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Spider-Man: No Way Home review – The best superhero movie in recent years

Tom Holland’s Peter Parker faces his demons – literally and figuratively – in this emotional final chapter.

Spider-Man
Published: Wednesday, 15th December 2021 at 10:56 am
A star rating of 4 out of 5.

It’s impossible to know how to talk about Spider-Man: No Way Home with regards to spoilers. Is something truly a spoiler if pretty much everyone in the world already suspects it? Is it a spoiler if the film’s actually already out in the UK? And is it a “spoiler” if knowing them doesn’t take away from the fact that this is one of the best superhero movies in recent years?

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Well, I don’t want to get yelled at so I’ll skirt clear of anything too spicy in this review. But others aren’t being careful so be warned – if you’re particularly plot-averse, or have somehow managed to maintain mental purity about what might or might not happen in this movie, you’re in for a tense few days of browsing the internet.

Though of course, things could be worse – you could be a controversial superhero whose secret identity has been plastered all over billboards in Times Square. There but for the grace of God – or at least a radioactive spider and Mysterio – go we.

As you may remember, this was the fate of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man in 2019’s Far From Home, and this follow-up jumps back in mere seconds after that cliffhanger. Suddenly (and quite literally) unmasked by J Jonah Jameson (JK Simmons), Peter flees the scene in an exciting web-slinging sequence, but still has to face the music from classmates, teachers, police, federal agents and the divided general public as the fallout continues.

He can more or less handle it all – with help from a few friends, including one great, fan-friendly cameo – until it starts to impact the future of his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and girlfriend MJ (Zendaya). Is it any wonder that he might remember the last time everything went wrong, only to be fixed by time travel?

That’s why he seeks out Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange – officially not the Sorcerer Supreme, as it turns out – for help, though the latter instead offers a spell to make the world forget Peter’s Spider-Man, rather than undo what happened. Of course, calamity ensues, Peter ruins the spell… and then they start getting some visitors.

Green Goblin in Spider-Man: No Way Home

Green Goblin in Spider-Man: No Way Home

Instead of removing Peter Parker’s identity from the world, it turns out the spell drew in people from other universes who knew Peter Parker is Spider-Man (look, just go with it) – specifically a Sinister Five of Tobey Maguire-era villains Green Goblin, Doc Ock and Sandman (Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina and Thomas Haden Church) and Andrew Garfield-era baddies Electro and Lizard (Jamie Foxx and Rhys Ifans).

The first act of the film is the last you’ll see of the low-stakes, mini high school universe created in the first two Tom Holland movies – bye, fun supporting cast – because from here on out it’s all big moves. It’s Spider-Man battling classic foes, facing off with Doctor Strange in the mirror dimension and trying to save or cure those villains who might otherwise be sent back to their own universes, and face death.

Frankly, parts of this section are a little messy and unfocused. There’s a lot of characters and story beats to juggle, and lumping together the villains as a weird boy band of baddies slightly lessens their impact, while Peter’s efforts to help them are a little confused (if they’re healed, won’t they just zap back and be killed anyway, just while being a bit nicer?).

Still, it’s elevated by great performances from the returning Spidey-foes. Haden Church and Ifans probably have the least to do – beyond quick appearances at the end of the film, they’re almost entirely achieved via CGI and voice acting, albeit extensively – and Jamie Foxx is basically an entirely different Electro, with a suaver style, sense of confidence and a new look (this is explained, slightly, in the film by the MCU’s power restoring him, or something).

Spider-Man

Electro, Sandman and Lizard from Spider-Man: No Way Home

But Molina and Dafoe have absolutely star turns as the original Spider-Man movie villains. Molina reminds everyone exactly why, 17 years later, fans were so desperate to see him back as the tentacled Otto Octavius – alternately warm, chilling, threatening and avuncular – even if he’s slightly less used as the film continues.

And Dafoe, frankly, runs away with the whole thing. Nineteen years on from his turn as the Green Goblin he slips back into the role like a pair of old (and presumably green) slippers, perfectly reviving the mania, voice and physicality of both Norman Osborn and his “dark half”. His charisma is such that, despite being from another universe he almost becomes THIS Spider-Man’s nemesis as well, through sheer force of personality. Willem Dafoe did not need to go this hard in this movie, but he did.

It’s when these foes, inevitably, turn on Peter that the film enters its powerful final furlong, which more or less wipes out any misgivings about the first half. Yes, it’s full of fan-service, familiar quotes and characters and brand-mashing IP – but it’s also really, really good. Rather than just playing to the crowd, returning characters actually have depth and arcs, while Holland is convincingly put through the wringer (he also delivers one of his trademark choked-up-in-tears scenes).

Tom Holland in Spider-Man No Way Home

Tom Holland in Spider-Man No Way Home

And following a fun final battle, the whole thing heads to a genuinely devastating ending. Recently, I called for Holland’s Spider-Man to be given more of a battering from life, and I almost feel guilty about it now. In fact, the ending of this film might be a little too bleak, even if its final shot (barring a couple of post-credits scenes) is perfect Spider-Man myth-making. Still, it works - and despite many previous appearances, we'll probably look back on this film as being the true origin story for this version of Spider-Man. Going forward, it'll be fascinating to see what other stories they tell with him.

Considering how much No Way Home had to do, it’s impressive how well everything is pulled off. Director Jon Watts manages to reposition Spider-Man for the future and juggle a huge cast of characters, without losing sight of who the main character is or the emotional stakes at the heart of the film.

Yes, there are slightly too many ‘Raimi memes’ that feel like they’re playing to the crowd, and not everything works. But it’s also hard to imagine how they could have done it any better – even if you did already know all the big twists going in.

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Spider-Man: No Way Home is in UK cinemas now. For more, check out our dedicated Sci-Fi page or our full TV Guide.

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