At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Spider-Man: No Way Home with Special Guest Reviewer TinyJuly

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Superhero/ Stars: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, J. B. Smoove, Martin Starr, Benedict Wong, Jamie Foxx, Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church, Rhys Ifans, Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Hannibal Buress, J. K. Simmons, Paula Newsome, Arian Moayed/ Runtime: 148 minutes

I think it should be said that, with few exceptions, the art form of cinema plain and simply is not usually able to recreate what it is like for a person when they are reading a comic book. Indeed whereas quite a few talented scribes and artists who are the creative forces behind the numerous literary works at Marvel can month in and month out give the reader a multitude of partnerships as well as solo outings with years and years of pop culture legacy to them, bringing these characters into the realm of live action cinema is usually bogged down with significant limits in the way with everything from scheduling dilemmas and financial matters to just time itself prohibiting actors from being allowed to stay the same age eternally and thereby play their respective characters forever. Yet what has made the MCU so novel and distinct however is how wonderful of a job this franchise has done in permitting you, the viewer to believe that, when it comes to this cinematic world, anything is truly possible. Yes the boundaries of this distinct art form are all still in play, but even the most tasking of planning is balanced out by an extraordinary degree of aspiration to bring down as many barriers as possible. Indeed the idea of bringing together a group of heroes like Thor, Hulk, and Iron Man to name but a few in a cinematic series that resembled both in tone and heart what we read on the printed page may have seemed impossible at one time, but this is one idea that seems fairly simple now that we as movie goers are close to a decade removed from the initial release of 2012’s The Avengers and have gone on the journey that the MCU wanted us to go on since then from Iron Man 3 all the way to the latest Avengers film back in 2019. Suffice it to say that it is in this still fairly new tradition that the latest entry, and slice of cinema I am reviewing today, Spider-Man: No Way Home gets a lot of inspiration from and the end result is truly remarkable and, dare I say it, amazing. Indeed here is a slice of cinema that has the desire to propel forward the narrative of the MCU’s Peter Parker in the direct aftermath of his previous solo outing, but is also a film that desires to immerse itself in the astonishing, albeit mixed-bag, legacy of the arachnid hero on the silver screen. Suffice it to say this is one balancing act that is quite the complicated stunt to pull off, but honestly the fact that it is able to do so results in a slice of cinema that, when looking at all of its other just as incredible attributes from performances to helmsmanship, is truly both impressive as well as the film that fans of the hero truly have been waiting for.

The plot is as follows: Spider-Man: No Way Home gets underway as we are right off the bat introduced to a core component of the titular hero that has seemingly been a part of his being right from the start and that is his inner anguish and woe. Yes Peter Parker might be a seemingly cheerful, happy, and quip-aplenty young man, but at the same time he is also a teen who would like to, for once, be like everyone else, but sadly can’t because of what he knows he must fulfill with his skills and also because he has to usually keep his secret identity from the people he cares the most about lest those who would love to harm him might come after them too. However this inner anguish is about to be taken to tragic new levels when, in the aftermath of his previous adventure, a loud-mouthed internet nut job by the name of J. Jonah Jameson ousts Peter’s identity and what he looks like to the entire planet. As such, we see that Peter literally can’t go anywhere without people either wanting a picture or looking at him as nothing more than a punk or criminal. Yet more than that we see that what hurts the Web Slinger is the effect that this revelation is having on the people he cares about namely his Aunt May, his girlfriend M.J., and his best friend Ned since they are also being hounded and being looked accused just as much as he is simply because of their close bond with him. Yet perhaps the biggest blow to the heart and the spirit is soon issued when we see our intrepid hero, his love, and his best friend are all summarily denied admission to their dream college, no less than a little known school called the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (or MIT for short), specifically because they are all associated with the infamous webslinger. It is at this point where he is at his lowest and also out of a desire to just stop causing people any further undue tragedy and calamity in their lives that we see ol’ Webhead make a trip over to a little location in the Big Apple known as 177A Bleecker Street in order to visit fellow superhero Doctor Strange to see if the Sorcerer Supreme, who he had fought alongside previously in other Marvel adventures, can do anything to help. More specifically, we soon learn that our intrepid web slinger politely asks if Strange could possibly conjure up a spell that would result in everyone on the planet forgetting once more just who the person under the mask is. However, things go awry when in the middle of the spell being cast, Peter makes a few adjustments to his wish and requests that Aunt May, M.J., Ned, and Happy Hogan be permitted to remember who he really is. A choice that inadvertently causes Strange to not only lose control of the spell, but also has the unintended collateral damage effect of creating a number of holes to appear in the multiverse. Holes that soon see Peter’s known reality being besieged by a group of other individuals who are also aware of just who our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man really is and they aren’t exactly friendly. Now it is up to Spider-Man to go up against perhaps the biggest group of foes he has ever had to solo and hopefully find a way to fix this mess before all of reality as he knows is completely and utterly lost.

