SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (released in December of 2021) is the latest installment of Marvel Studios’ and Columbia Pictures’ Spider-Man series, within and part of a larger arc of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). The movie has been one of the most financially successful (make of that what you will) mainstream studio productions to date. British pretty boy actor Tom Holland continues to portray American high school student Peter Parker/Spider-Man with a sunny disposition and wholesome sincerity that I appreciate. His enthusiasm, emotional sensitivity, and well-meaning naivete come through again, with the actress Zendaya (Holland’s real life girlfriend) affirming these qualities of his through her role as Michelle Jones-Watson (mainly called MJ), Parker’s love interest. For my taste, the on-hand funny quips to criminals and police officers could have been laid on even thicker by Holland’s Parker to better match Stan Lee’s comic book character creation’s way of speaking that I remember fondly reading while a child in the 1970s. But, I’m not complaining. Holland is so naturally adorable, offering up the lightest movie portrayal of the daring web-slinger in comparison to his two predecessors, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. And in such a historical time of social upheaval and chaos, this unique screen presence of grounded, sincere, yet bubbly lightness is exactly what I need for good, fun cinematic escape. Let other tights-wearing crimefighters, such as Batman and Wolverine, be the dark tortured souls. Spidey is a likable, innocent-hearted, fun-loving kid– even though and in spite of experiencing more than his share of loss and alienation. Refreshing.
This latest Spider-Man story, which picks up right where its 2019 prequel SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME leaves off, is largely unremarkable and formulaic. In order to clear his name from being both exposed to the world as Spider-Man and wrongly slandered for murder and other misdeeds by the recently defeated criminal Quentin Beck (Jacob Gyllenhaal), Peter Parker enlists the help of the mighty sorcerer superhero Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). As has occurred in many science fiction/fantasy films and TV shows, the big plot device is to change the past somehow so that the present and future are different for the protagonist and, by extension, everyone else. Often, for example, a time machine of some sort is used or a divine being, such as an angel (think of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, which still gets aired on TV around Christmastime, I imagine), steps in and uses magic. In this case, it’s the impatient and authority-wielding Dr. Strange who is to be that convenient change agent via having all people forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man– with a few exceptions. The spell Dr. Strange casts gets bungled because of Peter’s repeatedly interrupting him to fine-tune/modify his request. There are some cute, mildly amusing exchanges between Spidey and Dr. Strange, eliciting associations in our own lives so many of us viewers have of witnessing an older, condescending authority figure chastising a younger underling. In any case, this bungling mysteriously opens portals of two other universes between them and the one in which Tom Holland’s Peter Parker exists, thereby introducing us the audience to the “multiverse.” That’s where the fun begins, particularly when the two other Peter Parkers/Spider-Mans show up.
I had vaguely heard that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield would reprise their roles in this movie, but, honestly, I wasn’t sure. Five actors also reprise their super villain roles from earlier Spider-Man movies, making this latest show a reunion fest of sorts. Maguire’s quiet and pensive Peter Parker of three Spider-Man movies between 2002 and 2007 gets to dialogue with Garfield’s especially insecure and comparatively less defined but more overtly sorrowful Parker. These two men’s brief exchange shortly before the final fight scenes against the powerful antagonists had me smiling and laughing, such as when Maguire’s Parker repeatedly tells Garfield’s that he is “amazing,” a blatant reference to the latter actor’s starring in two “Amazing Spider-Man” films in 2012 and 2014. Such self consciousness of writing whereby a movie acknowledges and jokes about itself can be witty and clever or fall flat. Fortunately, the decent script writing in this instance and terrific, tongue-in-cheek delivery by Maguire and Garfield make for great entertainment and some moments of uniqueness in an otherwise cliche-filled story. Those handful of minutes– along with other brief, funny bits of dialogue and warm affection expressed between the three Peters — wonderfully stand out within a nearly two-and-a half-hour film. However, and in addition, the sweet, heart-felt chemistry between Tom Holland and Zendaya elicited my inner romantic, which cast a pleasant feel-good mood over this generally routine spectacle of action cinema. Finally, worth mentioning among the mind-numbing handful of CGI-enhanced super villains, Willem Dafoe adds a big dose of fun camp as the sinister, over-the-top Norman Osborn/Green Goblin. His demonic, dramatic face is fabulously Medieval.
I’m glad I waited to rent the movie to stream on my TV instead of needlessly raising my anxiety over risking Covid-19 exposure to watch it on a big screen. This was not that great a movie by any means. But, then, no movie is worth me going through such extra stress these days. Besides, I paused it often to take assorted breaks. As I age, I more appreciate the practical control that comes with having a remote on hand over passively watching moving pictures on a large screen, all encompassing that that so often is. For something lost, there’s something else gained.