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SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME – Michael Giacchino

December 24, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton


I feel like I spend an unusually inordinate amount of time talking about the ends of trilogies in musical terms. Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit scores, John Powell’s How to Train Your Dragon, John Williams’s Star Wars sequels, the various Avengers movies that lead into Infinity War and Endgame, and so on and so on. There’s a nice symmetrical quality to trilogies which allow for development and dramatic catharsis, and this is certainly the case with Spider-Man: No Way Home, the third film in director Jon Watts’s Spider-Man trilogy, which is itself a part of the enormous Marvel Cinematic Universe that now comprises 27 films and half a dozen or more live-action TV series. The film picks up almost exactly where the last film, 2019’s Far From Home, ended, with Spider-Man’s secret identity being revealed in the aftermath of his battle with the super-villain Mysterio. Now faced with being a public pariah, Peter decides that it would be better if he could find a way to change things – so he visits his old Avengers comrade Dr Stephen Strange, and convinces him to cast a spell that will make everyone forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man… but when the spell is cast it has some unexpected unintended consequences.

I said just now that Spider-Man: No Way Home is the third part of a trilogy, but that’s not entirely accurate, because the spell that Strange casts actually ends up resolving the plot strands left hanging in the earlier incarnations of Spider-Man – the Sam Raimi films starring Tobey Maguire, and the Marc Webb films starring Andrew Garfield – by way of the so-called ‘multiverse’ theory. Instead of making everyone forget that Parker is Spider-Man, Strange’s spell instead causes a rift in the spacetime continuum and attracts supervillains from previous Spider-Man stories into this new universe – meaning that this Spider-Man has to deal with the Green Goblin from Spider-Man, Doc Ock from Spider-Man 2, Sandman from Spider-Man 3, Lizard from The Amazing Spider-Man, and Electro from The Amazing Spider-Man 2, all at the same time. It’s a brilliant conceit, an ingenious way of bringing the entire Spider-Man series that started back in 2002 fully into the MCU fold, and perfectly illustrating the multiverse concept that will be explored more in future films.

The whole thing is a wonderful combination of unashamed fan service, entertaining action, and a surprising amount of depth and heart, but it wouldn’t have worked had the casts of all these films not come back to take part. Tom Holland returns as Spider-Man, as do Zendaya as his girlfriend MJ, Jacob Batalon as his best friend Ned, Benedict Cumberbatch as the brilliant but acerbic Dr Strange, and Marisa Tomei as Peter’s Aunt May, but the fact that Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Thomas Haden-Church, Rhys Ifans, and Jamie Foxx all came back from their respective films too is a coup of enormous proportions. Not only that – and here be spoilers – both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield return as their versions of Spider-Man from the previous films elsewhere in the multiverse, allowing all three Spider-Men to share some hilarious scenes of bonding and banter, before they team up to fight the villains in the film’s epic finale atop the Statue of Liberty. Seeing these three iconic heroes together on-screen for (probably) the only time was a surprisingly emotional experience, and the way the film ends allows for the Spider-Man franchise to develop in interesting ways going forward.

One other member of the Spider-Family to return was composer Michael Giacchino, who had not only scored the first two films in the current Spider-Man series, but had also written the music for Dr Strange in 2016, and will be scoring the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder in 2022. Giacchino’s dilemma on No Way Home was one of thematic density: with all these other different Spider-Man characters from other iterations of the franchise coming back, he also had to make decisions about whether to use the various themes that were written for them by Danny Elfman, Christopher Young, James Horner, and Hans Zimmer in their respective films, and how much of a thematic web he could weave while staying true to his own musical identities for the characters. Composers often don’t like layering in quotes from other scores in new works, especially when those scores were written by different people, but Giacchino is as much of a superhero fanboy as anyone else, and so he made the decision to swallow his own professional pride and do just that. The end result is a musical hybrid of sorts, which makes strong use of his own Spider-Man themes, but also has direct quotes from and allusions to at least six, possibly eight, of the themes from other films.