Now it isn’t that big of a spoiler to tell you that this slice of cinema is overflowing with a rogue’s gallery that we had last seen in either the films helmed by Webb or by Raimi. Yet even though this potentially creates a trap for this slice of cinema to fall into, like what happened with Spider-Man 3 in 2007 or The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in 2014 respectively, a lot of what is just plain astonishing about this film is not only how it juggles all these distinct characters, but also in regards to how it places the narrative in a spot that permits on the film to think back on the legacy this character has had in cinema. A feat made possible since besides each villain getting a distinct part to operate in the proceedings, we see that their various bonds with Peter and their situations all also have a method of getting to the heart of our favorite webhead and it’s an incredible ode at that. As a result I guess you should know that it was a downright joy to see such antagonists as Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock and Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin again since those were two cinematic takes on these iconic characters that, even all these years later, still hold up phenomenally well. Yet even with that in mind, what I really respected about this slice of cinema was seeing it actually offer antagonists who might not have been given the best characterization on their first time up actually get a chance to get it right this go-around. Perhaps the best example of this is in regards to what the film does with Jamie Foxx’s take on Electro as he no longer looks like the rejected 5th Blue-Man Group member and more like a legit and chilling menace, but even Thomas Haden Church and Rhys Ifans’ takes on Sandman and Lizard respectively also benefit from this approach immensely (even though I still feel Church was already perfect casting for Sandman).

Now in terms of performances I will say that a smorgasbord of quippy comedy and on-point character pathos means that every single person in the cast is able to give their absolute best and as such this is one ensemble that, no matter the role, is truly a blast to watch. Indeed as the titular hero, Tom Holland once again does a terrific job even as he also gives us a performance that shows just as much in the way of growth as it does what we’ve come to know and love from his take on the character. We also see that, as Spidey’s lady love, Zendaya does terrific in the role of M.J., Marisa Tomei does brilliant again in her reprisal of Aunt May whilst actually getting a more in-depth arc this go-around, and Benedict Cumberbatch gives a wonderfully and comically weary take on Doctor Strange who is torn between saving reality and having to babysit Spidey and his friends. Yet, much in the same vein as he did when he first menaced audiences in 2002, I think some of the most incredible work in this film comes from Willem Dafoe in his reprisal of Green Goblin/Norman Osborn. Indeed not only does Dafoe go from mild-mannered to psychotic with terrifying ease, but every time he shows up you will literally find yourself hooked on him and everything he is doing at that moment in the film. Suffice it to say that if there’s anything to be irked about with respect to his performance it’s that there isn’t more of him than what we wind up getting. We also see that behind the camera, film helmer Jon Watts is once again brilliant as he yet again is able to give those who love the other 2 films exactly what they want including action beats that are truly riveting and comedy that will make you laugh. However, Watts also distinguishes this entry by also choosing to make it the darkest Tom Holland Spidey solo outing to date. Indeed the menaces he is combating are more threating than anyone he has squared off with on his own before, but we also see that the emotion and growth of the character is also raised in a manner that all beautifully (in a tragic manner) makes the audience member feel like they legitimately earned everything that they are watching rather than just being given it. Finally, I think you will notice that this review is really not that comprehensive when you stop and look back at the whole thing. Trust me when I say that this is not an accident by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, this is because I am doing what some of my fellow reviewers have failed to do and that is keep this slice of cinema’s multitude of secrets close to the vest and leave them for you, the viewer to discover for yourself since doing so will most assuredly increase your level of enjoyment for this film by a scale factor of at least 10.

All in all and even with that in mind however, I think it can be safely said that ever since the first trailer was released every single fan of the Marvel brand across the planet has had sky-high hopes for this slice of cinema, but the truth movie lover is that expectations can be both a blessing and a fairly significant curse. This is because even while the studios will always find ways, both subtle and not so subtle, to toy with them in order to ensure that they get the highest amounts of behinds in movie theaters that they possibly can, the fact still remains that if expectations get too high then they can also lead to a slice of cinema sinking just as fast since let’s face it: more often than not what we imagine we will get is not always what we are eventually given. In fact, this is a topic that one of the characters in this slice of cinema actually chooses to tackle head on courtesy of repeatedly stating that if you go into a situation and expect to be disappointed then you will never have to face disappointment (clearly this character has never seen some of the movies that I have). Jokes aside however, there is no denying that this cynical point of view is one that is most assuredly not necessary for this slice of cinema. This is because not only is this slice of cinema the one that you most assuredly have been psychologically psyching yourself up for, but it’s also easily the best Marvel movie since Avengers: Endgame. Indeed the cast is phenomenal, the script is top-notch, the fan service is beautifully done, the helmsmanship is solid, and this is one web slinging adventure that I can promise you that you will want to see again just as soon as it’s over. On a scale of 1-5 I give Spider-Man: No Way Home a solid 4.5 out of 5.