Movie review: Spider-Man: No Way Home

(courtesy IMP Awards)

Unless you have been sleeping under a great big rock made of some sort of superhero-enervating material, you would have noticed that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) likes to go big, very, VERY big.

That’s hardly a surprise – it’s there in the name, after all.

So, the fact that the third Spider-Man film of the MCU-run, No Way Home, featuring the perfect-for-the-role Tom Holland as the radioactive spider-bitten teenager who comes into a power ill-suited, at least, at the start for his emotional and chronological age, goes expansively huge shouldn’t come as much of a shock to anyone.

It mirrors the bigness of the MCU’s Infinity Saga, most particularly Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019), which somehow juggled an almost cast of characters while cutting to the very core of what it meant to be a hero, a friend, a member of a found and precious family.

Spider-Man: No Way Home manages a similar feat of titanically immense storytelling but goes even further in many ways, drawing in – SPOILER ALERT!!! – not only a raft of villains from the pre-MCU Spider-Man films such Otto Octavius / Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), Norman Osborn / Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) and Max Dillon / Electro (Jamie Foxx) bur two previous occupants of the role, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, setting all these nostalgically-driven characters against the bewilderingly beguiling multiplicity of the multiverse.

Yes, the multiverse is real, an infinite number of ever-so-slightly-different worlds in which Spider-Man loses his great love (Gwen Stacy is mourned by Garfield’s Peter Parker with a heartrending sorrowfulness) or has organic webbing (Tobey Maguire the wisest and most time-town of the Parkers) and in which the current Peter Parker, unfairly case down into infamy by the duplicitous Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) at the end of Far From Home, hopes to reset his seemingly irreparable reputation.

It seems like a masterstroke to ask Dr Strange (played with appealingly impatient dismissiveness by Benedict Cumberbatch) to cast a spell to make everyone forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, and vice-versa and thus erase the stain on the reputation of both figures, one now so dark and mortally-wounding that neither Peter, his girlfriend M. J. (Michelle Jones-Watson, played by Zendaya) nor Pete’s bestie, the lovably enthusiastic Ned Leeds (Jacob Batolon) can gain admittance into the college of their dreams, M.I.T.

Of course, as is the way of things when you start dabbling with space and time, and are like, Peter, adorably sentimental, suddenly deciding mid-spell casting that you don’t want M.J. or Ned or Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), among others, to forget you, things can go horribly wrong, and so they do, with Peter’s impulsively immature if well-intentioned request, and Dr Strange’s unwise agreement to it, opening up our reality to a host of bad guys and alternate Spider-Men from other slices of the multiverse.

Thus is set in train a complicated and messy opening of worlds upon worlds, which if things run the way they normally do in an MCU film, which is yet to find a massively disorienting, multi-camera battles it doesn’t love with every fibre of its superhero moviemaking soul, should see Peter engaged in an exhausting mission to get everyone back where they belong, to see justice served once again, and to give Peter his old life back.

It is the way of these usually brilliantly well-done people-pleasing blockbusters and the neatness and predictability of this narrative approach is what has made the films such a box office juggernaut.

What makes Spider-Man: No Way Home such an enjoyable rewarding change of pace is that it quite happily embraces its inner European indie and let Peter sit, with a heartbreaking of amount of fallibly regretful humanity on display, in the unruly, broken existential bed of his own making.

There is an intimacy of honourable intent and expression so palpable in Spider-Man: No Way Home that Peter, for instance cannot bring himself simply send to the bad guys, including Dr. Curt Connors / Lizard (Rhys Ifans) and Flint Marko / Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), to the inevitable deaths.

Heart firmly on sleeve, and acting against the advice of Dr Strange who belatedly realises he has mistakenly unleashed a box of multiversal Pandoras upon the world, all at the beseeching of kindhearted but lacking in life experience and wisdom spidery young man, Holland’s Parker breaks his world even further, in ways grievously ruinous, all because his heart is very much in the right place.

The willingness of Spider-Man: No Way Home to go that far and that deep into what makes Parker tick, and to stay with him when things go so disastrously awry that the only solution is a soul-scarringly final one, suffused with sadness and loss so total you wonder if Peter can recover, is an impressive one.

It speaks of an understanding, lacking in many blockbusters, including a considerable number of the MCU’s own, that vaultingly big and imaginative action, the kind that races across big cinema screens with blurringly fast intent, is only worth something when raw humanity is given a chance to breathe and to sit in the chaotic hellishness of terrible consequences wrought by what seem at the time to be the very best of decisions.

After all, what isn’t virtuous about trying to save the broken and the fallen, or of trying to save the futures of people near and dear to you, harmed by a delusional man, and yet even all the goodness, and Parker is brimming with it, brought to poignantly impactful life by Holland who is magnificently perfect in the role, cannot counter the fact that the real world exacts a terrible price when things go wrong, and they do, no matter how pure, or otherwise, your motivations may be.

By allowing things to not be tied up in pretty, neat red bows, and to have the messy chaos of life unleash in all its fury, often to Peter’s stunned surprise is brave, heartfelt storytelling, bolstered by the presence of the two alternate Spider-Men, each of whom has their own pain and loss to grapple with.

Sporting a mid and end credits scene, Spider-Man: No Way Home is that rare thousand-million moving parts MCU blockbuster that somehow still manages to be small and intimate as it addresses the aching need we all have for do-overs (that likely won’t work better the second time around), for connection, for love, for justice and for truth to find its way to the top of the pile in a world that seems disinclined to give much airtime (as J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons), the host of, makes clear in his click-chasing obsession for the “truth”, come what may).

As blockbusters go, No Way Home wears its supersized heart very much on its sleeve, delivering plenty of spectacle and action while ensuring that the beating heart of Peter Parker is very much on display in ways that will tear your heart (with a few laughs along the way), setting us for Doctor Strange’s even more dream-warped trip into the multiverse in the not too distant future.

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