Director – Jon Watts – 2021 – US – Cert. 12a – 150m
With Spider-man’s identity revealed as Peter Parker, he enlists Dr. Strange’s magic to restore the world to its state before that revelation – out in cinemas on Wednesday, December 15th
Hard to remember now but there was a time before the millennium when a big screen Spider-Man adaptation was something no-one thought would ever get made. Following the hugely successful Spider-Man (Sam Raimi, 2002) there have effectively been three series of movies, with reboots The Amazing Spider-Man (Marc Webb, 2012) and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)-compliant Spider-Man: Homecoming (Jon Watts, 2107) plus three further appearances of the character in the MCU since 2016 (Captain America: Civil War, 2016; Avengers: Infinity War, 2018; Avengers: Endgame, 2019; all Joe and Anthony Russo). In the 2002-initiated cycle, the character was played by Tobey Maguire, in the 2012, Andrew Garfield and in the MCU / 2017, Tom Holland. The latter in Jon Watts’ films is particularly good at portraying Peter / Spider-Man as a gawky, insecure teenager.
There’s even a (hugely inventive) animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, 2018) which sadly isn’t referenced in the current film. It would have been really something to have the animated universes of that film represented among the multiple universes of this one. A real missed opportunity.
The new film starts off with the revelation by Daily Bugle editor J Jonah Jameson (J.K.Simmons) that Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is Spider-man splashed all over high profile news media, some of it broadcast on inescapable, highly visible billboards. Peter can’t stand it and visits Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in search of a spell that will turn things back the way they were before. However, when Peter can’t resist meddling with the doctor’s conjuring, the spells go wrong.
This provides the excuse for bringing back various villains and other characters from earlier Spider-Man movies such as Green Goblin (1, 2, 3, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) , Dr. Octavius (2), Electro & Lizard (both TASM, TASM2) and Sandman (1, 3). The first three are played by the same actors who originally played them, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina and Jamie Foxx, and they get a lot of screen time, which allows some space for character development and acting beyond the obligatory stunt scenes. The last two are created entirely by computer effects, which is more than adequate for the action / stunt work demanded of the characters.
Also on hand are the previous two films’ incarnations of Peter’s girlfriend MJ (Zendaya from Dune, Denis Villeneuve, 2021, and sequels), his best mate Ned (Jacob Batalon), Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and Happy (Jon Favreau). MJ has a memorable scene at the beginning when she’s with Spider-Man / Peter and he decides to avoid the public eye by taking the tube, i.e. abandoning swinging between skyscrapers in favour of swinging along the subway system narrowly avoiding oncoming trains. Ned, meanwhile, has a gizmo pilfered from Dr. Strange which allows him to open gateways to other universes.
One of the strengths of the film is that, while the action and effects are spectacular, there is space for welcome character development too. Conversely, after a strong opening, the film drags for about an hour after the first reel before picking up again, so it’s a mixed blessing. But pick up it does, and the final hour is terrific, not least because of some surprises it would be criminal to reveal. Also be advised there are scenes right up to he very end of the credits, so you’ll want to stay seated to the very end. (Although, of course, you’d do this anyway out of respect for the art of cinema.)
There are weaknesses too. Once you’ve got a script where you’ve opened up the very fabric of space and time so that characters can come in from earlier spiderman films – not just the ones in the current 2017 MCU reboot but also the two earlier versions, you’re opening up the narrative to characters appearing from earlier in the franchise simply because they now can, and if you’re not careful, the audience’s ability to follow the plot goes out the window. That happens here, and at times the narrative is infuriatingly confusing. It doesn’t help if you haven’t recently watched all the other Spider-Man movies and the three MCU movies in which the character appears – if you’re the sort of person who watches these films over and over again (which I’m not), you’ll probably appreciate the film more than I did.
Finally, there’s a lot going on visually, and the film is probably best appreciated in digital IMAX if you’re able to see it that way. Also, be advised there are scenes right up to the very end of the credits, so you’ll want to stay seated to the very end. (Although, of course, you’d do this anyway out of respect for the art of cinema.)
Spider-Man: No Way Home is nominated for Best Visual Effects in the 2021/22 (94th) Oscars.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is out in cinemas in the UK on Wednesday, December 15th.