The first four cues – from “Intro to Fake News” through to “Being a Spider Bites” – deal with the aftermath of Peter Parker’s ‘unmasking’ as Spider-Man, and have a modern, urban sound that blends Giacchino’s main theme with a series of aggressive electronic tones, groovy tribal percussion licks, chugging electronic guitars (especially in “Damage Control”), and moments of unexpectedly harsh dissonance. Giacchino also revisits some of the ideas from earlier Spider-Man entries in this opening sequence, with a statement of Mysterio’s theme in “Damage Control,” and a pleasant piano-based version of the Peter & MJ Love Theme during “Being a Spider Bites”. Peter’s visit to see Strange in the Sanctum Sanctorium sees Giacchino revisiting some of the orchestrations from his own Dr Strange theme, specifically the raga-like drones which assert themselves throughout the subdued “Gone in a Flash”. They continue with a little more boldness in “All Spell Breaks Loose,” which underscores the scene where Strange casts the spell to make everyone forget that Peter is Spider-Man, but it all goes horribly wrong and ends with a cacophony of orchestral chaos.

The first major action set piece occurs when Peter – who has gone to visit an MIT professor stuck in traffic on a bridge – suddenly finds himself in a battle with Dr Otto Octavius, the super-villain from Spider-Man II, who has crossed over from a different dimension following Strange’s defective spell. Here Giacchino does something really clever, by blending Elfman’s eerie Doc Ock theme with his own new ‘Multiverse Villains’ theme, which has some tonal and rhythmic similarities to the Doc Ock theme, such that the two feel like offshoots from each other. It’s a really intelligent way of musically illustrating the multiverse concept, and as the score develops Giacchino does the same sort of thing with the themes for Goblin, Sandman, and Electro. “Otto Trouble” emerges into a thrilling action cue for the full orchestra, with numerous heroic statements of the main theme, while the subsequent “Ghost Fighter in the Sky/Beach Blanket Bro Down” continues in much the same vein, with eerie string textures and light tropical percussion dominating much of the running time.

“Strange Bedfellows” offers some more subdued Dr Strange textures for the scene where Peter and the Spider-Gang realize that the five supervillains incarcerated in the undercroft beneath the Sanctum Sanctorium have all been brought to this dimension at the moment of their death, and that sending them back – as per Strange’s intention – will kill them. Peter decides that, rather than send them all back, he wants to cure them of their ‘evil illnesses,’ which leads into him actually fighting against Strange in the so-called Mirror Universe in the terrific “Sling vs Bling” cue. Here, the themes for Spider-Man and Strange engage in a contrapuntal musical battle, at times almost blending together, with Strange’s Indian orchestrations underpinning Spider-Man’s theme, and then jumping back to a deconstructed fanfare version of the Doctor Strange theme. It’s very clever, and very exciting, and the choral outbursts in the cue’s second half give it weight and a sense of scale.

With Strange having been temporarily banished to the Mirror Universe in the aftermath of their fight, Peter, MJ, and the Super-Villains head to Happy Hogan’s apartment, where Peter intends to use Tony Stark’s old machinery to cure them. In “Octo Gone” Giacchino meanders between Elfman’s Doc Ock theme, the new ‘Multiverse Villains’ theme, the main theme, and a hopeful ‘redemption’ motif for searching strings that eventually climaxes as Peter successfully restores the doctor to his pre-villainous state. Unfortunately, the moment of triumph doesn’t last long, as Norman Osborn – who had hitherto been suppressing his Green Goblin persona – breaks bad, and all hell breaks loose. “No Good Deed” is a spicy action cue that anchors itself around the new ‘Multiverse Villains’ theme, a mass of boisterous rhythms, imposing choral chanting, church organs, and frantic orchestral textures. I love the deathly, tortured version of the main Spider-Man theme performed by church organ and choir at 4:08, and the set of groaning dissonances that follow it.

The emotional low point of the score comes in “Exit Through the Lobby,” for the scene in which Peter’s beloved Aunt May dies of the wounds she suffers in the Green Goblin fight. Giacchino lays the emotion on thickly, but sensitively, with a performance of a new theme which comes across as his take on Elfman’s famous ‘Great Responsibility’ theme. It’s a haunting lament that shifts from solo piano to solo cello, backed with tremolo strings, and it reminds me very much of the theme from the conclusion of his score for Rogue One, which also luxuriates in overwhelming emotion and sacrifice for the greater good. This idea continues on into the subsequent “A Doom With a View,” where a distraught and broken Peter is comforted by MJ and Ned – as well as two other visitors from other dimensions: Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man from Raimi’s films, and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man from Webb’s films, who console Peter with stories of their own losses and tragedies. The solo cello performance of the main theme in the second half of the cue is heartbreaking.

