I wasn’t interested enough to make the trek to my local multiplex to see the latest Spiderman movie; home streaming is the route forward for the apathetic viewer. But even comic book naysayers will appreciate that Jon Watts’ third instalment in the third sequence of Spiderman’s antics cleaned up at the box office, even with a pandemic raging; supporting your friendly neighbourhood web-slinger strikes a chord that’s more important than trivial things like life and death.
If we count this year’s Spiderverse two-parter, I make that at least thirteen movies featuring Spiderman in the last two decades, an exhausting level of exposure for casual viewers. I’m only aware of one good one to date; Sam Raimi’s 2002 blockbuster for Sony which set the tone for the MCU’s world domination with bright primary colours and zesty special effects. Oddly, this latest venture harks back directly to that film, an origin story that got the serio-comic tones just right. Raimi’s sequels were all-over–the-shop and easy to forget, and I was fully checked-out before the reportedly less-than-amazing Andrew Garfield versions. And yet with no signs of wearing out public enthusiasm, No Way Home doubles down on looking backwards and allows us to get all nostalgic for a series of films that struggled from the get-go; let’s cheer the return of recent incarnations of the character and laud the painted-face villains that weren’t much cop in the first place.
So an elaborate, inexplicable narrative is constructed; Spiderman wishes to be forgotten, and asks Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch and a lot of hair-dye) to cast a spell to sort it out; unfortunately, he creates some kind of loop-hole through which other versions of Spiderman and his foes creep into his hokey-ass ‘wizard’s dungeon’; Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn, Alfred Molina as Dr Octopus, Rhys Ifans as The Lizard, Jamie Foxx as Electro and possibly more, I lost count. Notably, we don’t see returns for Sally Field, Rosemary Harris, Kristen Dunst or Emma Stone; this is a boy’s toy-box we’re sharing, and women don’t count for anything much. Three brave Spidermen (Tom Holland, Garfield and Tobey Maguire) join forces, vintage Dr Who style, to save the day and rescue a social-media addicted New York populace who barely seem worth saving…
What works big time here are the call-backs; as with the MCU movies, the best bits are the notes in the margins as the characters squabble like chickens in a coop, and it would be churlish not to admit that these exchanges aren’t consistently fresh and funny. But there’s not much else to pity or praise about No Way Home; it’s the usual melange of gaudy action that evaporates instantly from the memory. Nostalgia for good times that never existed is a difficult trick, but Spiderman: No Way Home pulls it off in a way that’ll easily satisfy those who know more about the MCU family than their own. For the rest of us, it’s a polished piece of fan service accurately reflects the way pop-culture is eating itself right now. In short, the new Spiderman movie is nothing much to write Home about.