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‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ Creates History by Breaking the Multiverse

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Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers for “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

The highly-anticipated third Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) Spider-Man film, “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” became an instant success from the second it hit theaters on Dec. 17. It is the highest-grossing film of 2021 and the eighth highest-grossing film of all time, with this success anticipated and deserved. The story, action and special effects were all noteworthy; however, what elevated the film to the next level was the brilliant cast performance and chemistry, and the revolutionary return of Spider-Man characters from past-franchises.

Following the reveal of his identity by Mysterio as Spider-Man in “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) life is in shambles: he’s framed for murder, interrogated by the Department of Damage Control and hated by the public. When Parker, his best friend Edward “Ned” Leeds (Jacob Batalon) and his girlfriend Michelle “MJ” Jones-Watson (Zendaya) get rejected by their dream college, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he decides to ask sorcerer Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help. When a spell that was supposed to make people forget Parker’s identity as Spider-Man goes wrong, the multiverse is broken and visitors from alternate universes start to appear, and it is now up to Spider-Man to send them home. 

Photo provided by Spider-Man: No Way Home @spidermanmovie/Instagram

The visitors included familiar villains from non-MCU Spider-Man films. Otto Octavius / Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina)’s first appearance in the film causes immense chaos, immediately raising the stakes and, at the same time, surprising viewers with the breaking of the multiverse for the first time. Norman Osborn / Green Goblin (William Defoe) once again brought forth a breathtaking performance with his extreme contrast of split personalities: as Osborn, he is calm, reserved and confused about the multiverse while as the Goblin, he is evil and insane, intent on staying in this new universe and retaining his power. The other villains included Max Dillon / Electro (Jamie Foxx), Dr. Curt Connors / Lizard (Rhys Ifans) and Flint Marko / Sandman (Thomas Haden Church). Cameos included Matt Murdock / Daredevil (Charlie Cox) as Parker’s lawyer, J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons) and Eddie Brock / Venom (Tom Hardy) in the mid-credits scene. 

The multiversal visitors were not limited to villains, however, as Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield reprised their roles as Peter Parker / Spider-Man, with the inclusion of three Spider-Men on screen together that marked a historic moment. From the moment Garfield appeared as the “Amazing Spider-Man,” the film was destined to be a memorable one, and things got even more brilliant when Maguire showed up as the “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.” To long-time fans, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” was an absolute dream come true: who would have ever thought that it would be possible to witness canon interactions between three different Peter Parkers? The banter and chemistry between the three was perfect, and it was truly as if they were long-lost brothers fighting together to protect what they love. 

Throughout the film, all three Peter Parkers experienced some form of character development and growth. Maguire’s Spider-Man tells Holland about losing Uncle Ben and regretting chasing down the man who did it, saying that doing so did not make it any better; he had clearly grown from that experience and would no longer let his anger consume him. When MJ falls from the Statue of Liberty in the same way Gwen Stacey did in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” Garfield’s Spider-Man saves her successfully, achieving spiritual redemption for his inability to save his girlfriend in the past. Holland’s Spider-Man has the greatest growth over the course of the film: he goes from asking Strange to perform a dangerous spell for his own good to sacrificing his existence to save his world. It is undeniable that all three Spider-Men have become better people through the events of this film; after all, with great power comes great responsibility. 

As a well-anticipated MCU film, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” had a budget that allowed for it to employ brilliant special effects. Believe it or not, it has been 20 years since the release of “Spider-Man.” Therefore, actors such as Dafoe and Molina no longer look the way they did 20 years ago. Through the use of digital de-aging, Osborn and Octavius look just the way viewers remember them to look. The special effects used during the fight between Holland’s Spider-Man and Doctor Strange brings viewers back to the brilliance of the Mirror Dimension seen in “Doctor Strange.” Through the use of advanced CGI, the film brought many wondrous scenes to the big screen. 

Photo provided by Tom Holland @tomholland2013/Instagram

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is the fourth film of the MCU’s Phase Four, following “Black Widow,” “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and “Eternals.” The involvement of Stephen Strange in the film and the post-credit scene teased the upcoming “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” set to release on May 6. It does not just stop there — after all, there are six more films lined up for Phase Four. If you thought “Avengers: Endgame” was truly the endgame, you’d be wrong; things are just starting to get real for the MCU. 

With excellent story, action, special effects, cast performances and character chemistry, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is a film worthy of its high praise. The return of non-MCU Spider-Man characters in a MCU Spider-Man film alone made it a revolutionary existence, creating history for Marvel as well as the superhero genre through its breaking of the multiverse. 

Grace Tu is an Entertainment Staff Writer. She can be reached at tug2@uci.edu.