Spoiler Alert: I will be revealing some major plot points. This is your chance to turn back.
I had a chance to see Spider-Man: No Way Home yesterday. After a spate of disappointing movies and serials, I was curious to see how the new web-slinging superhero movie would compare.
After TWO-AND-A-HALF-HOURS in the theater, I was ready to scale a wall and do some yelling of my own; and not just about the $15 drinks. This movie is filled with cunningly shrouded bits of statism that should terrify every person who believes in personal liberty, autonomy, and agency.
“Storytelling” says author and lecturer Robert McKee, “is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” Humanity has always shifted downwind of what the storytellers blow so it behooves us to guard against the bad actors.
The movie begins where the last movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming, left off. Mysterio [Jake Gyllenhaal] has broadcast a post-mortem message telling the world that Peter Parker [Tom Holland] is Spider-Man and blames him for all the melee. Peter and his friends find themselves at the center of media scrutiny and their otherwise normal lives are thrown into chaos.
After receiving several college rejection letters, Peter decides to visit Dr. Strange [Benedict Cumberbatch] and ask him to work his magic (literally) and both of them decide to cast a spell that would erase Spider-Man’s identity from their memory.
The spell goes awry and the multiverse opens up, dragging both villains and Spider-Men from the other dimensions. Dr. Strange tells Peter to capture all the villains and he will send them back to their own timeline; but when Peter finds out that they were all about to be killed, he follows the advice of his Aunt May [Marisa Tomei] and attempts to rehabilitate the men.
It goes awry and the three Spider-Men [Andrew Garfield, Toby Maguire] create anti-serums for all five villains, trap them, inject them, and send them home.
The movie ends with Dr. Strange erasing everyone’s memory of Spider-Man’s identity, like he originally intended, but this time, with the correct spell.
While the nostalgia was fun, I was left with a sense of foreboding about the story being told.
Not the radioactive hero in tights fighting crime and saving his girl.
The real story. The one we all walk away feeling without actually knowing it.
In superhero movies, the villain, like the hero, is given a choice to do right or wrong. When they choose to do wrong and place others in danger, then the hero must rise up and vanquish his foe – either by imprisonment or death. Either way, everyone makes choices and suffers the consequences for those choices.
In Spider-Man: No Way Home, the villains never choose to do right. In one scene, Dr. Oc [Alfred Molina] is trying to fight against getting his broken chip repaired and Peter Parker is only able to replace the faulty circuitry by electronically and physically restraining him.
In the end, I couldn’t tell if Dr. Oc was trying to kill Spider-Man himself by ripping the power from Electro’s [Jamie Foxx] chest or if he was protecting Spiderman (thereby proving he was good on the inside and just needed someone to forcibly fix him). The muddy writing, in my opinion, weakens any point they were trying to make. We still never get to experience Dr. Oc’s arc of remorse and redemption. This basically boils his character down to an automaton with no real skin in the game and no emotional connection from the audience.
In fact, every villain is jabbed against their will, and, once drained of their power, sent back to a timeline where they will, most likely, still be dead.
But it’s ok! Because Spider-Man is the good guy, don’t you see? He knows what’s best for these guys whether they do or not.
It should also cause no one any angst that people died because he wanted to rehab the villains. The important thing was that his heart was in the right place… Aunt May said so right before she died.
Spider-Man is the good guy. He knows what’s best for people. He is allowed to force a fix on them – even if he’s never tested these serums.
Nevermind the villain’s murderous intents even when drained of their power. Surely they will come ’round in time. As long as the person doing the jab cares for them or has a good heart, it should all turn out well in the end.
What Spider-Man: No Way Home screams “MARVEL ACTION MOVIE” but whispers something far more sinister. People who make choices and want to take responsibility for those choices are cast as the villain and the more powerful entity that forces them into compliance are portrayed as the celebrated hero of the story.
In my book, this movie was a chilling reminder of today’s belief: You can toy with people’s lives, liberty, and pursuit of happiness just as long as you are more powerful and believe your plan for them is better than their own.
Spider-Man: No Way Home – It’s a movie full of villains and there’s no way around that.
Paul Thompson is an internationally performed composer and owner of House of El Music. He regularly writes for movies, theater, albums, and live events. His first novel, Drosselmeyer: Curse of the Rat King (a prequel to the Nutcracker) debuted in September of 2021. He lives in Dallas, TX with his moderately well behaved beagle, C.K.