After some noble spirit raising in the hopeful sounding “Spider Baiting,” the film’s big finale begins with “Liberty Parlance,” the first cue that underscores the confrontation between the three Spider-Men and the five villains, plus MJ and Ned, on top of a half-reconstructed Statue of Liberty. It sets the scene with a boisterous, upbeat, energetic performance of the main theme underpinned with electric guitars, which explodes into a glorious fanfare for full orchestra and choir, and which is then immediately answered by an equally imposing fanfare version of the new ‘Multiverse Villains’ theme. Both “Monster Smash” and ”Arc Reactor” are massive, throbbing action sequences, with the latter notable for the way Giacchino inserts both Elfman’s Green Goblin and Doc Ock themes into the fabric of the cue. It also seems likely that the guitar-driven rhythmic idea that carries through most of the track is intended to evoke the bold pulsating ideas from Elfman’s main title march from his first Spider-Man score, without outright quoting them. Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man plays a major role in the scene, so it would make sense to do so. The sense of fun Giacchino injects into this entire sequence is excellent, with numerous moments of stirring music to reflect the fan-service iconography.

“Shield of Pain” is a major cue, as it accompanies the scene where this universe’s Peter – still raging with grief and anger at Aunt May’s death – gets the upper hand over the Green Goblin, and is literally on the verge of bludgeoning him to death with a fragment of his smashed glider. He is stopped by the other two Spider-Men, who use their own histories and wisdom to talk him down; Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man is accompanied by a lovely, emotional statement of James Horner’s Amazing Spider-Man theme at 1:12, while Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man is accompanied by Danny Elfman’s ‘Great Responsibility’ theme at 1:51. The inclusion of these two moments is what brings the three versions of Spider-Man together, linking the entire franchise in music, and it’s superb. The subsequent solemn version of the main theme for warm horns occupies the same tonal world, and is equally emotional.

However, the Goblin has one final trick up his sleeve, and with a burst of insistent brass at 3:05 the final fight begins, as the three Spider-Men and their most persistent enemy reaches its climax via some more imposing orchestral-and-choral flourishes. Elfman’s Green Goblin theme plays one last time in the brooding opening moments of “Goblin His Inner Demons,” but as the cue progresses it is Giacchino’s voices that dominate – the use of choir becomes operatic, almost overwhelming in its enveloping scale. Elements of both the Multiverse Villain theme, the new Responsibility theme, and the main theme percolate deep within the bowels of the cue. You really get a sense of the stakes in play in this scene; not only is Peter in danger of losing his humanity by beating Norman to death, but the very fabric of the universe is being gradually unraveled, as it becomes apparent that Strange’s spell is attracting more supervillains from more alternate dimensions. Giacchino’s music expertly captures this, and allows you to empathize with Peter’s plight.

Thankfully Strange, who has finally escaped from the Mirror Universe and joined the battle, is able to cast a second spell which will repair the damage and send everyone back to their correct universes – with the caveat that everyone will forget Peter entirely, including MJ, Ned, and all the Avengers. Peter’s final emotional farewell to the other Spider-Men, and then to MJ and Ned, is captured in the superb “Forget Me Knots,” an extended exploration of the new Responsibility and Redemption themes, plus the main Spider-Man theme, firstly for intimate pianos, strings, and harps, and then eventually for the entire orchestra bolstered by massive choral forces. In context the emotional impact is enormous; this is Peter losing his entire life, and everyone in it, to save the world. The way Giacchino pitches his music with this level of gravitas is palpable, and the final few minutes of the cue are among the most stirring he has ever written.

“Peter Parker Picked a Perilously Precarious Profession” is a final blast of the main theme, optimistic and with a sense of new determination, which leads in to the 10-minute end credits “Arachnoverture”. This conclusive cue presents several superb versions of the main theme, surrounding extended performances of the eerie Multiverse Villains theme, the new Responsibility and Redemption themes, and Elfman’s Doc Ock’s theme, as well as a tremendous explosion of brass triplets around 4:11 which might well be Giacchino’s little acknowledgement of the music Christopher Young wrote for the ‘Doc Ock transformation’ sequence in Spider-Man II, and which was itself inspired by the score for Hellraiser. The conclusive performance of the main theme, accompanied by the full-throated choir, is just sensational. Also, make sure you stay around for the hidden bonus at the end of the track – the hilarious surf rock version of the main theme which appears in the film in the undercroft scene where Peter, MJ, and the others are sciencing the shit out of things and making the super-villain cures.

