Spider-Man: No Way Home review – spectacle and fan service without ever losing the emotion

Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau. Directed by Jon Watts.

Nostalgia and fan service are big business these days. When it comes to the high flying world of the movies there’s been a move to capitalise on this for easy profit. For his part, Kevin Feige at Marvel has towed the line carefully between fan service and narrative cohesion, but the behemoth of multiple universes coming together for a Spider-man film – that’s a different story.

Following on from Spider-man: Far From Home and the reveal that Mysterio has outed Peter Parker as Spider-Man, No Way Home follows his life unravelling as a result. Desperate to fix this he seeks out Dr Strange and together the two cast a spell, that once gone wrong, brings about villains from other universes hellbent on getting Peter.

Through his three films, Jon Watts has kept Spider-Man somewhat breezy. Homecoming had the friendly neighbourhood vibe of a John Hughes film that kept getting interrupted by superhero stuff, while Far From Home felt like a National Lampoon’s Vacation movie that again kept getting hijacked by this big world of superheroes. Watts here brings things down, to a more serious, sombre tone for the third (and potentially last outing).

For his money Tom Holland keeps Peter the sort of likeable dork that made him so popular in comics. His relationship with Zendaya’s MJ and Jacob Batalon’s Ned make the central trio the strongest and the most well rounded characters in the film. The chemistry they all share could be a series all on it’s own and hammers home the stakes of the film.

Returning baddies, some shown in the trailer but we shan’t be too loose with reveals are all well and good, and the film does a decent enough job of giving each of them motivation of their own to keep them from ever being there to service the fans. Ultimately Dafoe’s return as the Green Goblin is the most formidable and well rounded of the villains while Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock gets the lion’s share of the good laughs.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Holland in Spider-Man: No Way Home.

The film is a much more sombre affair, the air of impending doom around it and Watts, while allowing for silliness and jokes in, keeps thing around the stakes. The film features an attempt to one up the Mysterio illusions from the previous film with a Doctor Strange vs Peter train ride which is some of the best action in the film, but Watts manages to build the film towards an emotionally satisfying while still surprising and joyful climax. 

As with Avengers: Endgame this is one for the fans, and after three fairly self contained Marvel outings, this is a film that feels not only beholden to this mega franchise, but two other ones that came before. At times it threatens to undo the simplicity of Raimi’s original Tobey Maguire starring films, while also atoning for Marc Webb’s Andrew Garfield film, but while turning Doc Ock back into a villain after that note perfect redemption is a bit of a bummer, it’s still a film that offers spectacle and plenty of fan service moments without ever losing sight of the emotional core of the film.

It’s a film that doesn’t stand on its own, but rather uses the serial storytelling of a shared universe to build a climax unto itself, a mini-finale or aftershock to Endgame’s mega earthquake. Given it’s Christmas, it seems only right that Marvel give us all our presents – we’ve been so very good this year after all.

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