Spider-Man spun? Spider-Man: No Way Home is another gargantuan Marvel movie full of action, great power/great responsibility moments and the sort of emotion you’d expect in stories about a highly strung teenage superhero. Jon Watts is back as the director, and the writers are again Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers – all three have been behind the other webslinging adventures with “home” somewhere in the title, (2019’s Far from Home and 2017’s Homecoming, if you’re not up to speed). Fine craftsmen all. But. But. But. The suspicion lingers that this creative team knows what Marvel also obviously does – that these Spidey stories are done and don’t need doing any more, and that swapping out the Spider-Man actor for a new face every couple of years isn’t going to fix it this time.
And so Watt, McKenna and Sommers reach across to Batman and Dr Who and borrow the strategy that’s got other creatives facing format fatigue, genre exhaustion and extreme story-itis out of a hole, for a while at least.
From Batman the ruse of getting all the old gang back together again, all the villains who have ever been on the wrong side of the criminal divide, gathered together for what should be an effortless showdown with their nemesis. From Dr Who the other gang – the other actors who have played the same role, back in costume for a bit of light teasing and gossip before they, too, assemble for one almighty ruck with the baddies.
To facilitate this, a bit of multiverse, string-theory, parallel-reality portal-opening spell-casting by Dr Strange (an amusingly dry Benedict Cumberbatch), which he’s implored to do after Spider-Man’s real identity as Peter Parker is broadcast to the world by Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), who appears just long enough to re-establish the connection to the previous film.
Spider-Man being a relentless joke about the comic and the cosmic colliding, the spell goes a bit wrong, and soon Spider-Man’s old foes – Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Electro (Jamie Foxx), The Lizard (Rhys Ifans) and Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) – are back on the scene. They’re followed closely by Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man and Tobey Maguire’s, in scenes that count as too long to be described as cameos but not enough to be considered supporting roles.
This being a Marvel movie, an amazing number of character plates are expertly kept spinning while the inevitable showdown is being warmed up. Hovering at the edges of this maelstrom are Zendaya as Peter’s squeeze MJ, Jacob Batalon as his geeky pal Ned Leeds, Marisa Tomei as his guardian May, Jon Favreau as May’s persnickety would-be beau Happy, plus Dr Strange, a momentary appearance by Benedict Wong as Wong, another by Charlie Cox as legal eagle Matt Murdock (no sign of his Daredevil alter-ego), while a fairly unnecessary running commentary is kept up by JK Simmons as J Jonah Jameson, who McKenna and Sommers are now pitching as a cross between a fake-news purveyor, a cross between a shock jock and something from Fox News.
It’s impressive how they’re all kept in play, but notable how Zendaya is slightly put on the back burner, perhaps because as an actor she’s giving off too much wattage – by far the best scenes in the film come at the end where she and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man interact for some touching emotional stuff. Why she hasn’t been cast by Marevel as a superhero already is something of a mystery. Too late now… the Dune franchise has her.
As for the rest of it, those are the ingredients and all Marvel have to do is give the snowglobe a shake and the show begins. The sound design is awesome, as Marvel’s always is, the special effects slightly less so, but then that has been a stop-go aspect of the Spider-Man series from the get-go (by which I mean the Tobey Maguire get-go) – too much green screen, too much of a tendency for the leaping about to leave the laws of physics (and our sympathies) behind in favour of video-game action-with-no-consequences.
Exhausted as a genre it may be, but this Spider-Man made so much money at the box office (archaic term) that a sequel was always a nailed-on cert. This is going to be interesting. Or not.
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© Steve Morrissey 2022