For a movie whose raison d’etre is to take its place in a multi-title franchise, Spider-Man: No Way Home has plenty of heart and individual spirit too. Packed with sparkling performances, three-dimensional visual effects and a judicious mix of spectacle and intimate moments, No Way Home lands with a huge and satisfying thud.
Tom Holland, who replaced Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield and infused his Spider-Man movies with boyish innocence and infectious zest, returns to tackle the problem created by Homecoming (2017). Before dying, the mean-minded Mysterio had accused Spider-Man of a series of attacks on London for which he was actually responsible. Worse, Mysterio unmasked the web-spinning vigilante as Peter Parker, a fact known only to a few.
The new film begins right where Homecoming left off. Hounded by the media, government agents and Mysterio fans and his reputation in tatters, Spider-Man, his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) seek out Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to set things right.
Might not Doctor Strange gesture hypnotically, as he has in the past, to erase the collective memories of the planet and restore Spider-Man’s anonymity? That would mean losing the moments that Spider-Man has shared with MJ and Ned and his beloved Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).
It goes off plan in other ways: a glitch in Doctor Strange’s spell results in the return of all the villains that Spider-Man and his previous avatars had put away. The movie calls it the multiverse, also known as the infinite Marvel Cinematic Universe that has spawned stand-alone films, crossovers and web series.
As a way to remind fans of the previous movies as well as link up Spider-Man with the other moving MCU parts, the plotting by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers is cleverness itself. Like the Avengers films by the Russo brothers, No Way Home is packed with throwbacks, fond welcomes and farewells and gestures to other MCU films (cue mid-credits and post-credits sequences).
Jon Watts, who has directed Holland in his previous Spider-Man outings, is in firm control of a grand reunion movie that balances geeky humour, big-bang sequences and misty-eyed moments. Watts keeps the narrative moving at a fast clip but slows down just in time for a couple of fan-friendly cameos that justifiably stop the film in its tracks.
Liberated from his mask and fully free to emote, Tom Holland is excellent as the pocket-sized hero with a throbbing heart. Holland ensures that Spider-Man, who was reduced to a blubbering Iron Man fanboy in previous films, stands on his own amidst a crowd of equally committed actors.