What do you call the opposite of a reboot? The “system overload” of “Spider-Man” movies, Sony’s ninth (and almost certainly not last) feature-length riff on the friendly neighborhood superhero, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” seeks to connect Tom Holland’s spin on the web-slinger with the previous live-action versions of the character by first reassembling a rogue’s gallery of all the villains Peter Parker has vanquished to date. Returning director Jon Watts — whose bright, slightly dorky touch lends a welcome continuity to this latest trilogy — wrangles the unwieldy premise into a consistently entertaining superhero entry, tying up two decades of loose ends in the process. Note: Spider-Man: No Way Home 2021 Streaming
Granted, the idea should be familiar to anyone who saw 2018’s animated “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” which introduced the thrilling possibility that virtually anyone could be Spidey. But whereas that toon suggested infinite paths for the character going forward, “No Way Home” serves to wrap up what has come before, starting by reviving Spidey’s past adversaries, forcing Holland’s Peter Parker to face off against five of the villains pulled in from the movies that preceded him.
It all happens because Peter’s life has been turned upside down by Mysterio (the bad guy he vanquished at the end of “Far From Home” two years ago), who managed to unmask Spidey before biting the dust. Desperate to protect his family and friends, Peter appeals to all-powerful wizard Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to cast a spell that will make everyone forget his identity. Instead, the plan backfires, calling everyone who ever knew that Peter was Spider-Man out of their dimension and into his. Note: Spider-Man Movie: No Way Home Streaming in Italiano
To make things a little easier for the movie to manage, it’s really only the villains who answer Strange’s calling — which is impressive enough, considering that means enlisting Alfred Molina (Doc Ock), Willem Dafoe (Green Goblin), Jamie Fox (Electro), Thomas Haden Church (Sandman) and Rhys Ifans (The Lizard) to reprise their roles. Meanwhile, to make things easier for Spider-Man to manage, none is even remotely as intimidating as we remember them.
“No Way Home” keeps the surprises coming up to (and even through) the end credits, but perhaps the most unexpected is Peter’s decision — together with girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and best bud Ned (Jacob Batalon) — not to defeat these villains the way his predecessors did. Instead, Peter hopes to “cure” the goons of the mutations that are making them unhappy, even if it means defying Doctor Strange (one of several characters on loan from the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe, in which Holland’s Spider-Man has been making now-regular appearances).
Peter’s empathy seems perfectly fitting for a movie that targets a fresh wave of idealistic teens very much engaged with questioning everything Western civilization thought it knew about crime and punishment, power and privilege. As a critic who grew up on movies in which the bad guys were routinely impaled (Tony Goldywn in “Ghost”), decapitated (Dennis Hopper in “Speed”) or otherwise made to pay dearly for their sins, it’s fascinating to encounter an escapist Hollywood offering that seeks to understand the root of these characters’ megalomaniacal behavior.
The reason, as Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers’ screenplay tries to explain, is that this version of Peter is still dealing with Mysterio’s death. In that reaction, we see the franchise trying to make the character more fully dimensional and dare I say “realistic” — much as 21st-century Bond “Casino Royale” and Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” did in recognizing the physical toll saving the world had on their respective protagonists.
For my money, Holland has been the least interesting of the three big-screen Spider-Men, coming across younger and less mature than Maguire or Garfield. Until now. This simple plot development makes him more than just an acrobat in spandex, juggling awkward high school experiences with flashy visual effects battles — although both elements carry through to this film, in which college acceptance carries equal weight with a big CG showdown at the Statue of Liberty. He’s further disrupting the Marvel-movie formula (which already got a massive upset with the “Infinity War”-ending “snap” and inevitable time-travel gimmick it took to reverse it) and even going so far as to redefine audiences’ collective notion of heroism in the process.
As complicated as it all sounds, “No Way Home” sticks to a relatively straightforward idea of the multiverse, taking extra care to walk us through the logical loop-de-loops its plot requires. Whenever Doctor Strange shows up in a Marvel movie, audiences ought to be prepared for some magical monkey business — the kind of rule-bending that essentially makes anything possible. Superhero movies are only as good as their villains, and it’s a thrill to be reunited with Doc Ock and Green Goblin. Though the other three baddies were relatively disappointing in their original incarnations, this film focuses on the tragic dimension of their characters and their capacity for redemption.
It’s not quite so successful at identifying the rage building in Peter Parker, whose good intentions directly result in an irreversible loss. While incendiary news reports — from conspiracy-monger J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), an unlikely constant across the multiverse — paint him as a menace, Spidey is torn between the instinct to help his adversaries and a much darker impulse to seek revenge (a watered-down version of the Jedi-Sith tug-of-war we’ve seen in “Star Wars” protagonists). Though Holland looks too much like an eager Boy Scout for us to believe he’ll go rogue, that conflict serves as a promising setup for the movie’s obvious midpoint twist — one that trailers have hidden, but reviews really ought to unpack. Be warned that spoilers will follow.