I thought the whole thing was tremendous, but I have heard some quite harsh criticism from some quarters, mostly about Giacchino not using themes from previous films enough. Yes, it’s true that from a fan point of view I would have loved to have heard more, especially of Horner’s theme, and while both Zimmer’s Electro theme and Young’s Sandman theme appear in the film briefly, neither of them appears on the album, which is a touch disappointing. However, on the whole, I think that the balance of the score is just right; the film isn’t about the previous Spider-Men, so having their themes reduced to cameos makes dramatic sense, as it ensures that the narrative focus remains on this iteration of Peter. Similarly, by not extensively quoting the villain themes from the previous film, and instead having an overarching ‘Villains theme,’ you ensure the film has a flavor and a nostalgic glimpse of the predecessors, but refrains from overwhelming it with what could have been a confusing tapestry of too many leitmotifs – most of the villains are on screen at the same time as each other, so which theme would you use? Trying to cram them all into the final action sequence, one after the other, would have bordered on the ridiculous.

In the end, what saves Spider-Man: No Way Home is the emotion: in Aunt May’s death, in the vivid aftermath of that via the confrontation with Norman, and in the final sacrifice that Peter makes of his relationship with MJ and his friendship with Ned in order to save the world. Giacchino’s music in those scenes is devastatingly effective, and if you can’t feel the weight of those decisions in those strings and that chorus, then all I can say is that you don’t experience film music like I do. This, combined with the four or five excellent action sequences, make Spider-Man: No Way Home the best Marvel score of the year for me – and with Peter back to being everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood Spider-Man at the end of the movie, I can’t wait to see what the webbed wonder has in store for us in the future.

Buy the Spider-Man: No Way Home soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Intro to Fake News (1:12)
  • World’s Worst Friendly Neighbor (0:53)
  • Damage Control (2:18)
  • Being a Spider Bites (1:06)
  • Gone in a Flash (1:53)
  • All Spell Breaks Loose (3:26)
  • Otto Trouble (4:20)
  • Ghost Fighter in the Sky/Beach Blanket Bro Down (2:48)
  • Strange Bedfellows (1:46)
  • Sling vs Bling (5:01)
  • Octo Gone (3:35)
  • No Good Deed (5:01)
  • Exit Through the Lobby (4:16)
  • A Doom With a View (2:01)
  • Spider Baiting (1:36)
  • Liberty Parlance (1:29)
  • Monster Smash (1:22)
  • Arc Reactor (2:58)
  • Shield of Pain (4:52)
  • Goblin His Inner Demons (3:55)
  • Forget Me Knots (6:50)
  • Peter Parker Picked a Perilously Precarious Profession (1:32)
  • Arachnoverture (10:07)

Running Time: 74 minutes 06 seconds

Sony Classical (2021)

Music composed by Michael Giacchino. Conducted by Marshall Bowen. Orchestrations by Jeff Kryka and Curtis Green. Additional music by Griffy Giacchino and Curtis Green. Music from Spider-Man by Danny Elfman. Music from Spider-Man 2 by Danny Elfman . Music from Spider-Man 3 by Christopher Young. Music from The Amazing Spider-Man by James Horner. Music from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 by Hans Zimmer. Recorded and mixed by Warren Brown. Edited by Robb Boyd. Album produced by Michael Giacchino.

  1. MPC
    January 1, 2022 at 7:34 pm

    None of Christopher Young’s “Spider-Man 3” material is quoted in the film, or if so, not cited in the end credits. If I recall, the credits for NWH go like this:

    “Main Title”, “Spectre of the Goblin” and “Doc Ock is Born” – Composed by Danny Elfman
    “Young Peter” – Composed by James Horner
    “I’m Electro” – Composed by Hans Zimmer and co.

  1. January 21, 2022 at 9:01 am

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