SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME teaser poster | ©2021 Sony/Marvel

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME teaser poster | ©2021 Sony/Marvel

Rating: PG-13
Stars: Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zendaya, Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, J.K. Simmons
Writers: Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers, based on characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Director: Jon Watts
Distributor: Sony/Columbia
Release Date: December 17, 2021

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME is the ninth SPIDER-MAN movie of the twenty-first century (we’re not counting all the MCU movies in which the character appeared but didn’t have his name in the title). It’s the third SPIDER-MAN movie to star Tom Holland as the young web-slinging New Yorker, as well as the third directed by Jon Watts. These might be collectively called the HOME trilogy, as the preceding two are titled SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017) and SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019).

Spider-Man, aka Peter Parker, was one of the people who got blipped out of existence by the alien Thanos in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. Happily, thanks to the Avengers, Peter and the rest of the half of the universe that got deleted were restored to existence in AVENGERS: ENDGAME, though they returned five years after they’d left. A slightly disoriented but still game Peter then fought alongside the Avengers to defeat Thanos.

Peter, still trying to come to grips with having missed five years, went on a senior high school trip in FAR FROM HOME. He had to save the world from Mysterio, who revealed Peter’s secret identity.

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME Green Goblin poster | ©2021 Sony/Marvel

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME Green Goblin poster | ©2021 Sony/Marvel

As SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME begins, Peter, his family and friends are all experiencing the fallout of that revelation. A lot of irate citizens have taken Mysterio’s side, and even those who appreciate Peter take the hero worship way too far.

Peter has neither the ego nor the resources of his late mentor, billionaire Tony Stark. Peter doesn’t want the accolades, and he doesn’t have the money to get away from the sometimes literal bricks hurled at him.

When unfair consequences hit Peter’s girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), he decides to do something. Wouldn’t it be great if somehow people could forget that they’d ever heard Peter Parker and Spider-Man was the same person?

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME Doc Ock poster | ©2021 Sony/Marvel

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME Doc Ock poster | ©2021 Sony/Marvel

In his adventures with the Avengers, Peter met the wizard Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Peter asks Dr. Strange for help. Since they’ve been through the wars together, Dr. Strange is inclined to do Peter a favor. Except Peter has a few caveats, and the spell winds up going sideways.

Beyond this, it’s difficult to talk about what follows with any specificity. In very broad strokes, Peter faces a moral dilemma that’s very in keeping with Spider-Man’s general ethos. Describing it would give too much of the game away, but screenwriters Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers have found a very respectable way of keeping both audience and characters emotionally engaged.

It can be said that there is a huge amount of action, some of it very well-conceived and well-staged, and some of it afflicted with the problems of dark CGI in night scenes and over-brisk editing. Motion-capture performances are wonderful, and those characters fit right in with the entirely live-action actors.

Holland has charm and integrity, and Cumberbatch makes Strange convincingly irritable and uncomfortable in their bonding moments. Zendaya and Batalon offer strong support, and Marisa Tomei has warm conviction as Peter’s Aunt May. There are some other outstanding cast members here, but they probably shouldn’t be mentioned to anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet.

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME Electro poster | ©2021 Sony/Marvel

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME Electro poster | ©2021 Sony/Marvel

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME also has much more humor than we might have anticipated. Depending on one’s level of interest in discussing SPIDER-MAN over the last twenty years, some of it qualifies as laugh-until-tears-roll funny. There are scenes that may in fact be scripted, but where the actors seem to be jamming, improvising wholly in character.

It’s delightful, and it’s also thoroughly earned. This is the kind of thing that wouldn’t work without the decades of history and hours of film that came before, and so most movies are in no position to try it. The SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME filmmakers embrace the opportunities. They manage to dramatize a lot of what we’re thinking without breaking the fourth wall.

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME deals honestly with subject matter at the heart of a lot of storytelling across all genres: what it means to be a good person. At the same time, it’s idiosyncratic aspects elicit true joy.

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME poster | ©2021 Sony/Marvel

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME poster | ©2021 Sony/Marvel

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