“The Metaverse is real.”
A lot goes on in “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” the latest installment in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. Too much — what in other films might be momentous developments or jaw-dropping cameos whiz by as director Jon Watts hurries along to the next one, not always with a clear direction. No way home you might say, though narrative fragmentation is probably not what inspired the title.
But the quote from a character about the Metaverse is at the heart of the film, and probably the way forward. The film is 148 minutes long. Many of those minutes are good, some not so good.
But one of them is great. Unreservedly so. Redemption and catharsis arrive in a single fleeting moment that wonderfully and succinctly ties up everything Watts is attempting. Truly one of my favorite scenes in a movie this year.
And then on to the next scene, and the next and the next, leaving this bit of brilliance stacked up among all the others.
‘No Way Home’ picks up where ‘Far From Home’ left off
“No Way Home” picks up where 2019’s “Far From Home” ended, after Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) revealed to the world that Spider-Man was Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and blamed him for crimes he didn’t commit.
In the wake of the world knowing his identity — “I’m the most famous person in the world,” he complains, “and I’m still broke” — Peter’s life is upended, as are the lives of all those around him. He, his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) are eventually denied admission to M.I.T., not because they’re unqualified, but since they’re Spidey and friends the school won’t even consider them.
Peter helped save the world with the Avengers. But he and his friends not getting into college is a bridge too far. Something must be done. It’s “Risky Business” for the Avengers set, only instead of Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear it’s Tom Holland swinging around on spiderwebs.
Peter visits Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), hoping he will cast a spell that will make the world forget he’s Spider-Man. Sure thing, Dr. Strange says. Except wait, Peter says, not MJ. And not Ned. And Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) should also be left off the forget-about-it list.
Fiddling with the spell while it’s being cast has consequences, Strange warns. Does it ever. Soon Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) and the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) arrive from other universes, in rather clunky fashion. Other villains from other iterations of Spider-Man show up, as well.
It’s weird and kind of cool and also funny when this Peter Parker doesn’t look like the one they’re used to, and Peter has no idea who they are. That we do is a big part of the fun.
The Metaverse is real.
Tom Holland’s dopey, innocent Spider man is a big selling point
The main challenge here is a world full of villains from other universes (and “Spider-Man” movies) and what to do with them. How that challenge is confronted is the best part of the film by far, fueled by inventive plotting and committed performances with emotional payoffs that make up, mostly, for the awkward setups. It saves the movie from devolving into glorified cosplay.
To say more would be to say too much. Suffice it to say that Watts keeps things moving, and Holland makes the character his own. There’s something appealing about his somewhat dopey innocence. In his portrayal Peter really is a kid. When you’re applying to colleges nothing in the world seems more important than being accepted. Nothing is more crushing than when you aren’t.
Acceptance is something Peter struggles with the entire film. He wants to be a high-school kid. Yet he also, Strange notes, helped save half the world’s population. That population is currently divided over how to feel about him, thanks in part to tabloid-screaming “journalist” J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), who relentlessly attacks Spider-Man as a villain.
And Peter is at times at odds with how to feel about himself.
You’ll want to stick around for the post-credit scenes, which actually deliver this time. Like a lot of what’s going on with the MCU now (the “WandaVision” and “Hawkeye” series, for instance), “No Way Home” feels like a step into whatever is next.
But it’s also a look back at what came before, and that combination is what makes it successful.
‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ 3.5 stars
Great ★★★★★ Good ★★★★
Fair ★★★ Bad ★★ Bomb ★
Director: Jon Watts.
Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of action/violence, some language and brief suggestive comments.
Note: In theaters Dec. 17.
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