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I've been sitting out of a lot of movies this past few years due to the COVID pandemic. Even though I'm vaccinated and boosted, I'm just still not comfortable sitting in a crowded theater with a bunch of randos. And if I did go to a movie in a theater, I would wear a mask, and that can get uncomfortable for a whole 2 or 3 hour movie. I could maybe be convinced to go to a theater for a small movie with a mostly-empty theater, but for a big summer blockbuster, I'm just not there yet. So despite being a big Spider-Man fan, and generally having liked the MCU's Spider-Man movies so far, and despite the movie's universal acclaim and praise, I passed on seeing No Way Home in theaters when it released last year. I waited until it finally showed up on streaming, and just now finally got around to watching it this past weekend.

Perhaps the biggest failing of the MCU's Spider-Man movies so far is that none of them have been terribly surprising. Both Homecoming and Far From Home had pretty predictable plots, with the only real surprise being Mysterio's deathbed public reveal of Spider-Man's true identity. No Way Home does not deviate far in terms of predictability. The multiverse aspect and return of villains from the previous movie continuities was in the trailers, and the fact that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield would reprise their roles was one of the worst-kept secrets of any movie ever.

In fact, the only real surprise for me was that this movie did not do the one thing that I really thought that it would do. It doesn't have any new villains -- not even in a bit part. I thought for sure that some new minor villains would show up early in the movie, knowing Spider-Man's identity, and threatening him, May, MJ, and/or Ned, and that would be the impetus for Peter going to Doctor Strange to reset the timeline.

Specifically, I was expecting to see the Scorpion. The end-credits stinger from Homecoming introduced Mac Gargan, who very much wanted to learn Spider-Man's identity from the Vulture. I thought for sure that with Spidey's identity being public, that the opening act of the movie would have J. Jonah Jameson hiring Mac Gargan to become the Scorpion to hunt down Peter Parker and capture or kill him. Peter would defeat Scorpion, but not before Gargan goes too far in threatening Peter's friends and family, leaving Peter with no choice but to go to Strange to help protect the people he loves.

Spider-Man: Homecoming - Mac Gargan © Sony Pictures, Disney
I was surprised that the Scorpion did not show up early in this movie to raise the stakes.

This never happens. The impetus for going to Strange is that Peter and his friends aren't accepted into college because the colleges are afraid of the controversy of admitting a known vigilante. It feels like a flimsy excuse for wanting to change the timeline or mind-wipe the entire planet, especially considering that the MCU's Peter has strong connections to Stark Industries, Nick Fury, and the Avengers, and shouldn't have any problem finding ways for him and his friends to have professional lives together.

So I thought the lack of Scorpion was a huge missed opportunity. It would have raised the stakes, provided some act 1 action, and allowed for the inclusion of a new character. It also would have served as a red herring for the movie's trailers by letting Disney show some action scenes with a villain, while trying to keep the rest of the villain roster a secret for as long as possible. Maybe this was part of the original plan, but Marvel axed it after a version of Scorpion showed up in Into the Spider-Verse. Maybe they didn't want to look too similar to Spider-Verse?

Amazing redemption

The only other real surprise for me is just how much the classic villains steal the show. Alred Molina's Doctor Octopus is terrific, and Willem Dafoe is downright terrifying as a version of the Green Goblin with nothing left to loose. The other villains are kind of meh. I like that Sandman is still in his redemption arc and is actually willing to help Spider-Man before everything goes south and he just kind of caves to the other villains' peer pressure for no real reason. Jamie Foxx's Electro from Amazing Spider-Man 2 is also here, and even though he's not as much of a total joke as he was in that previous movie, his role still seems kind of phoned-in.

Spider-Man: No Way Home - Doc Ock
© Sony Pictures, Disney
Spider-Man: No Way Home - Green Goblin
© Sony Pictures, Disney
Alfred Molina and Willem Dafoe largely steal the show in reprisals of their classic villain roles.

I also like a few cosmetic changes. Green Goblin gets a purple sweater over his green flight suit, and he loses the stupid mask. I always hated that mask. Don't take this the wrong way, Mr. Dafoe, but your face is way creepier and more threatening than any stupid Halloween mask, and Raimi's decision to put you into a rigid mask that doesn't allow any expression at all was an awful decision. I wish the Lizard has also been given a lab coat, which could have been easily justified by the second act plot, but whatever.

That second act is also a mild surprise that I really enjoyed. After brawling with each villain to capture them, Peter decides to go against Strange's wishes and tries to rehabilitate each villain. This desire to help absolutely everybody, even at great personal cost to himself, is so quintessential Spider-Man. It's why I love the character, and this movie taps into it more than any other depiction of Spider-Man that I've ever seen in movies, TV, or video games. I absolutely love that Strange and Peter are driven to conflict by this ideological difference. The Spider-Men doing science to try to "cure" each villain is also some quintessential Spider-Man.

This movie works so well because it gets Spider-Man so well. Not only the original source material, but it also gets each of the Spider-Man film franchises and manages to keep each cameo true to their original depiction. In many ways, this movie feels like a redemptive second chance for poor Andrew Garfield, who gives his best performance as Spider-Man to date. I'm not going to go so far as to say that I want Sony to make another Amazing Spider-Man movie with Garfield, because I don't. But this movie has definitely softened my opinion on Garfield in the role, to the point that I feel like I owe him an apology. No Way Home shows why Garfield was chosen for that role, that it wasn't bad casting, and it emphasizes how much of a shame it was that his writers (*cough* Alex Kurtzman *cough*) were so bad.

Spider-Man: No Way Home - Andrew Garfield © Sony Pictures, Disney
Andrew Garfield finally gets to showcase why he was cast as Spider-Man to begin with.

Hell, it even sets up for the possibility of redemption for the symbiote and Venom as cinematic villains!

This idea of second chances extends into the actual movie's narrative as well. Not only is Peter hopefully getting a second chance at living his life, but both previous Spider-Men get an opportunity to right some of the wrongs of their respective movies.

Hell, this movie even represents a second chance for Disney and Tom Holland to get Spider-Man right for a certain portion of its fanbase. For those who disliked the MCU's Spider-Man "Home" trilogy because Spider-Man never felt like the down-to-earth, home-grown hero that they wanted, then the "One More Day"-inspired hard reset at the end of this movie gives Tom Holland a second chance to be the Spider-Man that those fans wanted him to be. And maybe he'll finally even be able to do that with the home-made, classic suit that we've all been waiting so long to see in live action. It only took like 11 damn movies for the costume department to finally get this right! Let's hope they don't screw it up and change it when Spider-Man 4 goes into production.

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