Michael Giacchino’s darkly dramatic Spider-Man: No Way Home score packs a serious emotional whallop from start to finish; whether it’s the sometimes bold, sometimes tear-jerking new themes, the many frantic action setpieces or even the surprising return of old thematic friends, overall it’s just the Spider-Man soundtrack gift that keeps on giving.
Here we are at last. The highly anticipated Spider-Man: No Way Home is finally in cinemas, and Michael Giacchino’s score album is here for all to enjoy. Before we get started though I do just want to quickly say; if you do not want any spoilers for the movie, then stop reading this review now. While at the time of writing I have not yet seen it and so can’t directly spoil anything, the style of the music and the way themes are used certainly tell tales, so if you don’t want anything spoiled I would stop reading about here. Still with us? Then let’s begin.
Naturally, we’ll start with the lengthy end credits suite that Giacchino always amazingly writes for these films, with this particular one being rather hilariously dubbed Arachnoverture (never change, Michael). Slow strings and grandiose brass open the piece, with Giacchino’s Spider-Man theme then dramatically rising in loudly heroic form. As the opening continues percussion then starts to play, and the theme receives a finely tuned and happily lengthy “main on end”-esque rendition. The motif sounds a little more refined than Far From Home‘s version now, with the upbeat, playful instrumentation from Homecoming‘s now completely gone in favour of sheer heroic brass. Overall, I can honestly say the theme has never sounded better, and we’re only in the first two minutes of the suite. As Spider-Man then starts to fade away, quiet strings and curiously what sounds very much like a theremin then start to play, phasing the tone from emphatically upbeat to darkly mysterious as a new theme is introduced, one that’s presumably for the Multiversal villains of the film given the mood. This quiet ominousness continues for about a minute or so before sinister brass then enters the fray, playing the new motif in a particularly malevolent manner together with some rather dramatic vocals, and then crescendoing a short while later. As villain themes go it’s perhaps not quite as thematically strong as Mysterio’s (that one was an absolute masterclass though) but it does stick with you, and evokes a keen sense of dread throughout its lengthy debut here.
As the suite continues, another new theme is then introduced at the four and a half minute mark; a slow, rather sorrowful piece that starts out on solemn strings before then moving on to melancholic vocals and loud, mournfully dramatic brass. Given how decidedly downbeat this new motif is for pretty much its entire run here, I feel I can only best describe it as a theme for just… loss. This idea is then reinforced quite considerably a few seconds later as Spider-Man’s theme returns on a crash of percussion, this time in unusually pensive form which then builds to an utterly spellbinding crescendo as the theme reaches incredibly dramatic, anguished levels on the established vocals and brass. This is Giacchino’s Spider-Man theme as you’ve never heard it before, and I’ll tell you; it sounds absolutely sublime. With the crescendo fading, hope starts to creep back in on optimistic strings, with yet another new motif playing as the instrumentation starts to build. It sadly doesn’t get much time on the suite (literally only appearing for a few seconds here) but the new theme for hope certainly leaves an impression anyway.
With percussion and brass now also rising in the background, Spider-Man’s theme then returns once again in thankfully more upbeat form, instilling a new sense of hope and heroism which is then amplified tenfold as the full orchestra bursts back into the fray together with now fist-pumpingly epic vocals, giving Giacchino’s titular web-slinger theme a breathtakingly dramatic, grandiose sendoff to close out the suite proper. All-in, I have to say – I was blown away by this ten minute piece. Giacchino’s Spider-Man theme sounds so different and yet just as heroic as ever, and the new themes are absolutely spectacular (especially the Loss motif). Far From Home Suite Home might just edge it as the best MCU Spidey suite so far, but that doesn’t stop Arachnoverture from easily being the standout cue of the score, and one of my favourite pieces of film music from 2021. Just wow.
Foreboding electronics and ominous strings open Intro To Fake News, with rumbles of dramatic percussion then rather cleverly playing out the opening notes of Giacchino’s Marvel Studios logo theme. It’s actually quite easy to miss here given how completely different it sounds compared to normal, but if you listen closely you can definitely hear the notes of the motif. The strings then slowly build as the thematic percussion continues, becoming higher and higher in pitch until practically drowning out the logo theme as a particularly worrisome crescendo is reached, and the track comes to a close. The dramatic percussion then continues into the short World’s Worst Friendly Neighbor, with hints toward sinister brass and the horror-like strings from the previous cue also returning. A small spark of hope then finally arrives in Damage Control, with Giacchino’s Spider-Man theme playing on hopeful, upbeat guitar notes and percussion. This hope doesn’t last for too long though as Mysterio’s theme then makes a short and typically malevolent appearance on villainous brass, and the remainder of the cue descends into ominousity as a result.
