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Review: ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ Delivers Crowd-Pleasing Spectacle While Paying Homage to the Franchise’s Pre-MCU Legacy

December 14, 2021Ben MK

If there's one thing to be said about superhero movies, it's that there's always the opportunity for new filmmakers and actors to take up the mantle. And, like the Batman and X-Men films, the Spider-Man series has seen its share of shake-ups throughout the years. Whether it's director Sam Raimi and star Tobey Maguire's groundbreaking take on the web-slinger or Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield's two-film re-do, each iteration of the franchise has brought with it its own particular set of strengths. Now, with Jon Watts and Tom Holland's third go at a standalone Spider-Man movie, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has finally found a way to incorporate and acknowledge the most memorable aspects of that which has come before, as Peter Parker embarks on what is undeniably his most daunting and life-changing adventure yet.

Picking up right where Spider-Man: Far From Home left off, Spider-Man: No Way Home finds both Peter (Holland) and the world dealing with a shocking revelation — the unmasking of Spider-Man. With his alter ego revealed by none other than J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) and doctored footage from the villainous Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) incriminating everyone's favorite wall-crawler as a murderer, it seems that every news outlet on the planet has converged upon New York City, where all eyes are on Spider-Man and public opinion is divided on whether the web-slinger is a hero or a public enemy number one. But while some who have crossed paths with Peter are able to benefit from their perceived link to him, those actually within Peter's inner circle find themselves unfairly discriminated against, especially his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), whose chances at being accepted into M.I.T. have been quashed on account of their close ties with Peter.

In an effort to undo the damage, Peter pays a visit to the Sanctum Santorum, in the hopes that Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) can use his skills as the Sorcerer Supreme to cast a spell that will give his friends a second chance. But when Strange's attempt to use magic to alleviate Peter's woes goes horribly awry, it leads to a rift in the multiverse — a rift that conveniently gives screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers license to revisit characters and actors from both Raimi's and Webb's Spider-Man universes, beginning with Alfred Molina and Willem Dafoe reprising their roles as Doctor Octopus and the Green Goblin. The pair are soon joined by three more familiar faces, and when it becomes clear that more interdimensional invaders will be arriving in their wake, it forces Strange to hatch a plan to send them all back from whence they came. Peter, on the other hand, isn't quite as willing to send these villains back to their universes — where they'll be killed by their respective Spider-Men — so he hatches a plan of his own to save them by curing them of their unique afflictions.

What follows is essentially a live-action companion piece to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, with the MCU's Peter Parker finding himself in the unenviable position of having to contend not only with his own demons, but with the demons that have plagued his counterparts from the previous Spider-Man installments. Suffice to say, moviegoers who are looking forward to a spectacle-fueled showdown between Spidey and this fearsome five won't be left wanting, as Peter must enlist not only the help of his closest friends to battle this resurrected menagerie of antagonists, but also a couple of surprise allies, both of whom know only too well the sacrifices that must be made for the greater good, not to mention the heavy burden of responsibility that all heroes must bear.

The result stands in stark contrast to Homecoming and Far from Home as the darkest of Spider-Man's MCU appearances to date. Yet, despite the film's oftentimes sombre tone, there's still plenty of fun to be had, thanks to No Way Home's crowd-pleasing cameos, the fun nods to the Maguire and Garfield movies, and even a throwaway reference to Miles Morales himself. Make no mistake, though, the film's title is quite apropos indeed. And while time will tell if Holland will be donning the iconic red and blue costume once again for a future sequel, one thing's for certain — the character underneath it will never be the same again.

Spider-Man: No Way Home releases December 17th, 2021 from Sony Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for sequences of action/violence, some language and brief suggestive comments. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 28 min.

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