‘I’ ON CULTURE
I finally got to see Spider-Man: No Way Home. Normally, I’m the first to see movies, but I was traveling and missed the deadline for my last column. I am happy to say this film is really good, one of the best in the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe.
What makes it special is that it manages to make real fans happy while providing great entertainment for those who are not. A movie as long as this one (2 hours, 28 minutes) usually has much of its audience heading off for bathrooms in the middle. This picture had everyone glued to their seats.
The movie begins where the last Spider-Man film (Far From Home) ends. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has his identity revealed and is accused of murdering Mysterio, the villain from the last film. His life is ruined, as is those of his two best friends, MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon), all of whom are turned down by MIT because of “bad publicity.” Peter asks Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to create a spell that would have people forget his identity, but in the middle of the spell-casting, Peter starts adding changes so his friends and family know.
This messes up the spell, and we get trouble in the multiverse. For those who don’t know, this is an idea that there are many different universes, more or less parallel, with some changes between them. In this film, most people forget Peter’s secret identity, but then villains from other universes show up. And, frankly, it’s fun to see Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Alfred Molina (Doc Ock) and Jamie Foxx (Electro) and others all going after Spidey. As a reminder, they were the villains for the two earlier series of Spider-Man films.
The real twist is that Doctor Strange can send them back, but Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) objects because they would all soon die. She wants to reform them, and he agrees, a move that eventually has real consequences. Eventually, however, other versions of Spider-Man join them (Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield). Then there is the big battle with a twist that was a doozy. But it provides a great setup for the next film in the series.
The cast is all terrific. Holland, Zendaya, and Batalon prove their comedic and dramatic chops. Tomei’s May finally gets to do more than just being a stock character, and she is quite good. Cumberbatch is in his prime (and there are more than a few special bits plugging his upcoming film), and that is very good indeed. But the real fun came from the actors from the earlier films. The audience (and for the first time in a couple of years, there were many people in the auditorium) clearly enjoyed watching Molina chew up the scenery. And Dafoe was great, both as his good and evil selves. Foxx was a bit more restrained but was still charismatic.
The real fun came when Spider-Man walks through a portal to MJ and Ned, takes off his mask and turns out to be Garfield. There were actually screams (of joy) in the theater. Which led to even more anticipation as Maguire came in. And the three different Spideys had some great discussions, as the older ones provided advice. For a movie buff, this was nirvana.
The use of a moral dilemma is often what improves movies in this series the most. The struggle between believing in the power of legal, group decisions versus individual responsibility raised Captain America: Civil War to greater heights. Black Panther replayed great classic Greek family drama. The last two Avengers films focused on the fight against fanaticism and the importance of sacrifice for the greater good.
This film focuses on how decisions, whether for good or bad, have consequences. Peter’s desire for “almost anonymity” leads to major consequences. Yes, he was foolish, but hardly looking to create problems. But Aunt May’s desire to promote reform was wonderful — with catastrophic results.
The movie is a bit slow at the beginning; there’s a lot of story in the setup. But once the villains show up, time seems to fly, and the movie is fantastic. It has already set records for attendance in the pandemic era, and its excellence is the major reason.
If you’re a fan of Marvel films, you’ve probably seen the film at least once. If not, you might well decide that it’s worthwhile after seeing this movie.