** SPOILERS **
With Spider-Man: No Way Home, Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios opened the toy box, turned it over, dumped everything onto the floor, and said, "Have at it!" Directed by Jon Watts, who helmed Tom Holland's previous Spider-Man movies set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which, I guess, is now the "Home Trilogy," Spider-Man: No Way Home is a massive list of fanboy Spider-Man movie dreams dutifully checked off. Watching it is like reading a dozen Marvel Comic books in a row at a breakneck pace. As a coherent movie, No Way Home teeters on disaster and then careens headlong into it, yet it also delivers the most relentlessly jaw-dropping fan service as the most pure comic book movie since Avengers: Infinity War, and that's a compliment. Give No Way Home too much thought - or any rational thought at all - and you'll be driven as mad as the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). So you know what? Don't. Just let the live-action Spider-Verse happen, man.
Spider-Man: No Way Home has an astounding amount of --- story's not the right word -- stuff it has to get done according to Marvel and Sony's big agenda. Oh, and there is an agenda here, and it's big. First off, No Way Home has to establish the Multiverse to set up Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness by having Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) play the thankless role of "Guy who's right about everything but Peter Parker won't listen or else the movie won't happen." No Way Home also has to immediately address the cliffhanger from Spider-Man: Far From Home, where Peter's secret identity is revealed by Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) and J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons). The first act of No Way Home is quite novel, showing us the fallout of Parker becoming "the most famous person in the world" and being hunted by the authorities as well as ordinary people coming out of the woodwork who want a piece of Spider-Man. Just like that, however, Peter's legal troubles are resolved, thanks to his blind lawyer Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox)! Did I mention guest stars? There are so many, like Wong (Benedict Wong), the new Sorcerer Supreme who pops up all over the Marvel Cinematic Universe now. No Way Home reflects the success Sony saw with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse's Multiverse and saying, "We should do it in live-action too and make even more money."
The second phase of No Way Home happens after Peter bungles Doctor Strange's magical "Make the world forget Peter Parker is Spider-Man except for six people" spell and it somehow cracks open the Multiverse so that supervillains who know Peter Parker is Spider-Man jump from the Sony movie universes to the MCU. The Spider-Villain parade includes Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), Sandman (Thomas Hayden Church), and Green Goblin from Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man movies and Electro (Jamie Foxx) and Lizard (Rhys Ifans) from Andrew Garfield's Amazing Spider-Man movies. It's awesome to see Tom Holland's Spidey face the classic non-MCU villains he's never fought before. But despite Doctor Strange's pragmatic warnings that the villains need to go back from whence they came, Peter goes rogue when he learns that the villains are fated to die fighting the Spider-Men of their universes. Admirably, Peter "does the right thing" and tries to save the villains, and he even uses his science-y smarts to cure the crazy ones like Doc Ock and Green Goblin. But it's also not the right thing to do. In fact, in many very important ways, it couldn't be the more wrong thing to do, but No Way Home's rules are unfathomable, contradictory, full of holes, and glosses over the tough questions about the Multiverse to fulfill Peter's moral imperative and keep this train hurtling along.
While rumors abounded for years that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield would share the screen with Tom Holland in No Way Home, to actually see it happen is immensely satisfying. Never mind that Maguire seemed to be constantly trying to remember what playing his version of Peter Parker was like. Meanwhile, Garfield was really just playing himself in a Spider suit but he was clearly happy to be included. The three Spider-Men hanging out and swinging into battle together is worth the price of admission as 100% giddy fan service. Just as satisfying, No Way Home worked to give closure to elements from Maguire and Garfield's movies that were left hanging. Tobey's Peter reunited with Dr. Otto Octavius as friends after Holland's Peter cured the malfunctioning A.I. chip that twisted Doc Ock's brain because of his robot arms. Andrew's Peter had some touching moments with Electro, and he caught MJ (Zendaya) from falling to her death, saving her in a way that he couldn't save Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). No Way Home hit all the fanboy notes and contrasted how the three movie Spider-Men are different but also the same - Garfield feels left out because Maguire fought an alien in Venom (Topher Grace) but Holland's been to space to fight an alien, Thanos (Josh Brolin) - and it was worth all of the Multiversal hijinks.
Unfortunately, the most frustrating part of No Way Home is Tom Holland's Peter. The MCU's version of Spider-Man is the youngest version of the live-action movies but No Way Home especially equates Peter's youth for being dumb. Peter even admits he's dumb multiple times in the movie. But the movie needs Peter to do a million dumb things to enable its plot to happen and to get to the cool guest stars and cameos. Tom Holland does his best to keep the audience on Peter's side even while he's literally wrecking reality by not thinking things through, and he pays for his mistakes tragically when the Green Goblin murders Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). To his credit, Tom Holland embodies the whirlwind of emotions as Peter and he suffers a Multiverse's worth of tragedy (mostly self-inflicted) in No Way Home. After the roller coaster of Spider-Man: No Way Home, you're too exhausted to ask questions like, "How could MJ and Ned forget Peter entirely? Didn't they still go to school with him?" It's better to remember the thrills of seeing Holland, Maguire, and Garfield facing all of their super villains and hum the Spider-Man theme until we see the web-slinger again.
Tom Holland's Spider-Man has always been far luckier than his predecessors: He has a devoted girlfriend in MJ, whose surname was retconned to Watson, he's got his Man in the Chair, Ned (Jacob Batalon), he had his Aunt May, two surrogates Uncle Bens in Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), and he's an Avenger. When Spider-Man: No Way Home winds down, Sony's ultimate agenda becomes clear as they systematically strip all of the good things in Peter's life away to bring him to the mold of the lonely Spider-Man Maguire and Garfield are, complete with a classic Spidey suit he sewed himself, so no more Stark Tech for him. It's a sad ending for the plucky young Spider-Man of the MCU to lose everything and everyone he held dear as Sony resets him for the next wave of Spider-Man movies, but Parker grins and bears it as the penance he must pay for almost breaking the Multiverse. After all, nothing is more Spider-Man than suffering alone. Like Maguire and Garfield said, "It's what we do."