Spider-Man No Way Home review: With great power comes great responsibility, is the motto Peter Parker aka Spider-Man has lived by. But great power also has great consequences, and if this third instalment in the Spider-Man franchise was when you were hoping Tom Holland would grow up to that realisation, you are in for a disappointment. Yes, No Way Home is all that you have been hearing and talking about. Yes, it gives you bangs to the power of three for your buck. Yes, it is gratifying to indulge in your favourite Spider-Men films of the recent past once more. And yes, Holland’s Peter remains as likable and eager as ever.
But when the dust settles on this metaverse of multiple villains and many heroes, which Cumberbatch’s Dr Strange conjures out of some very furiously moving hands and not seemingly as engaged thoughts, it’s unclear what all that was about.
The film starts with Peter’s identity revealed to the world, and what follows in a world of mobile phones, paparazzi and The Daily Bugle – both fame and ignominy. One fallout is the rejection by MIT of not just Peter’s college application but also of friends MJ (a charming Zendaya) and Ned (a winsome Batalon). It’s this that ultimately drives Peter to ask Dr Strange to turn the clock back to the time before his identity was revealed or, if not that, to make people forget who he was.
Something goes wrong, and it must when Dr Strange keeps plucking strings of light out in the midst of a world-altering spell, at Peter’s confused bidding. Out tumble the villains Spider-Man has fought before, Dr Octopus (Alfred Molina), Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Electro (Jamie Foxx) Sandman and the Lizard.
So far, so good. However, it is about here that the plot, already into the tricky territory of multiple universes, gets a little wobbly. Superheroes nowadays can’t just have fun and beat the bad guys. There has to be a larger purpose to their gift. What Peter chooses at this point is set to have consequences that he doesn’t really think through – or the film even lets him face.
By themselves, the creatures who step out of the parallel universes into ours are a lot more fun. Molina has the meatiest screen presence and gets his own delectable fight on a bridge, complete with dangling cars and swinging men and women. Dafoe largely snarls and gnarls, but when they do get together, the actors who personify two of the greatest Super-Men villains, remain vile but now are also much funnier.
The same is true of two other creatures who step in through a portal into our universe. The shrieks with which the cinema audience greets them say all about how much they have been missed despite the years in the middle. Holland, whose Spider-Man has always been just one of the many Avengers, holds up well when called to be one of a team. The dialogue is witty and funny, Holland, Zendaya and Batalon are believable as kids who find themselves often out of their depth, the battles are coherently staged, a mirror dimension of the world that Dr Strange builds in one such clash is just wow, Spider-Man is satisfyingly nerdy (“What’s cooler than magic? Math”), and the past is adroitly linked with the present.
However, what it says of the future is what you may be left wondering. Like power and responsibility, No Way Home is a big one for “everyone deserving second chances”. But, chances are, most of us will still remain Peter Parker than Spider-Man. Is the film ready for that?
Spider-Man No Way Home movie director: Jon Watts
Spider-Man No Way Home movie cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jon Favreau, Jamie Foxx, Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe, Marisa Tomei, J K Simmons
Spider-Man No Way Home movie rating: 3.5 stars