“Spider-Man: No Way Home” starts off where the previous Spider movie, “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” concluded: The baddie, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) had broadcast Spider-Man’s secret identity to the world, thereby putting Peter Parker’s buddy Ned, his girlfriend MJ, and his Aunt May in danger.
Let’s cut to the chase: Is this new “Spider-Man: No Way Home” any good? Like all sequels (or in this case, since it’s part of a massive nine-quel), it suffers from the usual fact that one can only really experience the world-building once; it’s only completely pristine, new, exciting, and mind-blowing—one time. The rest is rehash. And, as I stated of the recent release “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” in my review, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is a perfectly good rehash.
Warning: I’m going to talk about what would normally be considered a major spoiler, because I think not mentioning the main hook of this movie is to simultaneously neglect giving audiences incentive to go see it. However, anyone wanting to see the movie with a completely clean slate, anticipating getting hit out of nowhere, in the face, with surprises, is not going to be happy hearing some of these things. So proceed with caution.
So this time around, Peter “Spider-Man” Parker (Tom Holland) has just had his secret identity revealed by the perennially shouting online conspiracy theorist J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons). It should be noted that Simmons is not actually reprising his character from “Spider-Man” (2002) and its sequels.
This results in a media firestorm: helicopters hovering outside Peter’s apartment, getting stoned (by actual stones), and his high school principal (J.B. Smoove) and front office staff becoming cartoonishly star-struck and sycophantic with their new celebrity student.
The worst part of this unwanted megafame, though, is that the press-instigated (and continually fueled) controversy regarding ethical and legal issues surrounding Peter’s actions as Spider-Man gets him and his friends—girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and friend Ned (Jacob Batalon)—rejected from all the institutions of higher learning they’ve applied to.
The one they all really wanted to get into (so they could remain united as friends), M.I.T., even specified that the rejection was in regard to all the Spider-Man brouhaha. Which is nonsense—M.I.T. would welcome Spider-Man in a heartbeat on full scholarship (in exchange for allowing its professors to lab-test his spider abilities). Who do they think they’re fooling?
Peter goes to see Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), that caped, arm-waving magician who opens portals to other dimensions and time-spaces by using a sort of large (but invisible) sparks-generating can opener.
Peter wants to know if it’s possible to go back in time and get a do-over—that is, hide his identity from the world again. Dr. Strange declares that that particular request is not possible, but what he can do is make everyone alive forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Peter thinks that’s perfect.
The spell-casting commences, and then suddenly Peter realizes this memory erasure will include all his close friends and relatives. His realization kicks off a few stop-start situations: Peter keeps remembering more people he’d rather not have included on that list, which ends up distracting and annoying Dr. Strange so much that the spell is eventually rendered useless.
And not only that, but an altogether different outcome ensues, whereby the spell-gone-wrong rends the very fabric of time-space. And you know what that means—spoiler-alert!—Spider-Men from parallel universes (old “Spider-Man” movies) may show up in this movie.
Where would they come from? Well, from the 2002–2007 “Spider-Man” trilogy directed by Sam Raimi, and the 2012–2014 “The Amazing Spider-Man” (two-parts) directed by Marc Webb, naturally. (I’m trying to talk about this without talking about it but you know what I’m talking about and that’s all I’m going to say about it.)
The result of this is that those separate realities deliver to the time-space of “No Way Home” all the dastardly Spider-Man villains of those other films. That would include: Doc Ock (Alfred Molina, “Spider-Man 2”), Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe, “Spider-Man”), Lizard (Rhys Ifans, “The Amazing Spider-Man”), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church, “Spider-Man 3”), and Electro (Jamie Foxx, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”)—a veritable cornucopia of Spider-Man evil villains.
Since that’s probably too many Spidey villains for a singular Spidey to deal with, they arrive with (OK, I lied) the Spider-Men of their particular dimension in tow—that would be Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. There, I said it. Their interaction is far and away the best part of the movie: the bickering, the shoptalk, the gear comparisons, the fulfilled longing for brothers, the warm sense of tribal belonging after years of feeling like solitary freaks, and a brief one-on-one Spidey skirmish where the more experienced Spidey pulls a particularly fabulous Spider-Man move that a different Spidey didn’t see coming—never even thought of—and is in immediate admiration of.
So in a nutshell, what “No Way Home” is, is a live-action version of something the same studio already did three years ago, with the two-dimensional “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” Does live action add anything? Not really. Except for maybe the part where Tobey Maguire’s Spidey is asked what he’s been up to lately, and he answers, “Trying to do better.” Maguire was all but blacklisted in showbiz a few years ago after having been outed as a cold-blooded, vengeful Hollywood card shark in the film “Molly’s Game” (by actor Michael Cera doing a dead-on Maguire impression), and labeled a bad person. One imagines that atonement is taking place.
But for me personally, the film is interesting in that it is through cartoons and cartoon movies that some of the most vast and heretofore obscured secrets of the cosmos are being revealed. Spider-verses and Multiverses indeed. What if the cosmos was like a massive Russian doll, with each dimension containing a smaller, exact replica of itself within it? And that smaller dimension contained a smaller one? And on down to infinity? And on the vast end, there’s a Spider-Man so large that Earth would appear as a tiny blue speck underneath the red Spider-boot? And a Spider-Man so tiny that he operates in the realm of quarks and neutrinos? And they all do the same stuff? And if the tiny one cast some web it would take a nanosecond, but if that giant one did it, it would take ten million years? I enjoy that these cartoon movies have gigantic philosophical concepts hiding in plain sight.
‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’
Director: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau
Running Length: 2 hours, 28 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Release Date: Dec. 17, 2021
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars