Film review: ‘SPIDERMAN: NO WAY HOME’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Only a Marvel Comics scholar could keep up with all the phases and ages off the Marvel universe and its equivalent cinematic incarnations. Even non-superfans, however, will have probably heard that Spiderman: No Way Home is the first film in what’s known as the Marvel multi-verse.  Yes, there’s now multiple universes of Marvel films coming at us.  While that might seem a terrifying prospect to moviegoers rendered unwillingly punch drunk from the brain-pummelling, CGI-drenched, mega-budget assaults of the monolithic Marvel movie franchise, don’t write off Spiderman: No Way Home. Despite its very generous 148-minute length and a few slow patches, this film marks a refreshing return to the fun action-adventure we enjoyed 20 years ago in the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man films.

No Way Home picks up directly from the last film Far From Home where Spider-Man (Tom Holland) has just defeated phoney superhero Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal).  Instead of being celebrated as a hero, Spidey’s condemned as a menace and outed as Peter Parker on J. Jonah Jameson’s (J K Simmons) Info Wars-style scandal show.  Dismayed at this sudden loss of anonymity and the trauma his unmasking causes others, including girlfriend M.J. (Zendaya), Peter calls on Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to try and magically extinguish the world’s knowledge of his identity.  Fiddling with fabric of space time has dire consequences, though, as a host of Spider-Man’s villainous enemies invade his world from alternate universes. It’s no spoiler to say these include Dr. Octopus (Alfred Molina), Electro (Jamie fox), Sandman (Thomas Hayden Church) and The Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe).  Their arrival presents Spidey with a crushing moral dilemma as he’s forced – along with Dr Strange, MJ and their comedy relief buddy Ned (Jacob Batalon) – to combat a menace partly of his making.

This film works because, like the first two Sam Raimi Spiderman films, director Jon Watts deftly balances a muscular sci-fi action adventure against a quirky, fun teen rites-of-passage story.  Here, Spider-Man battles each villain in dynamic, sometimes thrilling, action set pieces. A fight between Spidey and Dr Octopus on a bridge filled with traffic is one of the year’s action movie highlights.  Pleasingly, this film does a much better job of having Spiderman combat multiple villains than we saw in Spider-Man 3 from 2007.   The effects off Spiderman swinging through the city are for the most part wonderfully photorealistic, despite the so far incurable problem of floaty movement.  One scene, set in what Dr Strange refers to as the Mirror dimension, is possibly the most mind blowing, trippy effects sequence of the year, a little like Inception on steroids.

All of this would be empty spectacle, though, if there wasn’t an emotional connection to the characters.  Thankfully, Tom Holland once again succeeds in making Spiderman/Peter Parker a very likeable livewire.  His mix of self-deprecating humour, inventiveness and courage in the face of adolescent uncertainty makes him one of the Marvel World’s most engaging characters.  Within the limitations of their roles the supporting cast do a mostly fine job and the scriptwriters should be commended for giving the gaggle of villains enough screen time to justify their inclusion.

There are also some story twists and devices here that were very welcome and brought squeals of delight from a very appreciative audience at the preview. Much of this has already been revealed on the internet but I’ll refrain from spoilers here.

Still, not everything works here, the attempts at comical banter between the young stars occasionally fall flat and a few supposed gags go on too long.  There’s also some of the dreaded inconsistent toughness including inconsistent wizard toughness as the supposedly all-powerful genius Dr Strange is tricked and defeated in combat a bit too easily at one point.

There’s not quite enough story or cinema magic to justify this film’s exceptional length but there are plenty of wonderful moments along the way making Spiderman: No Way Home one of the surprising treats of cinema in 2021.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Superhero/ action/ sci-fi.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Jon Watts.

Release date: 16th Dec 2021.

Running time: 148 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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