The love theme from Spider Man: Far From Home (Bridge And Love’s Burning) briefly returns on gentle piano in the minute-long Being A Spider Bites, with the piano then continuing sans-theme in Gone In A Flash for a minute of quietly pensive mood setting. Solemn strings slowly fade in during the cue’s back half, though a little hope is then injected right in the final few seconds as what sounds quite like a sitar echoes out the opening notes from Giacchino’s Doctor Strange theme. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for this motif ever since it first played in the 2016 movie, so it’s pretty great to hear it reprised in all its orchestral glory again here. All Spell Breaks Loose continues in a similar vein, with the sitar and a harpsichord evoking elements of mystery while strings play several notes from Strange’s motif. This all builds as the cue continues, with Strange’s theme getting more and more worrisome until a loudly electronic crescendo is reached at the three minute mark, and the track then mysteriously ends.
Otto Trouble though is where things really start to get interesting. Ominous, worrying strings open the piece, hinting quietly toward a certain villain’s rather iconic motif until a crash of percussion reveals it in all its glory; none other than Danny Elfman’s Doc Ock theme from Spider-Man 2 bursts into the fray, and it sounds just as malevolent here as it did all the way back in 2004. With the theme revealed the orchestra then springs into action, with bursts of tense brass and worrisome strings playing Giacchino’s Spider-Man theme opposite Elfman’s increasingly villainous Doc Ock piece, and the two motifs then intertwine and battle it out at various intervals across the enjoyably four minute action setpiece. Ghost Fighter In The Sky/ Beach Blanket Bro Down appears to settle things down initially with slow percussion and strings, before loud brass then brings the action crashing back into centre stage and Giacchino’s Spider-Man theme has to step in with a particularly dramatic rendition to finish the fight.
The villainous Multiversal theme then reprises in rather sinister form through Strange Bedfellows, with high-pitched strings and ominous brass taking prominence in the cue’s back half. A burst of brass opens Sling V.S. Bling, with loud strings setting a frenetic pace and Spider-Man’s theme playing tensely followed by an unusually hostile Doctor Strange theme. Imposing vocals then completely take over the action at the track’s midway point, with the Strange and Spider-Man motifs locked in orchestral conflict throughout the rest of the quite spectacular setpiece. Slow, pensive strings then play a few notes from the new Multiversal theme in Octo Gone, with the orchestra dramatically rising to crescendo at the two minute mark followed closely by a renewedly hopeful Spider-Man theme on rising brass.
This optimism doesn’t last for long however as rapid, horror-like strings completely kill any and all hope at the start of No Good Deed, with Elfman’s Doc Ock theme briefly reprising on loudly malevolent brass and crashing percussion. From here on the orchestra hits a thunderous pace, with foreboding vocals and deep, ominous brass leading the charge for much of the action cue’s five minute runtime. A tense rendition of Giacchino’s Spider-Man theme briefly blows through at about three minutes in, followed closely by the now incredibly dramatic-sounding Multiversal villains theme with things quickly descending into full-on strings-based horror territory as a result. It’s here though that the action comes to a sudden stop, with melancholy completely taking over in subsequent pieces Exit Through The Lobby and A Doom With A View, with the new theme for Loss finally making its first appearance since the suite.
Slow strings and a gently mournful piano open the first cue, with the orchestra gradually building and playing the new theme in almost tear-jerkingly haunting form. The piano then continues into the second piece alongside pensive strings, first reprising the Loss theme before then seguing rather seamlessly into a particularly downtrodden rendition of Giacchino’s Spider-Man motif. The moody nature of the prior two cues then continues somewhat into Spider Baiting on quiet, ominous percussion, before a little bit of Hope starts to slowly rise as Giacchino’s new theme for it (from the suite) gently makes itself known. This little spark is then blown into flame by several newly hopeful renditions of Spider-Man’s theme, a short one here at the end of Spider Baiting followed by a more upbeat and loudly heroic playthrough in subsequent cue Liberty Parlance, where the full orchestra finally comes back into the fray.
Monster Smash kicks off the action once again, with frantic strings and tense brass setting a particularly high-stakes pace throughout the ninety second cue together with several short bursts of Spider-Man’s theme. Giacchino then has another thematic treat in store with Arc Reactor, as Danny Elfman’s typically ominous Green Goblin theme from the 2002 Spider-Man movie makes a welcome villainous appearance. The excitement generated here then reaches fever pitch as Doc Ock also returns at the two minute mark, followed swiftly by a loudly enthusiastic, fist-pumping rendition of the new Hope theme on building brass. This perhaps signals the arrival of some long overdue help for the titular web-slinger, which is then confirmed in subsequent cue Shield Of Pain as the jaw-dropping musical moment that, let’s be honest, we’ve spent the entire album waiting for… finally happens.
