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SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021) Review

Neil reviews Sony Pictures SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME saying the film “sets a new bar for superhero event cinema.” Catch it in UK cinemas now.

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Spider-Man: No Way Home (Sony Pictures)

Spider-Man: No Way Home is in UK cinemas now and comes to US theatres on Friday, December 17, 2021.

Synopsis

For the first time in the cinematic history of Spider-Man, our friendly neighbourhood hero is unmasked and no longer able to separate his normal life from the high-stakes of being a Super Hero. When he asks for help from Doctor Strange the stakes become even more dangerous, forcing him to discover what it truly means to be Spider-Man.

Review

There’s no escaping the fact that the latest co-op between Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios has become one of the most anticipated movies of all time. In an era of instant gratification it’s incredible to see a property like No Way Home trending on social media every day in the run up to its release.

But with the hype-train running at breakneck speed, is there any way that Tom Holland’s sixth appearance (third solo) as Peter Parker can live up to the build-up?

In short, yes. Writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers have been able to craft a blockbuster which genuinely doesn’t skimp on heart or on scale. Amazingly for a film which features no less than five villains alongside both MJ (Zendaya), Ned (Jacob Batalon), May (Marissa Tomei), Happy (Jon Favreau) and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) the focus still remains on Peter Parker.

Directing his third Spidey movie, Jon Watts has been able to craft a franchise within the MCU which puts a very human hero at its core. Compared to Iron Man or any of Marvel’s intergalactic characters, Holland’s version of Peter Parker is very much a moral compass amongst the madness. That hasn’t changed here, even in the face of the multiverse falling apart, it’s Peter’s redemptive conviction which is the driving force behind this Spider-Man’s success.

There’s that word, multiverse. It’s a concept that cinemagoers are going to need to get used to in the coming years. With both Marvel and DC exploring the concept in upcoming films it seems the idea of these multiverses is here to stay. Luckily No Way Home brings viewers up to speed with painstaking clarity, taking steps to ensure that the concept is easily palatable.

Picking up directly after the events of 2019’s Far From Home, Peter has been exposed to the world as Mysterio’s dying act. Framing Peter for his murder has made Mysterio a martyr and Peter public enemy #1. With the lives of anyone connected to him in tatters, Peter turns to Doctor Strange in an effort to make the world forget that he was ever Spider-Man. An act which brings about the return of a number of classic villains.

It’s no secret that Sony Pictures has delved in to almost two-decades worth of Spider-Man history to conjure No Way Home’s narrative. The returns of Green Goblin (Willem daFoe), Alfred Molina (Doctor Octopus), Jamie Foxx (Electro), Rhys Ifans (Lizard) and Thomas Haden Church (Sandman) herald in a live-action version of the hugely successful Spider-Verse. Though the results aren’t as cohesive as its animated counterpart, Watts choice to focus on past iterations of the character play to audience expectations perfectly. At my screening thunderous applause broke out countless times to deafening levels illustrating the appeal the character has had to a whole generation of movie-goers.

Arguably in another corner of the multiverse there’s a version of this movie in which the fan-service deafens the dramatic impact of Peter’s journey. But thankfully on our Earth the idea of deconstructing the character only to have him learn exactly it means to be Peter Parker is nothing short of heart breaking. Tom Holland puts on a career defining performance, showing huge emotional range beyond even that of Avengers: Endgame. Amidst the chaos his presence is magnetic and deservedly dominates the screen.

The opportunities which No Way Home throws at its young cast almost outweigh the film’s overall scope. Zendaya is easily the most comfortable of Peter’s two closest friends, both in her role and within the narrative. Despite being the youngest incarnation of the Peter-plus-love-interest dynamic, the connection between Holland and Zendaya feels the most mature and well developed. Their chemistry both on and off screen is undeniable. The two bounce off each other like old pros. MJ’s devotion to Peter’s cause and his equal devotion to her future is one of the most well-developed aspects of the busy plot. Peter’s support network would be incomplete without Ned. Finally, we learn a little about Ned’s family life, nicely rounding out his character. Batalon’s performance doesn’t reach the same heights as Holland and Zendaya but he is still able to show a huge emotional range.  

Of the Sinister Five (sorry there isn’t a hidden sixth) it’s Doc Ock and Green Goblin who take the lion’s share of the screen time. Electro, Lizard and Sandman all take on supporting roles each with their own inbuilt character moments. But for Doc Ock and Goblin there’s time to reacclimate to their characters and develop, plus resolve, their issues in new and satisfying ways. As a group there’s both comedic interplay and some brutal fight scenes. Squashed in to the ambitious 2.5hr runtime there are conveniently placed explanations for reviving previously dead characters which circumvent any narrative gaps. Character updates and retcons are also explained away with ease never standing at odds with the gleeful experience of the spectacle.

To further delve into the plot of No Way Home would expose to many of its wondrous secrets. Its ambition is unparalleled in the marketplace. But on a reported $200 million budget it looks, sounds, thwips and swings its way to the screen with stylish aplomb. Cinematographer Mauro Fiore makes use of every inch if the IMAX frame creating a lush landscape for the characters to inhabit. The various action set pieces are full of life and give the film plenty of re-watch value beyond that of its explosive narrative. Likewise, the VFX team are able to bring enhanced and full CGI characters to life to the best of their ability. The mirror universe, owned by Doctor Strange was positively nauseating on the IMAX screen but I loved every second.

No review could skip over the excellent soundscape provided Michael Giacchino. His third Spidey score brings with it themes of movies past (and really past!) tying everything on screen together in a neat, musical bow. Incorporating hints of villain themes by Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer and James Horner is the icing on the cake for a movie which – honestly – is a near-perfect fan experience.

Verdict

Spider-Man: No Way Home sets a new bar for superhero event cinema by being simultaneously a huge multiversal party and an emotional story about what it means to be Peter Parker.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


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