REVIEW – ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ is tremendously fun and hugely satisfying

It’s not every day a press screening includes surrendering one’s phone before entering a cinema featuring security guards in night vision goggles and a title card and preshow video from the cast begging viewers to avoid revealing spoilers to the general public. Then again, it’s not every day a film like Spider-Man: No Way Home comes along where revealing the colour of a character’s socks could be seen as a spoiler in some circles.

With a level of hype unrivalled in 2021 and a hefty bag of secrets no film critic would dare spoil, it’s difficult to discuss this film without ruining all the fun. There’s so much I’d love to praise, but I wouldn’t dare incur the wrath of rightfully furious fanboys. So, let me just say Spider-Man: No Way Home is a nostalgic tip of the cap to the past and a big leap forward into the future of Sony Pictures’ portion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Like all superhero films, it’s mildly flawed, but still tremendously fun, incredibly emotional, and hugely satisfying.

Picking up immediately after the events of Spider-Man: Far From Home, this elaborate threequel finds Peter Parker (Tom Holland) grappling with the world learning his secret Spider-Man identity. Branded a domestic terrorist by some and a national hero by others, Peter’s life has been completely flipped upside down. To make matters worse, his newfound infamy is also having dire consequences on the lives of his girlfriend, MJ (Zendaya), his best pal, Ned (Jacob Batalon), and his beloved Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).

Desperate for help, Peter seeks out Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and begs him to cast a spell that will make the world forget they ever learned Spider-Man’s identity. When Peter attempts to amend the spell mid-progress, disaster strikes and the walls of the Multiverse begin to crack open. While Doctor Strange initially believes he’s contained the mishap, Peter is soon confronted by the sudden arrival of villains from alternate Spider-Man timelines including Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), Norman Osbourne/Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), and Max Dillon/Electro (Jamie Foxx).

To say much more would begin to venture into spoiler territory. Suffice to say, each villain has their own ideas about what to do with their unexpected time in Peter’s universe. Some want vengeance. Some seek redemption. And some constantly flip between the two. That allows great thespians like Molina and Dafoe to play with light and shade as their morally ambiguous characters dance the line between humanity and villainy. There’s naturally an element of fan service in bringing Doc Oct, Green Goblin, and co. back from the dead, but it’s incredibly pleasing to see them given their own authentic character arcs that fit this narrative so damn well.

As you’d likely recall, the concept of the Spider-Man multiverse was utilised to staggeringly impressive results in 2018’s Oscar-winning animated delight Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. While the live-action iteration of this conceit may not have the wild abandonment of reality and frenetic energy of its animation counterpart, this is easily the best example of employing multiple villains in one superhero blockbuster. Its ambition is incredibly mighty. Yet, somehow, it doesn’t fall under that weight. Well, almost.

With so many wheels to set in motion and narrative threads to lay down, the first act of Spider-Man: No Way Home is a little sluggish. Maybe that’s to be expected from such a grand vision, but there’s a tonne of exposition in Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers‘ screenplay to wade through during the first 40 or so minutes. The way McKenna and Sommers pull everything together is ultimately entirely ingenious, but it’s a minor slog to get there. Thankfully, once every chess piece is set in place, the film genuinely soars and never looks back.

Given the abundance of villains and the inclusion of Doctor Strange, you may be thinking this means the focus is off Holland in a similar fashion to how Iron Man couldn’t help but dominate Spider-Man: Homecoming and Mysterio somewhat stole Spidey’s thunder in Far From Home. Nope. This really is Holland’s first chance to star in a Spider-Man film where Peter is entirely front and centre. Unsurprisingly, it’s his best performance to date. Holland is tasked with more emotional beats than the previous chapters, which he handles with aplomb. But he still effortlessly nails Peter’s guileless optimism and kind heart that have always made Spider-Man such an endearingly human superhero.

MJ’s sarcastic wit and droll humour continue to be a highlight of this franchise. After two outings, Zendaya now completely inhabits this character like a second skin. She’s still refreshingly never been the damsel in distress. With assistance from Ned (Batalon steals focus again with some terrific one-liners), MJ is integral to Spider-Man’s quest to save the day. However, it’s MJ’s deep connection to Peter where Zendaya’s performance really shines. Their relationship has matured well beyond a giddy high school romance. Maybe it helps Holland and Zendaya are dating in real life, but the way Peter lovingly looks at MJ is simply gorgeous.

There will be those who say Spider-Man: No Way Home is “fan service” as if that’s somehow a slight against the film. Frankly, I’m not sure who else but Spider-Man fans will be lining up to see this film on opening weekend. Yes, there are franchise references and easter eggs purposely designed to make fanboys and fangirls squeal with delight. No, that’s not a bad thing. From bombastic action set-pieces and playful banter to spectacular visual effects sequences and a soaring score from Michael Giacchino, director Jon Watts knows what lovers of everything Spidey are wanting and gleefully serves it up to them.

This is a glorious homage to almost 20 years of Spider-Man on film. It’s one of the best Spider-Man films ever made and certainly the most entertaining. For those of us who’ve been with all incarnations of this character and franchise for two decades, it’s really something very special. If you love this series, you’ll be cheering and laughing as much as you’ll be reaching for the tissues.

For all its nostalgia, it’s still wise enough to stand on its own two feet by lasering its focus on Peter’s captivating journey and the unknown future it’s leading him towards. Spider-Man: No Way Home obliterates all lofty expectations…and then some. It takes you on an emotional rollercoaster with dizzying highs and devastating lows. It’s one of the year’s greatest blockbusters and could just be the one film to reach box office numbers not seen for almost two years. Lord knows it deserves to.

Distributor: Sony Pictures
Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe, Jamie Foxx
Director: Jon Watts
Producers: Kevin Feige, Amy Pascal
Screenplay: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Cinematography: Mauro Fiore
Production Design: Darren Gilford
Costume Design: Sanja Milkovic Hays
Music: Michael Giacchino
Editors: Jeffrey Ford, Leigh Folsom Boyd
Running Time: 148 minutes
Release Date: 16th December 2021 (Australia)