Coming out of the press screening for the latest MCU offering, there was one thing I heard from nearly every critic who had assembled for the screening: “I don’t know how to review this without spoiling it.” But for the opening weekend of an eagerly anticipated blockbuster like this, we have to shun spoilers. Preserving the experience for the audience has to come first. At a later date I’d love to analyze the movie in depth, spoilers and all, but rest assured I won’t deliberately spoil anything here (though I always advise the most ardent spoilerphobes to avoid reading any reviews lest the critic makes an accidental implication. So I gave you fair warning.) . Instead, I’ll merely state that Spider-Man: No Way Home is pure nerd joy for those of us who love Spidey and have consumed the last (almost) 20 years of his big screen adventures.
As e know from the end of Far From Home and from the No Way Home trailers (anything in those is fair game to talk about and is not a spoiler), the film begins with Peter Park (Tom Holland_ exposed as Spider-Man. But worse than that, he’s framed for killing Mysterio and made a pariah by muckraking journalist J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons as always.). His girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) are caught in the controversy and see their lives turned upside down. So Peter seeks help from sorcerer Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Easy on Peter, if you knew a wizard or Benedict Cumberbatch that would be the first place you’d go with a problem, too.
Marvel and director Jon Watts is overstuffed with characters and events, and it’s fortunate that it’s given the longer running time it needs and that the screenwriters and director Jon Watts know which characters should be the focus. This leads to a thrilling film that is also more dramatically and emotionally satisfying than such fan service nerdvana has any right to be. Characters brought in through the multiverse (also in the trailer) are not treated as mere gimmicks. Everyone is given the respect and effective they deserve to do their characters and stories justice.
As always, Holland and Zendaya are so adorable and engaging that most of us just want to hug both of them, and Holland’s Peter is forced to grow perhaps more than in all of his previous outings put together. Batalon continues to steal scenes (as do Tomei and Jon Favreau), and Cumberbatch puts a nice button on the best year of his career so far. If I have a complaint with the film, it’s one I’m loathe to make because it’s such a cliche at this point: The amount of CGI in the action scenes sometimes takes away a feeling of weight or reality to the action, making the peril less edge-of-your-seat than it should be. Fortunately, whether the CG gets better or it’s just that I was so emotionally engaged at that point, I didn’t feel this in the climactic sequences. Besides, this trilogy has always been more about characters and humor than about action set pieces.
Spider-Man: No Way Home fully brings the excitement of event blockbusters back to theaters. Convoluted or not, it had me smiling and cheering and pumping my fists like my kids watching Paw Patrol: The Movie. I have so much more to say that I won’t say, both for your sake and because I want to keep being allowed to go to press screenings. Just know, true believers, that this is a Spidey adventure no fan will want to miss. Those who are only familiar with the Holland movies will still have fun and won’t feel totally lost. But the true joy comes those who have been there for the long haul.