While the pandemic mostly kept people away from theaters in droves, Marvel movies still managed to pull in respectable box office numbers, looking to be pretty COVID-proof. But when the franchise’s 4th movie of 2021 came around, I don’t think anyone realized just how immune to the coronavirus the MCU would prove to be, as we were all stunned when Spider-Man: No Way Home would go on to become the 3rd highest grossing movie of all time, behind only Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens and Avengers: Endgame. Spider-Man has proven to be one of Marvel Comic’s most popular characters both in print and on-screen, where he has been portrayed by 3 actors since 2002 across 11 movies, including this one (and even more if you want to include 2018’s animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse). The public’s enduring love of the web-slinging superhero along with the praise Tom Holland has been receiving for his portrayal over the last 6 years mean the movie was likely always going to be a hit, but no one could have guessed just how big it would actually be.
Having had his real identity as Peter Parker exposed by Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) in his last solo outing, Far From Home, our friendly neighborhood Spider-man has seen his life turned completely upside down. Some in the media have tried to paint Mysterio as the real hero and Spider-Man as a murderer while others just want to meet the famous Avenger. His new-found fame also means that Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), and best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) are also now being hounded by crowds of people. When they get turned down by MIT over the controversy surrounding Mysterio’s death and then begin being hounded by government agents, Peter turns to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to see if he can’t help him turn things back to the way they were before everyone knew he was Spider-Man. Strange reluctantly agrees but as he is casting the spell Peter begins to have cold feet about his inner circle not knowing and asks for them to be excepted, which leads to it spiraling out of control. Strange manages to contain it before it can get truly out of hand, but it was already too late to stop it from opening a rift between alternate dimensions, and villains from the other pre-MCU movies begin wreaking havoc around New York.
Holland is as infectiously charming in the lead role as ever, still exhibiting the sort of youthful exuberance that makes his take so endearing. The stacked supporting cast all play off of him and each other well, making everything that much more entertaining while adding more impact to the movie’s more emotional moments, and there are a couple pretty big ones. The plot machinations required to set everything in motion and allow the big reveals of major cast members from previous versions of the franchise are a bit far-fetched, even for this kind of movie, requiring characters to make some uncharacteristically dumb decisions. But seeing the returns of so many prior villains and actors does make it worthwhile. Once everyone is in place things are handled ably and swiftly, hitting all the beats expected from the studio. The action during fight scenes does occasionally slip into incoherence, but it’s far from the worst offender on that front. Qualms aside, it’s a pretty great way to spend 2 1/2 hours, filled with moments tailor-made to get fans cheering. ★★★★
RATED PG-13 for sequences of action / violence, some language, and brief suggestive comments.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor