for, instead hyper-focuses on the child logic of what a bummer it’d be if you had no friends, no family, and no cute girlfriend. What are Happy Hogan’s memories of May if her only trait was being Peter’s caretaker? How did the supposedly broke Peter manage to rent an apartment with no credit or records? Is it really my fault for overanalyzing these movies? Each and every one of them are all plot; why do you think people are showing out for any of this? For the mise-en-scene? NO WAY HOME’s only strengths lie in its fourth-wall-breaking crescendos, in the circumstances surrounding the movie’s machinations.
Finally freed of Tony Stark’s shadow, Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is now plopped in the shadow of two summarily better Spider-Men who spend the entirety of their time on screen Spider-Manning circles around Tom Holland. Andrew Garfield, royally fucked of a career-making character by Amy Pascal’s discombobulating approach to Spider-Man, is relegated to a background gag as the inferior Spider-Man, but the porous anxiety seeps from his spandex suit. Garfield shakes with a mix of arrogance, loneliness, and boy scout do-goodery, whereas Holland spends the film playing to the “Sorry, Mr. Stark!” rafters or locks up his jaw and waters his eyes waiting for Giacchino’s music to do the rest of the work for him. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, despite the near-constant sabotage of its (500) DAYS OF SUMMER DNA, is about a spindly shithead realizing the full scope of his decisions, and even that portrayal is squeaky-clean compared to the cash-strapped, lovelorn, forsaken escapades of Tobey Maguire’s take; the MCU’s SPIDER-MEN have followed a plucky toddler who’s never held a job, lives in a spacious Queens apartment, and is beloved by all. That’s not Peter Parker, that’s Flash Thompson. Holland and Zendaya, a recent real-life item, sacrificed their intimate privacy only to not share a molecule of their supposed chemistry onscreen. Garfield’s more electric with her in five minutes of shared screen-time than these two tykes have felt in their full trilogy. Tobey Maguire straight-up does not want to be here, only coming to life when having to violently scream in Holland’s face, but c’mon, it’s Steve from BLUE’S CLUES; you’re just glad he accepted the check to show up at your birthday party. We can all be Saudi princes for a day!
The film is so in Garfield’s favor that it feels like a personal Make-A-Wish, strapping him to a merry-go-round of personal redemptions and exorcisms that resolve with, honestly, impressive aplomb in such a short amount of time. It’s not often Disney will bankroll a therapy session this elaborate: it’s like watching THE ACT OF KILLING. He’s given the victory lap, but SPIDER-MAN 3’s Sandman and THE AMAZNG SPIDER-MAN 2’s Electro play the ruthlessly self-effacing angle (you can feel the pressure blast of air from the ETERNALS cast’s shared sigh of relief over seeing proof that, if they choose to bear the public mockery, their MCU cash cows, too, are capable of course-correcting). Then there’s Dane DeHaan, who is apparently so disliked that NO WAY HOME sacrifices the Sinister Six just to spare itself from him. Brutal, dude. It’s wild that people have a nostalgia response to the Marc Webb movies, especially so soon. So what’s left if we’ve already tapped into that? Is there any nostalgia left to milk on this poor old cow? Perhaps it’s to the parasocial tabloids we go. BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER is going to make $2 billion because of “the closure it brings to all of us since Boseman’s tragic death,” and Chris Evans will make a cameo just in time for YOUNG AVENGERS to take off. It’s surprising to see such enthusiastic turnout for these particular actors playing on the main stage when each of them has hired a hefty social media team to entertain an eternal encore. You’d think that people have enough Chris Hemsworth or Robert Downey Jr. in their lives, but nope. Even stranger, no one spoke a syllable on CHERRY, I don’t remember lines of devotees on opening night for PAWN SACRIFICE, and Andrew Garfield… Well, that’s an Andrew Garfield problem. Maybe this part is the least scary in all the shifting landscape: when has a general audience not yelled “shut up and play the hits”?
With a record-shattering $260-million opening weekend, Marvel must only compete with itself. Even in the conglomerate landscape where Amazon’s acquired MGM and WarnerMedia’s merger with AT&T and Discovery have pushed out digital content throughout the pandemic, the mega-corps are still fighting over Disney scraps. My theater was popping with standing cheers and stadium applause at every calculated Berlin Airdrop of fan service, unmasked neighbors stuffing their sniffling faces with snuck-in breakfast burritos and taking illegible Android videos of the screen. All the while, Spider-Man still looks like an unfinished asset. I saw the movie twice in its opening weekend (I’m anxiously awaiting the results of a COVID test as I type), and there were maybe three or four children, maximum, in each of those showings. Otherwise? These are the public habits of fully grown American adults. Look at us right here, right now: you just read 2,400 words on the new SPIDER-MAN movie. Before we take into consideration global monopolies, FBI-meddled blockbusters, the tax-funded systemic genocides by the hands of American allies, criminally low vaccination rates, or this passé discussion over “the death of non-IP cinema” while we’re marching through a 70-degree winter, know we’re already fucked.