Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): An entertaining IP mix with some heart

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is a mostly entertaining Intellectual Property (IP) mix which actually made me care a little more than expected. While it is still considerably (and frustratingly) connected with Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) just like its two predecessors, the movie pays more attention to what makes its young superhero special and endearing to us, and that is why its expected finale works well with enough emotional resonance for us despite a number of weak aspects including its rather overstuffed narrative depending on our nostalgia a bit too much from time to time. 

The movie starts the story at the point not long after the very final scene of “Spider-Man: Far From Home” (2019). Besides his dual identity fully exposed in public thanks to the villain of the previous movie, Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) also finds himself wrongfully charged for the killing of that villain, and that certainly causes lots of troubles for not only him but also several people who already knew about his dual identity. Although his two close high school friends Michelle ‘MJ’ Jones (Zendaya) and Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) still stand by him as before while preparing for college enrollment with him, both they and Parker get rejected by MIT due to his ongoing scandal and controversy, and Parker feels more guilty about how things have been turned upside down for them and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) because of him.

In the end, Parker goes to Stephen Stranger/Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for getting any help, and, as a dude who has supernatural powers to exert over the dimensions of time and space, Stranger knows a certain special spell which can be the solution for Parker’s current messy circumstance. This spell will erase the currently common knowledge of Parker’s dual identity once for all in the whole universe, and Parker has no problem with that at first, but, of course, it turns out that there is a catch. Once the spell is completed, everyone including his friends and Aunt May will forget who he is, so he requests several seemingly minor modifications when Stranger embarks on conjuring the spell.  

Of course, things soon do not go that well, and Stranger aborts the process, but then he and Parker come to see what they inadvertently cause. Because Parker intervened on Stranger’s spell too much, the boundaries between parallel universes are broken, and that consequently brings a number of certain figures who are total strangers to Parker but are surely quite familiar to you if you have seen Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy in the 2000s and a couple of Spider-Man flicks in the following decade.

Considering that the trailer of the movie already exposed to us several figures with whom Parker will have to deal along the story, I guess I can talk a bit about how some of the main cast members gladly have an old fun in the film. Although almost 20 years have passed since he played that character in “Spider-Man” (2002), Willem Dafoe has not lost any of his edgy persona yet as recently shown from his baroque supporting turn in “The Lighthouse” (2019), and he surely utilizes that well as his character swings back and forth between good and evil. Like Dafoe, Alfred Molina, who was one of the main reasons for the greatness of “Spider-Man 2” (2004), relishes his several big moments in the film, and I am rather pleased to see Jamie Foxx looking better than his rather embarrassing performance in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (2014), though his character development in the film turns out to be relatively contrived compared to Dafoe’s or Molina’s.    

Although it takes some time for getting things rolling as trying to balance its hero among numerous figures coming into his story, the movie mostly succeeds in engaging us well while our young superhero struggles to do right things for others associated with him. While we surely get several big action sequences as expected, they are fairly grounded well in story and characters, and director Jon Watts, who also directed two previous Spider-Man films, and his crew members including cinematographer Mauro Fiore and composer Michael Giacchino did a competent job of bringing enough sense of fun and excitement to the screen. I must confess that I often got confused a bit while watching the big showdown sequence around the end of the film for an understandable reason I do not dare to reveal here, but it is still exciting and exhilarating on the whole, and then you will be touched by how our young superhero actually becomes really matured at the end of his bumpy journey.

As the center of the film, Tom Holland is solid as before, and it is surely nice to see his character being more independent while not looking like that billionaire superhero’s lapdog anymore. In addition, he and Zendaya click better with each other than before, and Zendaya, who is already having another interesting year thanks to her small but crucial supporting turn in “Dune” (2021), brings some pluck and charm to her character. In case of the other notable cast members in the film, Benedict Cumberbatch, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Jacob Batalon, Benedict Wong, and J.K. Simmons comfortably slip into their familiar roles, but I must point out that Batalon is often demanded to function as the main comic relief of the story too much as before.     

On the whole, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is better than its two passable predecessors, but it does not reach to the level of “Spider-Man 2” or “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018), which is incidentally the best superhero film of the 2010s. While the movie entertained and touched me enough at last night, my mind still could not help but compare it with “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”, and it still feels like a safe product compared to how boldly and creatively “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” went all the way for both drama and comedy.

Anyway, based on my usually trivial star rating system, I gave 3.5 stars out of 4 stars to the greatness of “Spider-man 2” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”, and I also gave 2.5 stars to the plain existence of “Spider-man: Homecoming” (2017) and “Spider-Man: Far From Home”, so I give “Spider-Man: No Way Home” 3 stars. If you like its predecessors more than me, you will probably want to add extra half star to my rating, and I promise you I will not stop you from doing that.

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