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Spider-Man: No Way Home

Everyone's favourite friendly neighbourhood web-slinger swings back into the Marvel Cinematic Universe to face a lineup of familiar villains.
By Sarah Ward
December 16, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
December 16, 2021
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In Spider-Man: No Way Home, everyone's favourite friendly neighbourhood web-slinger still does whatever a spider can. (Don't expect the catchy cartoon theme song, though.) To be precise, Spidey's latest outing — starring Tom Holland (Chaos Walking), as every live-action film in the ever-sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe that's featured the superhero has — sees him do whatever spider-men have for decades. The masked crusader shoots webs, flings them about New York and swings around the city. He helps people, battles crime, literally hangs out with his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya, Dune) and saves the world, too. As the movie's trailers revealed, Spider-Man also fights whoever his on-screen predecessors fought. The twist that isn't a twist because it's part of the flick's marketing: that villains from Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield's stints as Spidey show up here.

Those familiar faces, including Willem Dafoe (The Card Counter) as the Green Goblin, Alfred Molina (Promising Young Woman) as Doctor Octopus and Jamie Foxx (Soul) as Electro, aren't Peter Parker's initial problem, as viewers of 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming and 2019's Spider-Man: Far From Home will already know. No Way Home picks up immediately after the latter, after Spidey's secret identity has been blasted across the internet by online conspiracist J Jonah Jameson (JK Simmons, Ride the Eagle). The media swiftly make Peter "the most famous person in the world", the public get hostile and his college prospects — and MJ and Ned's (Jacob Batalon, Let It Snow) as well — take a hit. The only solution he can see: asking Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog) to cast a spell to make everyone forget who he is.

With drastic magic comes drastic consequences, hence those recognisable nefarious folks who know Spidey — and definitely know that he's Peter Parker — yet don't recognise the MCU's version. Marvel's next flick after this one is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, so the franchise is about to go big on alternate worlds, but No Way Home still doesn't actually jump into that domain first. It's a curious choice on the whole huge saga's part to take cues from the animated delight that is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which relished having multiple spider-realms, got inventive with both its concept and visuals, won an Oscar and is easily the best spider-flick to-date, all without sitting within the MCU itself. Indeed, the live-action franchise's third stand-alone Spider-Man movie can't shake the feeling that it's playing catch-up.

Directed by Jon Watts, as all three recent web-slinging films have been, No Way Home does more than give flesh, blood and spandex to an ace idea already brought to the screen a mere three years back. It also delivers the heftiest helping of fan service that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever dished up. The franchise has long enjoyed hitting all the obvious crowd-pleasing notes, but Martin Scorsese's 2019 comment that compared MCU fare to theme parks rings particularly true here — unsurprisingly given this Spider-Man outing wants to elicit the loudest of screams and shouts from its audience. Buy the ticket, take the cinematic ride, ooh and aah over every clear spin and foreseeable twirl: amid the stock-standard CGI-packed action scenes and triple-layered Spidey nods to iterations past, not all that long ago and present, that's what No Way Home seeks from its viewers. And, it takes the rollercoaster approach to evoking that reaction, rolling its story down the most glaring of tracks.

You can anticipate each jolt and shake on any given amusement ride, see every up and down coming, and still relish the experience — and that's what No Way Home is hoping for. It wants to be the fun flick that gleefully makes Spidey fans' dreams come true, and to coast on the buzz of all those fantasies fulfilled. That's all busy and nostalgic and undemandingly entertaining but, even though No Way Home isn't short on twists that haven't been laid out in the trailers, this is one of the least surprising MCU films yet. Three-time Spider-Man screenwriters Erik Sommers and Chris McKenna make every expected move they can with this greatest hits package, both within the usual Marvel formula and with the parts of their script that are meant to startle and astonish.

As a result, No Way Home's best moments swing in one of two directions: weighty or silly. Much of the movie hovers in the middle, resembling the empty space between an arachnid's silky threads, but when it either burrows deep or keeps things goofy, there's enough that sticks. Pondering the cost of being Spider-Man, the film doesn't fling itself into new territory — and yet it manages to add extra strands to the 'being a superhero is tough' scenario by recognising how such woes keep recurring. Finding laughs in the whole situation isn't unique either, and No Way Home isn't as funny or as loose as Homecoming or Far From Home. Still, that's the vibe that suits Holland; in his stretch in the red-and-blue suit, he's always played Peter like an excited, awkward and overwhelmed teen who's daffily grappling with what it all means, which is particularly pivotal here.

There is one brief glorious moment during No Way Home's climax — a trio of shots, all edited together rapidly and framed to match each other — that perfects what Watts is aiming for overall. It's astute, amusing, enjoyable and, although still undeniably obvious, thoughtfully taps into the existential Spidey struggle while simultaneously proving loving and playful. It's the full web, even spanning just seconds, but that term doesn't fit the bulk of the feature that sprawls around it. No Way Home isn't without its charms — Holland and Zendaya's chemistry still sparkles, it's a definite treat to see Dafoe and Molina back in the fold, and, as blasts from the pasts keep popping up, Watts cleverly juggles the varying tones of all three different web-slinging franchises — but this spider-sequel is always happiest when it's trying to catch the audience's claps and cheers just like flies. 

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