Spider-Man: No Way Home has at least five villains, rumors of returning Spider-Man, a record-breaking trailer, and the concept of the multiverse opening it all up to claim the title of the next Avengers: Endgame.
Everything, for the most part, works. Just make sure you’ve seen all of Spider-previous Man’s films.
Despite an unavoidably tangled web of characters, backstories, and motivations, No Way Home manages to maintain a surprisingly tidy plot if you understand where each player comes from.
If you watch Spider-back Man’s catalog, you’ll understand why the people in the back of the theater are cheering at any given time.
And if you’re not intimately acquainted with two decades of previous Spider-Man films? If you’re here for simply a well-oiled and entertaining Marvel (and Sony) flick, you won’t be disappointed.
You might not fully appreciate the scale of what’s essentially the live-action equivalent of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, aka the best (or second-best) Spider-Man movie ever.
But you’ll be treated to likable heroes with relatable character development; slick, dynamic actions scenes; weird, wacky humor; high stakes; powerful emotional punches; and at least one incredible one-liner, delivered by Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) of all people.
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 entry truly makes up for the filler that was Spider-Man: Far From Home.
The basic premise sees Peter Parker deal with the fallout 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 savage media after him, fronted by the glorious (but underused) J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), Peter must adjust to a difficult existence chased into the uncomfortable spotlight of the public eye.
If you gathered this plot point from the record-breaking trailer, you could argue it isn’t reason enough to warrant Peter’s next decision: going to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and requesting the sorcerer cast a spell that reverses everything back to normal.
This idea begins as sweet hijinks in keeping with the John Hughes-influenced high school fun ‘n’ games of Holland’s first two outings.
But what follows is a surprising, expectations-toying spectacle with a deeper thematic heft.
Marvel advertised the inclusion of returning villains, including the 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 to study up on their backstories.
Only one or two lines are provided to explain why each villain reacts in the way they do to a storyline that plunges them into a different universe.
The standouts are the Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus. Thanks to Marvel’s digital de-aging technology,
Dafoe and Molina mostly look like they did nearly two decades ago when they appeared in Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy — mostly because sometimes it looks like an Instagram beauty filter has been placed strategically over certain parts of the screen.
The visual effects in general have been parceled out and tapered down so that we don’t have to sift through the effects-heavy murk-storm of Far From Home.
The action scenes, featuring hand-to-hand combat, feel more practical and visceral. Grittier, sweatier, bloodier.
A first-person perspective straps you in for a dizzying ride with Spider-Man swinging from A to B. Small details, such as Peter using his webs to grab things around Aunt May’s apartment, add welcome charm and color.
This time, Peter also exercises his Spidey senses, so that the often-joked-about “Peter tingle” is now a real asset — one that we can finally feel too, via sound effects and a close-up on Holland’s face.
A sequence with Doctor Strange is not only trippy and eye-popping, but it gives Peter a chance to use his other superpower: his brain.
Holland’s iteration, while younger than the previous two, rarely has the opportunities to utilize this less-flashy asset.
A scientific prodigy in the comics, Holland’s on-screen version verged on being painted as a frustratingly naive and gullible athlete.
But this time around, he fares much better (though Spidey’s trademark quips, apart from one scene with Doc Ock, are still sorely lacking).
Holland also gets to showcase his dramatic acting talents, more than just his effortless likability. The darker, PG-rated material pushes Holland to burn, emotional places.
Peter’s eyes flutter as he mulls over the difficult moral decisions that nag at him. Zendaya and Jacob Batalon (Peter’s best friend, Ned) deserve special mention.
Despite playing Peter’s girlfriend and falling from a tall building in the third act, MJ has a lot more to do this time around.
MJ is even given a thread of character development. But beware, such gifts can be revoked in an instant (sigh).
The camera work is slicker, the dialogue is snappier, and our hero’s inner turmoil moves along nicely.
The Russo Brothers’ influence can almost be felt ushering Holland’s third Spider-Man adventure into new, more serious territory.
If the character is to become the next Tony Stark, this is how to add a few more scars to a more interesting hero’s facade.
In other words, if you came to see the biggest movie of the year, you’ll be more than satisfied.