Director: Jon Watts
Writers: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei
Cinematographer: Mauro Fiore
Editor: Jeffrey Ford, Leigh Folsom Boyd
With great power comes great responsibility, uncle Ben had sagely declared, almost twenty years ago, in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. This is true for both, the superhero and the studio that has functioned as co-architect in his resurrection – Marvel. While debates about MCU films continue – Martin Scorsese famously declared that they are closer to theme parks than cinema – there is no denying that these stories and characters have permanently altered movies and movie-going. I'm thrilled to report that Spider-Man: No Way Home, the 27th film in the MCU, delivers an exhilarating experience. After the misguided Eternals and 18 months of a pandemic, it's exactly the big screen tonic you need.
The story begins immediately after the events of Spider-Man: Far from Home. Before dying, the devious Mysterio has revealed Spider-Man's identity and falsely accused him of murder. Peter Parker is juggling college admissions with extreme fame and its aftermath – open hostility, fandom, bizarre intrusions into his life, including a brick through the window. He turns to Dr. Strange who agrees to help but a botched-up spell opens up the multiverse and allows supervillains from alternate realities to enter. These include iconic baddies from the Spidey pantheon, including Alfred Molina's Dr. Octopus and Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin from the Tobey Maguire movies and Jamie Foxx's Electro from Andrew Garfield's stint as the web slinger.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is the final film in the Tom Holland trilogy. It's directed by Jon Watts who also directed the two earlier films, Spider-Man: Far from Home and Spider-Man: Homecoming. Watts is the first filmmaker to helm a trilogy at the MCU. In this film, he and writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers construct a narrative that seamlessly blends past and present, set-piece action sequences and larger existential questions – as one character puts it, when you try to fix people there are always consequences, and comedy with surprisingly moving emotional beats. I will admit that I got teary in some scenes. And there aren't too many superhero movies that make me cry.
It helps that Holland so effortlessly brings both – the confusion and awkwardness of youth and serious acting chops – to the part. The plot gets grim. There are hints of the rage and darkness within Peter himself. But Holland doesn't falter. He's terrific and through it all, an innate decency, shines through. We see the character growing up in front of our eyes. Zendaya as MJ and Jacob Batalon as bestie Ned Leeds are also solid as Peter's A-team. Though both get a little lost when other buddies arrive. There's also Benedict Cumberbatch, juggling the various universes and marinating in Dr. Strange's arrogant glory. At one point, when Peter messes up, he exclaims in exasperation: this is why I never had kids. The fact that an actor can pull off these CGI showdowns and the grim brilliance of The Power of the Dog in one year, is absolutely astounding. Marisa Tomei as Aunt May is also very good – she somehow combines maternal affection and wisdom with a throwaway sexiness.
DOP Mauro Fiore's camera does the gymnastics required to give us a sense of Spider-Man's highs and lows – literally and metaphorically. We go for dizzying rides as Spider-Man swings across New York city. Some of the action sequences hover on the edge of impersonal and the film's midsection hits flat notes. But Watts gathers the various narrative threads and yanks up the adrenalin with skill. The film becomes a rousing adventure, a nostalgia-filled celebration of all three Spidey installments and a bittersweet reminder of the relentless passage of time.
At one point, the camera lingers on Peter's coffee cup that MJ has just served him. It reads: We are happy to serve you. Which is true for both Peter Parker and the makers of Spider-Man: No Way Home. This film is fan service at its best because even us, casual lovers, can enjoy the ride.
You can watch Spider-Man: No Way Home at a theatre near you. Don't forget to wear a mask.