Forgive me if I take this out on Peter Parker, but Spider-Man: No Way Home suffers from many of the problems of modern intellectual property; that is that it’s not really modern at all. If I were scoring the film just based on my enjoyment, it would receive a 6 out of 10. If you saw the graphic above, you’ll know that I rated it 8 out of 10. I’ll explain why before you read to the end.
Much of modern intellectual property survives on two fundamental and related things. One has been going on for quite a while now. That’s the repurposing of script elements that we’ve seen in either prior films in a series or story devices that we’ve seen in other movies. So, for example, (using a scene we saw in the trailers,) when MJ falls off the scaffolding, that’s similar to things we saw in the 80’s Spider-Man films and the 90’s Amazing Spider-Man films.
The second thing is fan service. Sometimes, fan service is desirable when used, for example, in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, which essentially were clip films without using clips. They used script elements that essentially recapped the previous 20 films without showing clips but building scenes based on what we saw in those films.
My problem with Spider-Man: No Way Home is that it is essentially a film that combined major story elements revealed in trailers with others recycled from previous Spider-films. It is a movie that Spider-fans figured out on social media. There wasn’t a single story element that took me by surprise. This is from a person who avoided social media about the film from the premiere until I saw it this morning. So, did I find it satisfying? No.
Increasingly, modern storytelling is dependent on familiar content and fan service. This has given fandom a sense of entitlement where if what they want to see in a film is omitted, then the film has no value, and there’s no impetus to see it.
Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers wrote the script for all three MCU Spider-Man films (as well as Ant-Man and the Wasp). Jon Watts directed all three as well and will be directing the upcoming Fantastic Four MCU introduction. Watts and photographer Mauro Fiore did an outstanding job with the material given. The writers attempted to generate pathos and, judging by the reaction of the audience I viewed the film with, they were apparently successful. However, I feel McKenna and Sommers have kind of written themselves into a box and I can’t wait to see how Feige and company get themselves out of it.
Tom Holland returns as Peter Parker and Spider-Man, as does the cast of the previous Spider-Man MCU movies. Every villain from the earlier Spider-films appears in this movie, played, with one exception, by all the same actors. So, it’s an all-star cast that’s we see on the screen throughout the film.
There’s not a lot I can say about the plot without spoiling it.
However, I can say that you’ve seen it all before in one form or another.
There is a mid-credits scene and a post-credits scene affecting both Sony’s Spider-Verse and the Marvel Cinematic University. Next up is another film from Sony. Morbius premieres in January.
A shoutout here to Joshua M. Patton, whose writing and social media presence I discovered when serendipity intervened; I used a similar hashtag on Twitter, #MCURewind. I hadn’t intended to use that hashtag when, independent of the rest of the universe, I decided to “countdown” the days to the premiere of Avengers: Endgame. (Apparently. Joshua hadn’t either since the original title of his piece was “MCU Rewatch.”)
With every prior MCU premiere, I had marathoned every previous film beforehand. I have a YouTube playlist (linked below) set up just for that purpose. However, this time around there was sufficient time to plan a one-a-day re-watch of every MCU film to-date. (Hopefully, on 25 April, my local movie theatre is still showing Captain Marvel.)
By way of introduction, Joshua (although anyone reading is welcome to follow along), I’m a 65.5-year-old commentator on the social zeitgeist. (Don’t let that avatar fool you.)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of the things that got me back in the movie theatre. When Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk first appeared, I was more than content to allow the rest of geekdom to trot out to the theatre while I sat back and consumed the MCU the way I consume most forms of entertainment these days: in the comfort of my own home.
When those movies hit streaming, I purchased them on my Digital HD service of choice — VUDU (an unsolicited, unsponsored blurb) — and watched both movies to see what all the hubbub was about.
To go even a little more in depth, at that time, I had found comic book movies to be a hit-or-miss proposition. Between 1980 — the year Superman IIpremiered — and 2005 (Batman Begins), I had seen little in the realm that pleased me. There were a few exceptions: Michael Keaton’s first turn as Batman (1989) and M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable (2000) which I enjoyed much more than The Sixth Sense. Other attempts such as subsequent Batman-, Superman-, and any Marvel-branded films were left on the wayside and pretty much ignored by me.
Batman Begins, a DC comic-book based movie, was the first to make me take notice. It wasn’t because it was a comic-book film. It was because it was a Christopher Nolan film. Christopher Nolan was the other thing that got me going into movie theatres again.
I consumed my first Nolan film like all other content — at home. Batman Begins was a serious and extraordinary take on the Batman mythology, and I was impressed with how Nolan told the story — so much so that I wanted more. In 2008, as Marvel Studios was gearing up to develop the MCU, Nolan, Warner Brothers and its corporate cousin, DC, produced a second film based on the Batman character, The Dark Knight (2008). I was in the theatre. Those first few moments, which Nolan filmed in IMAX, had me hooked.
As times passed, I consumed everything Nolan: Insomnia (2002); Memento (2000); Following (1998), which has presumably an unintended reference to Nolan’s future work directing Batman movies; and, finally, The Prestige(2006). I was ready for how Nolan was to conclude his trilogy.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in SoCal, a producer named Kevin Feige had a plan. Perhaps it was a small plan; maybe it was a grandiose one. That’s a story for another correspondent to tell. For me, however, I hadn’t been consumed by comic-book culture; so Marvel Comics and characters were foreign to me. I had certainly heard of them, but in the framework of Marvel vs. DC, I had always been a DC guy. I had never read more than a few comics, but when I had, they were DC-branded ones. I knew of Marvel and certainly of Spider-Man, but I never much paid attention to them.
When Marvel and Feige decided to produce a slate of films based on their stable of comic-book characters, I was sufficiently intrigued that I decided to watch those first two films on Digital HD. As you mentioned, Joshua, Feige’s decision to use mid- and post-credit scenes in those and subsequent films was important, if not critical. Feige had either learned or intuited what moviemakers of the past had discovered. Those scenes built those individual movies into something akin to the old Saturday matinee serials that our parents and grandparents were exposed to during their lifetimes. It is also the basis of television since its invention until the current day. Give audiences characters and stories that they care about and they’ll keep coming back for more.
By the time Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)rolled around, like Nolan before him, Kevin Feige had me sitting in a dark theatre again. Ever since, I’ve discovered not only numerous Marvel and DC comic-book movies but countless other films that I’ve watched and enjoyed in a movie theatre.
So, Joshua, like you and millions of other movie fans, on April 26th I’ll be sitting in a dark theatre — an IMAX 3D one — preparing myself for, perhaps, the conclusion of the greatest Saturday-matinee movie serial of my lifetime: the Infinity Saga, as you called it. I hope we all enjoy it.
And so it goes.
[Also published on Medium.com]