Ultimate Spider-Man

The MCU produces another instant classic for its fans

The turducken of webslinger movies, Spider-Man: No Way Home is an instant callback classic for devoted Marvel stans and an eccentric basket of Easter Eggs for everyone else. It’s a pile-up of five multiverse villains: the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Dr. Octopus (Alfred Molina), Electro (Jamie Foxx), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), and the Lizard (Rhys Ifans), each with varying degrees of screen time and emotional impact.

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME ★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Starring:Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Benedict Wong, Tony Revolvori, Marisa Tomei
Running time: 148 mins

These super-powered monsters, all normal men tragically turned evil, appeared in the previous two versions of Spidey iterations that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield respectively anchored. And now the motley crew populates this mammoth blockbuster, the eighth and latest live-action Spider-Man movie since 2002 but the first to be conceived and produced after 2018’s animated smash Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse. That hellzapoppin’ hoot, with its hysterical Spidey variants, capitalized on multiverse mayhem. So it’s no surprise that Tom Holland’s franchise would do the same.

Picking up right after the end of Spider-Man: Far from Home, New York teen Peter Parker is now unmasked and overwhelmed, with Feds and paparazzi swarming his home in Queens. The pressure on his friends and family is palpable, and the media—especially J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) and his InfoWars-esque The Daily Bugle—is having a field day spinning incessant slander.

So Parker runs down to 177A Bleecker Street for a visit to the Sanctum Sanctorum of Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). His wish: that the Master of the Mystic Arts cast a worldwide forgetting spell which lets Spider-Man go back to being anonymous. Will it test the stability of space-time? Maybe. But Dr. Strange has a soft spot for the web-head and agrees. Parker, though, ever the impulsive teen, accidentally destabilizes the spell with too many addendum requests, and Strange aborts the process—accidentally rending the multiverse for a hot second. In doing so, he summons a handful of alternate-reality denizens who also know Spidey’s true identity: the aforementioned nemeses.

They trade cute banter, especially Electro and Sandman—or “the electric guy and the sand guy,” as Spider-Man calls them. At one point, those two explain to each other how they got their powers. One fell into a vat of electric eels, while another fell into a supercollider. “You gotta be careful where you fall,” says Electro with a shrug.

They were all ported over right before their vanquished moments of death. Luckily, after quickly aborting their few brief episodes of rampant destruction, Spider-Man and Dr. Strange corral them into impenetrable prison cells under Strange’s house—a makeshift wizard dungeon just adjacent to the basement’s washer-dryers. Next step is a cube called the Machina de Cadavis which holds Strange’s contained forgetting spell and can reverse it, sending the multiversal trespassers back to their own dimensions. But, as Spidey realizes, that would mean certain death for those baddies. And he just couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t at least try to save them by reversing the lab accidents that turned them dark.

Spider-Man: No Way Home has a lot of explaining to do before its premise really takes flight. But it keeps the exposition action-packed and its revelations surprisingly touching. The movie is a landmine of spoilers, so suffice it to say that some irreparable damage takes place and some very special guests pop up to help Spider-Man save the day. Best piece of advice for any band of brothers? “Trust your tingle.”

But what really gives this latest Spider-Man entry a surprising melancholy is how it processes a collective trauma about its titular superhero—and about the PTSD that Marvel’s stable of superheroes chronically endure. “Did you have a best friend?” an eager young character asks an older, wiser one. “I did,” he says. “He died in my arms. It was heartbreaking.”

Redemption is the order of the day, as well as second chances, forgiveness, and a brief but delightful fraternity. Most of all it’s about working hard to help people become human again, an admirable trait for yet another installment in mega-movie series that so gleefully celebrates the superhuman. Key to the studio’s ongoing stratagem is Dr. Strange’s inevitable climactic amnesia spell, a very helpful reset button for a friendly neighborhood character with no end in sight.

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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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