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‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ a spectacular cinematic experience

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Let’s just get this out of the way off the top - I loved “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” LOVED it.

Now, I was ALWAYS going to love it. I am fully invested in the MCU writ large as blockbuster popcorn entertainment and have been since Day 1. And I carry a deep and abiding affection for and affinity toward the character of Spider-Man, in all his many iterations. From my time as a boy reading assorted Spider-Man comics up to the present day, I ride hard for Spidey. He’s as central a figure in my own personal pop culture history as any. So this is very much a movie for me.

But here’s the thing – it’s probably a movie for you too.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is the biggest and boldest MCU entry in a year packed with them – “NWH” marks the fourth film since June – as well as being the best. It is a massive spectacle while also finding room for the smaller moments, loaded and overloaded with everything that makes the character (and the franchise) great.

It also manages not to succumb to the elements of franchise bloat and metanarrative requirements that have undermined some of Marvel’s past efforts. It’s huge but not unwieldy, fan service-y but not exclusive, epic but not crowded.

You’ve got loads of web-swinging, wall-crawling action. You’ve got quips and jokes galore. You’ve got pathos and pain and the ethical dilemmas that those things can cause. You’ve got an absolute cavalcade of familiar faces joining in on the fun.

And at the center of it all, you’ve got a kid forced to once again stand up beneath an unfair burden that circumstances have thrust upon him.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” picks up right where previous entry “Far From Home” leaves off. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has just been outed to the world as Spider-Man even as he is being unjustly accused of murder by shouting conspiracy weirdo J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons). He instantly becomes the focus of the world’s media, with camera crews and helicopters a constant presence, disrupting not only his own life, but that of his girlfriend M.J. (Zendaya) and best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), as well as his beloved Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).

As time passes and the public remains sharply divided on the Spider-Man issue, Peter and his friends struggle to live something resembling normal lives. It’s not long, however, before Peter realizes that there’s no going back.

Or is there?

He reaches out to Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in hopes that the sorcerer can help him somehow undo what has been done. Despite some misgivings, Strange agrees to do what he can, opting to cast a spell that would make everyone forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. However, some well-meaning interruptions by Peter lead to the spell going awry.

VERY awry.

The mishap causes fractures in the barriers between universes – cracks in the multiverse. And as it turns out, this Peter Parker is not the only Peter Parker. This Spider-Man is not the only Spider-Man. And these other Parkers, these other Spider-Men … they have enemies of their own. Enemies who seek to exact revenge upon their web-headed nemeses and are willing to wreak havoc on the world to do so, even if said world is similar to, but not quite the same, as their own.

Look – we’ve all seen the trailers for this movie. The first one is literally the most-watched trailer ever on YouTube. You have a pretty good idea what (and who) is coming. That being said, I still have no interest in spoiling this film for you. And so, I feel comfortable saying this: you’re going to see a fair number of characters from Spider-Man movies that precede the character’s presence in the MCU – played by the same actors – and they are going to play pivotal roles in this film. I am not going to tell you who they are (aside from Alfred Molina, whose Doctor Octopus is an all-timer, and Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin – the trailer gives up the game on both of them, so I figure no harm, no foul), but rest assured that they ALL bring it.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is a logical extension of the character’s journey. Peter Parker has always been plagued with dualling senses of self-doubt and responsibility; the transition from adolescence into young adulthood serves as an exacerbating factor for those conflicting feelings. We’re watching a boy try to become a man – a classic coming-of-age narrative wrapped in the candy-colored Spandex trappings of superheroism.

And that’s ALWAYS what Spider-Man has been about, from the very beginning. The jarring juxtaposition between doing battle with beings of godlike power and dealing with the mundane realities of everyday life has always been key to understanding the character; these movies explore that internal conflict wonderfully, though this latest entry is likely the best of the bunch in that respect.

Of course, “No Way Home” is also a beautifully-executed work of fan service as well. Director Jon Watts has brought together disparate pieces of Spider-Man cinematic canon in a manner that will engage no matter what your exposure to the source material might be. Yes, having a head full of deep cuts – comic book and movie alike – will certainly have its benefits, but Watts has done well in ensuring that even those with baseline knowledge will be swept up. There’s an inescapable joyfulness to the entire proceedings that emotionally bleeds into the audience; there were multiple gasps, cheers and stretches of applause during my screening as we all got pulled into a vortex of novelty and nostalgia.

Because it pretty much all works. All of it. We get some large-scale effects sequences that are visually stunning. We get some more intimate action moments that offer a bit more tactility. There are the heartfelt emotional beats and some John Hughes-ian teen interactions. We get snark and cornball wit, solid jokes and effective gags. It is smart, well-executed filmmaking … and it is a hell of a lot of fun.

My feelings about Tom Holland as Spider-Man remain unchanged after this film – to me, he’s the GOAT of cinematic web-spinners. He’s a gifted physical actor who also possesses a winking wit, the ideal combo for Spidey. He also gets a chance here to carry a more emotional load and does so beautifully. Zendaya is a movie star, full stop. She is absolutely magnetic on screen, charismatic and incredibly talented. The chemistry between she and Holland is exceptional, serving in many ways as the emotional core, the soul of the film. Batalon is delightful, radiating with best bud energy and generally being everything you want a goofball tertiary character to be. Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange is sardonically prickly in the best way (and not nearly as present in this film as you might expect).

As for the “surprises,” well … it’s tough to talk about. Look, Molina and Dafoe are outstanding. These guys helped define what villains in these movies could be. Frankly, with the exception of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, the MCU hasn’t had a villain who even comes close to clearing the bar they set. And they are dealing, with both men absolutely going for it. Sure, there’s a little digital de-aging, but it isn’t a distraction, and hey – not like these dudes forgot how to capital-A Act. As for the rest of the lot … they’re all very good. In fact, in the film’s final act, a couple of them are even great (I’ll let you discover who for yourselves; you’ll know it when you see it).

So yeah – I loved this movie. There were a lot of ways for “Spider-Man: No Way Home” to go wrong, but instead, everything went right. A joyful and poignant example of the many things the MCU does well. Sensational. Spectacular. Amazing. As far as this true believer is concerned, it lived up to the hype and then some.


[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Friday, 17 December 2021 16:50


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