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Review: Spider-Man: No Way Home is the best superhero film of the year


MJ and Peter Parker, dropping in one more time.
Enlarge / MJ and Peter Parker, dropping in one more time.

Sony Pictures / Marvel Studios

After watching Spider-Man: No Way Home, the third Tom Holland live-action film in the series, I’m befuddled. How do I fully convey its quality without spoiling even a smidge of its contents? As I left the theater, I found myself giddily talking aloud about the film, recounting its delightful surprises. It might have been enough to earn a slap from a spoiler-averse passerby.

Tricky as it may be to convey the film’s charm, laughs, excitement, and heart without revealing its twists, I’ll do my best to keep most of No Way Home‘s surprises as hidden as Peter Parker’s identity.

Something really wacky happens (shocker)

I don't think it's a spoiler to confirm that at least one familiar Marvel Studios character appears in <em>No Way Home</em>.
Enlarge / I don’t think it’s a spoiler to confirm that at least one familiar Marvel Studios character appears in No Way Home.

Sony Pictures / Marvel Studios

That simile may make you sweat a bit, however, if you’ve been following the Holland series that kicked off with Spider-Man: Homecoming in 2017. Its 2019 sequel ended with an NYC-rocking reveal of who’s been hiding beneath Spider-Man’s mask, and NWH picks up at this exact point in time, with Parker (Tom Holland) and his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) escaping an alarmed, newly informed mob via frantic web-swinging.

Exactly what happens from there? Let’s review what the trailers for the film have revealed: calamity ensues. Dr. Strange shows up. Something really wacky happens in the city. It involves a few familiar faces—though to be clear, those faces are familiar to real-world moviegoers, not Spidey. He has to save the day—and he gets some out-of-nowhere help.

There <em>might</em> be a spoiler in Spidey's claws' reflections. Don't look too closely if you want to be safe.
Enlarge / There might be a spoiler in Spidey’s claws’ reflections. Don’t look too closely if you want to be safe.

Sony Pictures / Marvel Studios

Depending on what trailer or magazine spread you’ve seen during the film’s promotional period, you may have pieced together at least one or two of the film’s surprises. Unless you’ve dug into the most spoiler-filled corners of the Internet, however, you’ll still go in pretty fresh. (I’ve gone back to some of the rumors and plot claims that made the online rounds a few months ago. If you happened to peek at those, I can assure you they were not exactly accurate—and are kind of funny in light of how things turn out in the film.)

A friend triangle that anyone can love

Mild-mannered basement diving, made all the more fun by these actors' electric bond.
Enlarge / Mild-mannered basement diving, made all the more fun by these actors’ electric bond.

Sony Pictures / Marvel Studios

I can still describe some of the fun and charm of NWH without giving much away, especially since it’s not a spoiler to point to the core triangle relationship that anchors the film: Peter, MJ, and best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon). 2019’s Far From Home meandered with a jealousy subplot that disrupted the trio’s chemistry. Here, Parker’s revealed identity immediately strengthens the friends’ bond, though the film ultimately favors the development of its boyfriend-girlfriend duo. NWH deftly shows each half of the dating couple reaching out to the other in loving ways that make the other aspire to be more positive and cooperative, without in any way slowing down the momentum of the plot. Ned plays into the dynamic with Batalon’s consistently hilarious timing and delivery.

As far as adult figures go, Marisa Tomei turns in her best performance as the series’ Aunt May, as she continues to buck the one-dimensional support archetype that motherly characters get in superhero films. Her blunt, no-nonsense approach moves the film into surprisingly touching directions, and she is a good counterweight to Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) as a new version of the “doubtful overseer” role that Robert Downey Jr. offered in 2017’s Homecoming. In squaring off as adversarial allies, Strange and Parker become an otherworldly Abbott and Costello, and each superhero actor digs his heels in to push that tension-filled relationship to interesting places. (Sadly, their initial bond in the film comes from an eyeroll-worthy plot Macguffin, though thankfully, its utter lack of logic is overcome by the touching places it leads Parker by film’s end.)

And then there are… other actors. Other actors are in this film. Some of them are humdrum. Some are convincingly and surprisingly savage. And some get into conversational and slapstick hijinks that are genuinely hilarious. NWH somehow maintains its plot momentum while connecting the dots for anyone who is unfamiliar with its characters. That deserves massive praise, considering how many characters the film is juggling by the end—approaching the excess of an average Avengers film—and it rarely wastes viewers’ time.



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