Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends Face Life, the Universe, and Everything
DIRECTED BY JON WATTS/2021
When the 2018 reality-bending crowd-pleaser Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse introduced the possibility of variations on the heretofore centralized notions of who exactly the title wall-crawler can be, a portal opened in the real world as well. Somewhere, in the highest echelons of Sony Pictures, a flurry of possibilities spilled out.
Without spoiling the many details of what is (in theory) a monumentally spoilable adventure yarn (and probably the worst kept secret on the internet prior to the film’s release), one can almost hear MCU mastermind Kevin Feige and his faceless army of top-tier craftspeople eying up Lord & Miller’s Oscar-winning reality bender and then quipping to it, “Hold all of our beer”. Their result is the rollicking and at times heavily emotionally resonant Spider-Man: No Way Home– at once a fan’s dream of Marvel-ous cinematic unlikelihood and a transparently reverse-engineered Greatest Hits reunion tour.
For a moviegoing world that’s less amazed by death-defying stunts and visual effects than it is with intellectual properties comingling in ways thought legally impossible, No Way Home delivers. For good measure though, it also has a lot of death-defying stunts and visual effects. (Before anyone points the finger at Marvel Studios for unleashing the I.P. mashup monster in the first place, remember that in that case, it was a matter of the movie adaptations catching up with the long-standing shared universe concept of the comics. In short, blame those brain-rotting comic books!)
This third Spider-Man film in our current Tom Holland-starring/Jon Watts-helmed run picks up right where the previous one left off. J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons, back at it) has revealed to the world that Peter Parker (Holland) is Spider-Man… just after implicating him in the death of that film’s bad guy, Mysterio. Suddenly, Peter, his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), his girlfriend M.J. (Zendaya) and his best bud Ned (Jacob Batalon) are forced into hiding at Happy Hogan’s (Jon Faverau) place. College looms, but applications get flagged due to the controversy. Hopes are dashed; everything sucks.
Then, a glimpse of a vac-plastic molded goateed man on a chintzy Halloween decoration is enough to inspire a desperate Peter to pay a visit to a certain supreme sorcerer (Benedict Cumberbatch) in hopes of a magical memory erasure. As is so often the case with such spells, things don’t go entirely as hoped. Chaos ensues, portals are opened, a lot of cars and public property get mangled, and at one point the sky starts turning colors and doing far-out, wiggy things. The cast list swells to call sheet-shattering degrees as the shuffle in which the plot has gotten lost in begins to take on a catchiness all its own. The second half of the film may struggle to maintain the resonance that the first half (and the two preceding Spidey “Home” movies) set up, but doggonit, it sure is one fun dance card- as crowded as it is.
Meanwhile… Is there anywhere to go from here? In the face of a big silly spectacle such as this, is Spider-Man no more? That question applies not only to this Tom Holland trilogy but also to the overall franchise juggernaut that is the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. The answer, of course, is “of course”. It doesn’t take a Marvel Comics true-believer who’s invested in the webhead’s nearly sixty years in print to deduce that. As long as audiences remember Spider-Man, there will always eventually be movie on the way.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is ultimately popcorn nonsense, but it’s the most delicious and satisfying popcorn nonsense. If this universally reaching and altogether appealing jaunt doesn’t reinvigorate movie theaters, it’s difficult to know what could. Filmmaker Jon Watts has spun a full web of high stakes generations-spanning action, as well as comedy, and yes, tragedy. No Way Home manages to land as both a suitable homecoming for a lot of familiar faces, and a viable curtain call… should the Sony Pictures corporate suits decide to finally send this series home for good.