Tense strings open the piece accompanied by a brief rendition of Doctor Strange’s theme, but this all settles down rather quickly and a profound sense of mystery then settles over the orchestra. Slow, gentle strings and hopeful vocals start to play, and then suddenly, brilliantly – none other than James Horner’s The Amazing Spider-Man theme steps onto the stage. I’ll be honest, I nearly cried. That theme is my absolute favourite Spider-Man theme, and I love James Horner’s score for that film so much it’s not even funny, so to hear Giacchino reprise that motif of all things here.. I was damned nearly speechless. Said speechlessness though was then amplified tenfold in the next few seconds, as Danny Elfman’s Spider-Man theme joins the fray as well. The two legendary motifs intertwine briefly but brilliantly here, and I can’t tell you just how mind-blowing it is to hear them both again. They sadly don’t stick around for long (playing gently on strings for about thirty seconds or so before the action from earlier then resumes) but it’s such a spellbinding moment that I simply couldn’t focus on anything else. Ladies and gentlemen; they did it.
The Hope motif briefly reprises on heroic brass towards the end of Shield Of Pain, before a rather frantic Doctor Strange theme crashes through and the cue ends on a burst of loudly villainous brass. Malevolent vocals then start to build at the start of Goblin His Inner Demons, with the new Multiversal motif slowly rising in both volume and intensity as the orchestra builds to crescendo. The new Hope theme then plays gently on strings as the track closes out, with a few pensive notes from Giacchino’s Spider-Man also sounding through. This then culminates in Forget Me Knots, where a gently mournful piano plays the titular character’s theme once again to open the piece. Slow, sorrowful strings and morose brass then mark a short appearance from Doctor Strange followed by a slightly more hopeful Spider-Man theme before all hope is then sadly lost as the Loss motif starts to reprise. It plays first on slow, gentle piano before starting to build as the cue continues (with the orchestra rising behind it), then reaching an incredibly powerful crescendo at the four minute mark on loud, dramatic brass and climactic vocals.
This all then comes to a breathtaking conclusion as Giacchino’s Spider-Man theme joins the fray and the orchestra simply goes all out, delivering a jaw-droppingly dramatic finish to the already incredible cue, and giving Spider-Man’s theme its biggest, emotionally heaviest playthrough yet. To close out the score proper though the composer then injects a small amount of optimism back in with Peter Parker Picked A Perilously Precarious Profession, slowly building the titular web-slinger’s theme back up until it stands tall on powerfully heroic (though also still rather melancholic) brass and vocals, letting you know that not all hope is lost before a burst of brass then closes the album.
Overall, Michael Giacchino’s surprisingly dark, dramatic score for Spider-Man: No Way Home quite simply blew me away. The main theme plays like you’ve never heard it before, building on its various renditions from Homecoming and Far From Home and then quite simply blasting them out of the water. The addition of vocals to the motif in particular is an absolute highlight, harkening back to Danny Elfman’s compositional style for the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies and making the piece overall even more mind-blowingly epic than it already was. And speaking of which, we’ve got to talk about the thematic reprisals; happily, Giacchino has brought back many iconic themes from prior Spider-Man movies and treated them with the absolute love and care they deserve, and the way Doc Ock’s theme in particular interacts with the main Spider-Man theme throughout the action of Otto Trouble is just *chef’s kiss*.
We can’t go any further though without talking about Shield Of Pain. It’s just… I can’t even. The James Horner and Danny Elfman Spider-Man themes are very dear to my (and I’m sure many others) heart, and to hear them play again here, even just for a few seconds was absolutely mesmerising, and damned nearly brought a tear to my eye. Maybe I would’ve liked to have heard them just a little bit more (as they do only appear for literally thirty seconds) but it’s an incredibly powerful musical moment all the same. Giacchino also reprises several of his own themes with Doctor Strange and Mysterio as well as crafting some pretty excellent new ones, and while I don’t quite know yet what the new themes represent I can hazard a good guess, and they sound absolutely sublime regardless (see the Loss theme in Forget Me Knots or the Hope theme in the back half of Arc Reactor for great examples there). All-in, with an excellent orchestral style, several brilliant action setpieces and many a mind-blowing thematic reprisal, Spider-Man: No Way Home is easily one of my favourite scores of 2021, and may be Giacchino’s best Spider-Man score yet.
Standout Cue: 23. Arachnoverture
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