Tom Holland, my personal favorite Spider-Man, returns in his third official film — although his character has also appeared in many other Marvel movies that don’t have his name in the title. This time, the young webslinger is dealing with the fallout from the last film, chiefly that his secret identity has been revealed to the world and everyone thinks he’s a bad guy. To fix everything, Spidey asks Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to work some magic and make the world forget who Spider-Man is. Unfortunately, the spell goes awry and creates a schism in space-time… or something like that.
Suddenly, Spider-Man villains from previous films start reappearing and causing mayhem. But when I say ‘previous films,’ I don’t mean previous Tom Holland Spider-Man films. I mean previous Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films from as far back as 2002. Marvel calls it ‘the multiverse’, where alternate Spider-Men and spider-villains exist in separate realities (a concept explored in 2018’s animated Into the Spider-Verse). It’s a gimmick that allows Marvel and Sony Pictures to bring back actors from the older films in a big ‘House of Spider-Man’ type free-for-all.
While I’m not convinced the gimmick isn’t a sign of franchise fatigue and desperation, I must admit that it allows for some novel and touching moments. Seeing all three Spider-Man actors — Holland, Maguire, and Garfield — meet and share their experiences is the film’s crown jewel. It also gives a chance for the franchise’s two most memorable villains, Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) and Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), to gain a little extra depth and dimension. Dafoe is MVP here, playing tortured and deadly better than ever.
Spider-Man: No Way Home takes a little while to get interesting, but like so many Marvel movies, it succeeds not on its plot merits or originality, but on the strength of personality. There is, of course, an obligatory cataclysmic finale, but the movie never strays too far from its focus on character. And there’s an admirable twist to the action onslaught — the heroes aren’t trying to vanquish the villains this time. They’re trying to save them. The film ends on a poignant note, in some ways bringing closure to Spider-Man’s adolescence. He’s all grown up now. And his future is wide open for anything.
I know I complain about there being so many superhero movies, but as long as Tom Holland wants to play Spider-Man, I’ll probably keep watching him.
With Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, Jamie Foxx, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Benedict Wong, and J.K. Simmons.
Oscar Nomination: Best Visual Effects