16th Dec2021

‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Benedict Wong, Tony Revolori, Marisa Tomei | Written by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers | Directed by Jon Watts

Tom Holland returns for his third solo outing as everyone’s favourite web-slinger in the latest superhero adventure from Marvel Studios. It’s directed by Jon Watts, who also helmed the previous two MCU Spider-Man movies in the “Home” trilogy, Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019). It’s safe to say that Watts’ time in the director’s chair has been well spent, because this third film is an incredible achievement, pulling off narrative feats and action beats that are both amazing and spectacular.

Scripted by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (who wrote Far From Home), Spider-Man: No Way Home gets off to a great start by delivering on the cliffhanger of the previous movie, with J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) revealing Spider-Man’s secret identity to the world. The aftermath causes immediate problems, not just for Peter Parker (Holland), but also for his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon).

Desperate to put things right, Peter seeks out Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and asks him to cast a spell that will make everyone in the world forget that he’s Spider-Man. Unfortunately, due in part to Peter’s interference, the spell goes horribly wrong, opening up the multiverse and drawing together characters from parallel worlds who know Peter’s secret.

In short order, Peter finds himself up against five very familiar-looking villains: Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Electro (Jamie Foxx), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and The Lizard (Rhys Ifans). Strange orders Peter to round them up so that he can send them back where they came from, but when he learns that returning them to their own universe could spell their deaths, Peter makes the impulsive decision to try and cure them instead.

Spider-Man: No Way Home wisely resists exploiting the multiverse for maximum chaos (ground already covered by Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), instead restricting the parallel worlds to universes the audience already knows, namely the Sam Raimi-directed Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films and the Marc Webb-directed Andrew Garfield Spider-Man films. That decision pays continuous dividends, not least in the way the supervillains are given depth and allowed to interact – Sandman and Electro discussing the bad things that can happen when people fall into things is just one of many highlights.

As the synopsis indicates, this is a Spider-Man story that’s all about second chances, as Peter is convinced that his five would-be foes can be rehabilitated. However, the joy of the movie lies in just how far the writers are prepared to take that idea. Without giving too much away, this is a film that actively engages with all five previous Spider-Man movies, somehow managing to address and in most cases correct every single thing that hardcore Spider-Man fans ever complained about.

To give just one example, Spider-Man: No Way Home quickly gets rid of the terrible-looking Green Goblin mask and allows Willem Dafoe to do his own Goblin face acting. That turns out to be one of the many joys of the movie, because he’s brilliant at it, so brilliant, in fact, that Sam Raimi will surely be kicking himself for not trusting Dafoe’s Goblin face acting in the first place.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to delivering thrilling action sequences (the battle with Doctor Octopus is an early stand-out) and note-perfect humour, the film delivers powerful emotion, bringing the MCU’s Peter Parker in line with both his comics counterpart and his two big screen predecessors by finally having him learn that “with great power comes great responsibility”.

On the surface, all the references to previous movies and classic comics might seem like so much fan service, but it’s so much more than that. The various guest appearances are not just mere I-recognise-that-guy cameos. Instead they offer both emotional depth and an insight into Peter Parker’s character, something that evidently endures throughout the multiverse.

In short, this is a film that has been made by people who share a deep-rooted love of both Peter Parker and Spider-Man, not just from the movies, but from nearly sixty years worth of comics too. The film’s frankly jaw-dropping achievement is to wrap all that up into one perfect package, giving closure you didn’t even know you needed until you suddenly find yourself wiping tears from your eyes.

***** 5/5

Spider-Man: No Way Home is in cinemas now.

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