‘Spider-man: No Way Home’ an affecting end to trilogy
It’s too bad the movie title “Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse” already was taken.
The name of that Academy Award-winning animated film from 2018 would have been an appropriate one for the ambitious, worlds-colliding live-action movie slinging into theaters this week.
However, “Spider-man: No Way Home” feels right the longer you sit with this deeply satisfying conclusion to the excellent trilogy that began with 2017’s “Spiderman: Homecoming,” which solidified a version of Spidey portrayed by the wonderful Tom Holland.
As you may know, any big-screen version of Spiderman long has been the intellectual property of Sony Pictures. The studio already had produced a pair of cutshort Spidey franchises — a trilogy starring Tobey Maguire as the Webslinger in the 2000s and two films with Andrew Garfield as the Wallcrawler in the early 2010s — and Sony Pictures Animation is the studio behind the aforementioned, astonishingly dazzling “Spider-verse.”
However, an unusual deal between Sony and Disneyowned Marvel Studio allowed for this third live-action version of Spider-man to exist within the hugely popular Marvel Cinematic Universe, in films produced by both Marvel and Sony. There have been plenty of reports of a bumpy business road for the studios as they hauled in the box-office riches, but every appearance of Spiderman in the MCU — starting with 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” — has been a win for fans. The handling of this incarnation of Spidey, who has benefited from the futuristic tech of the late Tony Stark, has been handled nearly perfectly.
And now we have “No
Way Home,” a film that threatens to succumb to the weight of its skyscraper-high goals and the inclusion of its many, many noteworthy characters.
However, even though it has a bit of a pacing issue before its universes-altering climactic stretch, it is another largely entertaining ride — one with an ending that should resonate with viewers and have lasting implications in both the MCU and Sony’s future with the character.
Understandably, Sony and Marvel are asking anyone who sees “No Way Home” early on to avoid giving away spoilers, so we’ll do our best to stick with what’s been revealed in preview footage and to what happens very early on in the film.
It picks up exactly where the previous movie, 2019’s “Far From Home,” left Spider-man: with sensational video journalist J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) revealing to the world that the hero is none other than 17-year-old high school senior Peter Parker — and claiming that he is a menace to society.
That, of course, has huge ramifications not only for Holland’s Peter but also for girlfriend MJ (Zendaya of “Dune”) — who’s immediately swarmed on the streets of New York City by a questions-firing, smart phones wielding throng of people— and others including Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, “The Wrestler”) and best pal Ned Leeds (an enjoyable-as-ever Jacob Batalon).
While the revelation gets Peter in hot water with federal authorities, a bigger concern is it threatens to keep MJ and Ned, as well as himself, from being accepted into their dream college, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Peter then turns to sorcerer friend Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Power of the Dog”), who reluctantly agrees to perform the Spell of Forgetting, so that anyone who knows Spider-man is Peter Parker no longer will. With the Strange conjuring underway, however, Peter realizes that would mean MJ, Ned, Aunt May and associate Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, “Chef”), will lose the knowledge, as well.
Not able to stomach this part of the outcome, he interferes with Strange’s work, and, well, all heck breaks loose. Villains from other universes — aka, the previous movie franchises — who know Peter is Spidey travel to this one at the points of their demises at the hands of their Spider-men. Most notably, that means problematic visits from Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus and Electro, with Willem Dafoe (“The Card Counter”), Alfred Molina (“Chocolat”) and Jamie Foxx (“Just Mercy”) reprising their respective villainous roles.
What unfolds in “No Way Home” is more involved than that, but we’ll go no further with details. Rumors have been swirling for months about what may happen in this film, but, assuming you’ve avoided reported leaks to this point, you can wait a little longer to find out for yourself.
We have our nits to pick with the screenplay by returning writers Chris Mckenna and Erik Sommers, but they have packed a lot of good stuff into this complicated work. Writing this movie could not have been a simple task.
The same goes for directing it, and our compliments go to the likewise returning Jon Watts. We prefer the work he did on the smaller, more-grounded first installment, but this is the much more challenging job — if not quite as enjoyable a movie as “Homecoming.”
“Spider-man: No Way Home” is in theaters. Rated: PG-13 for sequences of action/violence, some language and brief suggestive comments. Runtime: 2 hours, 28 minutes. Stars: 3.5 (of four).