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NO WAY HOME
Inarguably the most successful film of 2021, Spider-Man: No Way Home picks up exactly when the last film left off as Spider-Man's secret identity is finally revealed to the world. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and his friends face backlash following J. Jonah Jameson's bombshell and so Parker seeks the help of Doctor Strange to make all of this mess go away.
The concept was teased in prior sequel Far From Home but the Multiverse is finally confirmed to be real in this movie as Stephen Strange's (Benedict Cumberbatch) attempt to use a spell that would potentially fix Peter Parker's problem opens up a whole new can of worms including heroes and villains from other Multiverses turning up in our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man's... well, friendly neighborhood. This was set to be one of the biggest comic-book movie crossovers ever in the style of hit animated feature Into The Spider-Verse but, of course, live-action. Online speculation was non-stop during the entire journey leading up to this film's release with fans wondering which previous cast members of the franchise would turn up.
The multi-cameo gimmick would no doubt be this film's biggest draw, but also its biggest challenge as a coherent plot would need to tie everything together well enough. Luckily, Marvel had thusfar handled this kind of juggling act rather well. Judging by the audience reaction to this movie, it appears that the gimmick in question was very much a crowdpleaser and understandably so: seeing some of your favorite characters from your favorite franchise return in a new movie played by a beloved cast is always a nice nostalgic treat. Especially if they're having as much fun as the likes of Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina are having in this latest film.
The film's opening is a promisingly intense look at the overwhelming media attention that Peter Parker and his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) are forced to deal with, along with the negative impact this has had on his friends' lives, which he blames himself for. Doctor Strange agrees to help by casting a spell that would make it so everyone would forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Unfortunately, Peter's demands for countless caveats compromises the spell which Strange is forced to contain. But the damage is already done as the spell has already started to mess with reality and opened up the door for some unsavory characters like Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Electro (Jamie Foxx), The Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and The Lizard (Rhys Ifans). Spider-Man takes on these villains who are unknown to him but clashes with Doctor Strange when the latter suggests destroying the spell, thereby sending them all home, whether this means they'll be dead again or not.
This is a fun, playful, setup and it certainly gives this movie a lot to work with, especially when other Spider-Men start appearing. Unfortunately, there's not much more to this film than fanservice and thinking about its story for more than a few seconds prompts a bunch of question marks. Some of the villains, we are told, have been transferred here just before they died, despite them looking either way older or completely different. Some of the character designs are improved while some are exactly the same or way worse. Apparently summoning "Peter Parker" through a spell only summons Peter Parkers who are also Spider-Man. Peter Parker is praised repeatedly for the choices he makes in the film despite everything obviously being a complete disaster. Villains can just be turned good and bad, on and off, like a light switch. J. Jonah Jameson is given a big reveal in the last movie but he's barely in this one (why not bring back the old J.J.J. and have him face his own grumpy self for some easy, worthy comic relief?). It's all very inconsistent and, frankly, rarely convincing.
Still, there's enough here to make No Way Home an entertaining popcorn movie: the Doctor Strange vs Spider-Man fight sequence in the Mirror Universe is fantastic, the face off with Doc Ock is enjoyable, Jamie Foxx is a much better Electro this time around, Andrew Garfield nearly steals the show with a particularly endearing performance and it's just nice to see all these likable actors have a good time on screen. Once the reintroduction of Spidey's baddies is digested, however, the film fails to make the best use of its cast and plot as the macguffin (magic box) coupled with yet another final rooftop fight in the dark (see the ending of Spider-Man 3 meets the ending of The Amazing Spider-Man) lacks originality and rhythm. The overly jokey script is also a massive, unwelcome distraction as it makes many characters feel off and the constant flow of lame one-liners comes off as extremely forced.
In the vein of the X-Men franchise's Days Of Future Past, this Spider-Man movie aims to mix different versions of the same series together in order to fix a few flaws that fans have been complaining about for a while, but also cash in on nostalgia and take the franchise in a new, unexpected direction. As a result of this very ambitious endeavor, parts of this work but a lot of it doesn't and, as much as it was nice to see some familiar faces here, less would 100% have been more. The script feels bloated and yet, at the same time, bare: Zendaya isn't given much to work with here character development-wise, while Ned (Jacob Batalon) overstays his welcome with a big role when this movie called for a cameo from him at the most. This translates into a strangely paced movie with its share of dull filler. The attempt to redo the Uncle Ben scene AGAIN, just slightly differently, is a complete misstep as the scene in question feels about as emotionally rewarding as the awful Sandman CG seen throughout this film.
This movie throws a lot at you and, yes, some of it sticks. No doubt about it. But there's just too much fluff, too many heavy-handed references, too many inconsistencies and too much Whedonian corniness to make this a truly rewarding experience. You'll have fun with some of the action scenes, you'll enjoy seeing your fave villains/heroes on screen again but that's pretty much it. No Way Home has its moments but it remains a passably entertaining outing and the lesser film in the Tom Holland trilogy.
Amusing yet uneven blockbuster.