Spider-Man: No Way Home Review – An Impossible Triumph

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Zendaya and Tom Holland launch Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Marvel

If you thought this was going to be the greatest Spider-Man movie ever, you might be right. With at least five villains, rumors of recurring Spider-Men, one record-breaking trailer and the concept of the multiverse that opens it all up, Spider-Man: No Way Home plays pretty much every trump card it has to claim the title as next Avengers: Endgame.

For the most part, everything works. Just make sure you’ve seen all the previous Spider-Man movies. Despite an inevitably tangled web of characters, background stories and motivations, No Way Home manages a surprisingly tidy plot if you understand where each player comes from. See Spider-Man’s back catalog and you’ll know why the people at the back of the theater are cheering at any given time.

And if you are not thoroughly familiar with two decades of previous Spider-Man movies? If you’re just here for a well-oiled and entertaining Marvel (and Sony) movie, you will not be disappointed. You may not fully understand the scope of what is basically the live-action equivalent of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, also known as best (or second-best) Spider-Man movie ever. But you will be treated to sympathetic heroes with related character development; smooth, dynamic action scenes; strange, crazy humor; High risk; powerful emotional blows; and at least one incredible one-liner, provided by Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) of all people.

Basically, this is the Tom Holland Spider-Man movie that feels most like the previous Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield installments. Director Jon Watts deals with real consequences, a darker tone in general and a recognizable New York setting (with a few Marvel Cinematic Universe touches). In other words, the third Holland post really makes up for the filler that was Spider-Man: Far From Home.

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Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch)

Marvel / Sony

The basic premise is that Peter Parker deals with the outcome of events right at the end of Far From Home. His secret identity is known to the public, combined with the small (fabricated) detail that he murdered Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). Now, with a wild media after him, fronted by the glorious (but underutilized) J. Jonah Jameson (JK Simmons), Peter has to adapt to a difficult life that is being chased into the public’s unpleasant spotlight.

If you have collected this plot point from the record-breaking trailer, you could argue that it is not reason enough to justify Peter’s next decision: to go to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and ask the wizard to cast a spell that turns everything back to normal. This idea begins as sweet hijackings in line with John Hughes’ imprinted high school fun ‘n’ games in Holland’s first two excursions. But what follows is a surprising, anticipatory-playful play with a deeper thematic weight.

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Electro, Sandman and The Lizard.

Marvel / Sony

Marvel announced the inclusion of recurring villains, including Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), Electro (Jamie Foxx), Sandman (Thomas Hayden Church) and The Lizard (Rhys Ifans). Maybe this was to warn you about it study their background stories. There are only one or two lines to explain why each villain reacts the way they do to a story that throws them into a different universe.

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Doctor squid.

Marvel / Sony

Prominent are Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus. Thanks to Marvel’s digital aging technology, Dafoe and Molina mostly look like they did almost two decades ago when they appeared in Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy – mostly because it sometimes seems like a Instagram beauty filter has been strategically placed over certain parts of the screen.

The visual effects in general have been fragmented and scaled down, so we do not have to see through the effect-heavy murk storm from Far From Home. The action scenes, featuring hand-to-hand combat, feel more practical and visceral. Gritter, sweatier, bloodier. A first-person perspective straps you into a dizzying ride with Spider-Man swinging from A to B. Small details, such as Peter using his web to grab things around Aunt May’s apartment, add welcome charm and color. This time, Peter is also training his Spidey senses, so the often joked “Peter tingle” is now a real asset – one that we can finally feel via sound effects and a close-up of Holland’s face.

A sequence with Doctor Strange is not only trippy and eye-catching, but it gives Peter a chance to use his second superpower: his brain. Holland’s iteration, although younger than the previous two, rarely has the potential to use this less flashy asset. A scientific prodigy in the cartoon, Holland’s version on screen was on the verge of being portrayed as a frustratingly naive and gullible athlete. But this time, he’s doing much better (though Spidey’s trademark quip, apart from a scene with Doc Ock, is still lacking to that extent).

Holland also gets to show off his dramatic acting talents, more than just his effortless sympathy. The darker, PG-rated material pushes Holland to burning, emotionally charged places. His eyes flicker at the difficult moral decisions that gnaw at Peter. Special mentions go to Zendaya and Jacob Batalon (Peter’s best friend, Ned). MJ has a lot more to do this time around, despite playing Peter’s girlfriend and inevitably finding herself falling from a tall building in the third act. MJ is even gifted with a thread of character growth. But be warned, such gifts can be taken away so quickly (sigh).

The camera work is slimmer, the dialogue is more smooth, and our hero’s inner turmoil whizzes by. A Russo Brothers influence can almost be felt that heralds Holland’s third Spider-Man escapade into a new, heavier territory. If the character is to become the next Tony Stark, this is the way to etch a few more scars into a more interesting hero’s facade.

In other words, if you came to this year’s biggest movie, you’ll definitely be satisfied.

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