'Spider-Man: No Way Home' review: a dizzying trip into the multiverse

Tom Holland delivers his most mature performance in his latest superhero outing that's more than just a gateway to another Marvel movie

Not-so-friendly neighbourhood: Tom Holland in 'Spider-Man: No Way Home'. Sony Pictures / AP
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Tom Holland recently admitted he’s been having a pre-midlife crisis and may give up acting. If that’s the case, it would be a crying shame.

His new film, Spider-Man: No Way Home, is easily his best outing as Marvel’s web-slinger since he first arrived in Captain America: Civil War.

While he returned to help his fellow superheroes defeat the purple-headed, planet-crusher Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, he was one of many.

In his first two solo outings, 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home, the adventures were fun but felt like they were building to something more significant.

No Way Home is exactly that.

The third Spidey movie to be directed by Jon Watts, it embraces the multiverse which, if you saw 2018 animated film, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, you’ll be familiar with – a world of infinite possibilities and parallel universes.

No Way Home takes that idea and runs – or should that be swings? – with it.

It picks up directly after its predecessor, when Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio revealed Spider-Man’s real identity: high school pupil Peter Parker.

His anonymity blown, Parker suddenly becomes “the most famous person in the entire world”, which might sound like fun but is anything but.

Lambasted by The Daily Bugle news site as a troublemaker, Parker’s exposure sees not only his life turned upside down, but that of his friends, girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and best mate Ned (Jacob Batalon).

Their applications to study at MIT are all turned down because of the controversy, with many believing Parker was responsible for the death of Mysterio.

In desperation, he turns to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), the Sorcerer Supreme who joined Spider-Man and the rest of the Avengers in the battle against Thanos.

By comparison, Peter’s request is simple. He wants an incantation to ensure everyone forgets that he’s Spider-Man.

But just as Strange is conjuring the spell, Peter starts making requests, so that MJ, Ned and his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) will still know who he is.

Tom Holland, left, and Benedict Cumberbatch in 'Spider-Man: No Way Home'. Photo: Sony Pictures

Messing with the good Doctor’s magic is not advisable, and before he knows what is happening, there is a villain from an alternate dimension attacking him on a New York bridge wedged full of traffic.

The filmmakers requested no spoilers are revealed, so it might be easier to cease the synopsis here.

But while the trailer shows that this bridge-bashing foe is Doctor Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) – aka Doc Ock, who appeared in 2004’s Spider-Man 2 – suffice it to say, he’s not the only returning character from earlier iterations of your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.

All can be found on the internet if you look – this plot has not exactly been a closely guarded secret – but where’s the fun in that?

The script, by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, is an absolute riot, with myriad nods back to films that came outside the MCU but very much inside the Spider-Verse.

You’ll also find references to everything from Star Wars Lego to a certain classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon.

The writing is frequently funny, mining humour from the absolute chaos and confusion of characters colliding in this way.

Of course, any film that makes callbacks to previous generations could be accused of stunt-storytelling, but this a film that comes deeply embedded in the MCU.

As any fan will know, Marvel’s tapestry of stories is interwoven tighter than one of Spidey’s webs.

No Way Home feeds into the coming Doctor Strange sequel (the title Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a bit of a giveaway there. That it’s directed by Sam Raimi, who helmed the first three Spider-Man movies, starring Tobey Maguire, is also intriguing).

Tom Holland, Jacob Batalon and Zendaya in 'Spider-Man: No Way Home'. Photo: Sony Pictures

Yet No Way Home is more than just a gateway to another Marvel movie.

Holland’s performance is his most mature to date, as he realises he needs to sacrifice everything that’s dear to him to save the universe from fracturing.

That oft-quoted chestnut “with great power comes great responsibility” gets trotted out, but it’s more than just a slogan here, as Peter Parker tries to find the good in everyone.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Director: Jon Watts

Stars: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon 

Rating:*****

The visual effects are utterly splendid, notably the de-ageing techniques that have been used on Molina and others, far outstripping the work that was done on Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman just two years back.

A kaleidoscopic trip into the multiverse is also dazzling, with Watts and his supreme team of VFX wizards – every bit as magical as Doctor Strange – pulling off some truly wondrous tricks of their own.

As is customary now with Marvel, the film finishes with two post-credit stings – both of which feel like essential viewing as the Spider-Verse throws its web ever wider.

In a year of Dune, No Time to Die and Venom: Let there be Carnage, No Way Home might just have trumped them all. It’s this season’s blockbuster to beat.

Updated: December 15, 2021, 5:54 AM
Spider-Man: No Way Home

Director: Jon Watts

Stars: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon 

Rating:*****

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