Spider-Man: No Way Home Image

Dr. Stephen Strange could have had a hell of a side hustle among celebrity parents who paid to have their offspring enrolled at an elite college.

In Spider-Man: No Way Home, high school seniors Peter Parker (Tom Holland), MJ (Zendaya), and Ned (Jacob Batalon) are all lamenting their lack of acceptance letters resulting from the aftermath of Far From Home‘s destructive battle with Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal).

Realizing the academic damage it has done to his pals, Peter seeks Strange’s time-bending abilities to drag a magnet over the VHS of his past so that his public link to Spider-Man will be all but forgotten. Then, his friends can ultimately land that sweet spot at their college of choice. Unfortunately, with Peter’s penchant for nervous waffling, Strange’s spell becomes botched, leading to a fissure in the delicate space-time continuum, out of which spills a number of Spidey’s past (cinematic) nemeses and generating further havoc than any mere pack of tenacious TMZ photographers could cause him.

I am hesitant to go beyond that in terms of setup for fear of ruining any tricks No Way Home may have up its web-slinging sleeves, but it’s not too much of a stretch to catch on to what the creators have in store for the audience.

“…Peter seeks Strange’s time-bending abilities to drag a magnet over the VHS of his past…”

The events involving Peter and the wizened wizard Strange’s verbal sparring begin with a “live in front of a studio audience” vibe that threatens to derail the film into more slapsticky tones. Thankfully, director John Watts (who’s behind all of the Holland-era Spidey films) allows writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers an opportunity to play in the multiverse sandbox. It’s of no surprise that the first villain to emerge is Doc Ock (Alfred Molina, not missing a beat after his near-two-decade-old role), and the writers get quite a bit of mileage of folding in Spider-Man’s cinematic legacy. It seems they borrowed heavily from the superlative animated Into The Spiderverse rather than sticking to the Marvel template, which is to the film’s ultimate benefit.

No Way Home shows maturity alongside Parker’s growth. He moves from a nervous teen to a young adult forced to face heavy moral quandaries, both alone and with the help of his friends. Holland evolves from the stammering student in the perennial shadows of the more muscular Avengers to flex his own dramatic muscles here. His decisions have consequences, and having lived through the “Blip,” he understands the repercussions.

The cast includes a revolving door of familiar faces, from Aunt May (Marissa Tomei) and Stark Industries stalwart Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) to some long-lost stars from the Marvel galaxy. Sure, it is heavy on nostalgia, but it’s inventive enough to give meaning to the cameos. And while it runs a bulky 148 minutes, the film manages to bounce along to its enthusiastic rhythm by wrapping up Peter’s journey and serving as a live-action primer to the multiverse.

While it works far better within the confined of animation, it’s massaged in here to feel like more than just a narrative crutch. It’s nowhere near the intimacy of Homecoming and Far from Home. Still, considering the heavy lifting it’s required to perform, it makes for a fitting grand finale for one of Marvel’s (and Sony’s) most enduring heroes.

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

Directed: John Watts

Written: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers

Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Marissa Tomei, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfred Molina, Jon Favreau, etc.

Movie score: 7.5/10

Spider-Man: No Way Home Image

"…shows maturity alongside Parker's growth."

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