“Spider-Man: No Way Home” was the #1 movie this past weekend. Let me rephrase that – “Spider-Man: No Way Home” became the #1 movie of 2021 this past weekend, its opening weekend, when it made an estimated $253 million at the domestic box office. As if that weren’t enough, the film made for the most immersive theater experience I’ve had in years, with the audience cheering and screaming at every turn.
When we last saw Peter Parker aka Spider-Man (Tom Holland), his secret identity had been revealed by no-good newscaster J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons). Thanks to a very good lawyer, no criminal charges can be pressed for presumed misdeeds from the last film, but there are still consequences. For example, Peter and his friends M.J. (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon) are rejected from M.I.T. for their role in the controversy. But then Peter remembers that he has friends that can pull some strings with the entire upturning of his life.
He goes to see Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and asks him to perform a spell that can make people forget that he’s Spider-Man. Strange agrees, but Peter tries to make him change the spell midway through, which screws things up. Things go so sideways that a hole is torn in the universe, and Spider-Man adversaries are brought in from other dimensions. Thus, Peter has to contend with Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Dr. Octopus (Alfred Molina), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), Lizard (Rhys Ifans), and Electro (Jamie Foxx). Strange can send the villains back to their own dimensions, which will kill them, but Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) tells Peter that he owes it to them to try to cure them of what makes them evil. After all, it was Great Power that brought them to this world…
It’s a ball to see Peter interact with the five returning characters. Not all of them are crazy about the idea of being “cured,” but they go along with it as opposed to the immediate death that Strange would bring. Fortunately, most of their origins come from lab accidents that can be countered with science. Still, the situation spins out of control pretty quickly. Peter needs some help, and it’s a poorly-kept secret at this point that the multiverse provides. And that’s when the fun interactions really begin.
The biggest strength of the film is its humor, especially with the banter among three dimensions’ worth of characters (though bits with Ned and Peter’s other classmates and teachers don’t add much). I’ve heard other critics complain that these scenes go on too long, but they never got old for me. I might even argue that the film could use more, as I couldn’t get enough of them.
Negatives include some pretty standard MCU action (outside of a cool kaleidoscope-y Doctor Strange sequence), a failure to commit to a twist in the third act, and a need to see 20 years’ worth of Spider-Man movies for this film to make sense. I told my mom that I loved the movie, but then I was saddened when I realized that she’d be lost if she saw it for herself. Also, and this is a nitpick, but there’s too much suspense built around the characters opening college response letters when the envelopes are thin. Maybe it depends on the school, but my understanding is that acceptance letters traditionally come with a packet like mine did.
Cracks emerge if you think about them, but as with much of the MCU, it is incredibly easy to ignore the cracks, as there is something heart-pounding around every corner. And if you see it early enough, it will be with such a huge crowd that your hearts will pound in unison. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” isn’t quite the best movie of the year, but it’s likely to be the best time you’ll have at the movies all year.
“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is rated PG-13 for sequences of action/violence, some language and brief suggestive comments. Its running time is 148 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.