SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME feature photo

MJ (Zendaya) prepares to freefall with Spider-man in Columbia Pictures' SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME.

Spider-Man and the No. 3 don’t exactly mix well. 2007’s Spider-Man 3 was not the farewell we (and Tobey Maguire) deserved for Sam Raimi’s rendition of the web-slinger. (Google the mess of that story.) And Andrew Garfield never got a third take following 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2

But when a young Tom Holland showed up on the scene in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, something clicked and felt like it had legs (eight of them, in fact). The truth is Maguire, Garfield and Holland all make great Spider-Men (🥴 ). They each bring a unique spin, but it all comes down to the storytelling. And the folks at the helm of the Holland series know what they’re doing, plain and simple. 

There have been many creative spills with this franchise, but this latest entry, Spider-Man: No Way Home, manages to mop it up. It’s the most fun Spider-Man installment. You’ll laugh until it hurts (two jokes, especially), become a sobbing mess and feel your heart grow for so many reasons. This is everything you could want this trilogy closer to be.

Spoiler-free plot description: Naturally, we pick back up immediately following 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio pulled off a great magic trick before bowing out, and it was to turn the whole world against Spider-Man (a la the end of The Dark Knight). Everyone thinks Mysterio was the noblest superhero who ever lived, according to Daily Bugle newsman J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons reprising the character after the Raimi movies). Everyone also knows that Spider-Man is Peter Parker. So, now the spidey-sense is tingling nearly 24-7. You don’t know who will be coming after him - and when. 

But then Spider-Man gets the idea to bring Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) into his problems, asking if the wizard man could somehow make everyone forget that he’s Spider-Man. You know, with a few exceptions like lover MJ (Zendaya), best bud Ned (Jacob Batalon) and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). This spell only further stirs the pot, opening up the multiverse for real this time and sending all kinds of foes through the portal door. If you’ve seen the trailer, you may have spotted Alfred Molina’s Dr. Otto Octavius and Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin from the Maguire movies and Jamie Foxx’s Electro from the Garfield ones. The possibilities of this send you to the edge of your seat. 

No Way Home is a gift. No one really knew when Marvel would be able to generate the same kind of sparks Avengers: Infinity War and End Game did. They were epic movie events that left us as tired as the mighty heroes in a post-Thanos world. Black WidowShang-Chi and Eternals arrived on those films’ coattails, but the excitement wasn’t quite the same. In No Way Home, some moments provide chills equivalent to Captain America holding Thor’s hammer or when the Avengers assemble one last time. 

This Spider-Man is also one of Marvel’s funniest entries. It’s nearly Guardians of the Galaxy-level good with its meta humor and character jabs. When the action kicks into high gear by the end, it’s the humor and human drama that dazzle more than the blockbuster fireworks. As comical as these in-between moments are, director Jon Watts and his writing team know when to make emotional transitions. Nothing is too heavy for its own good. It earns its tears without feeling the screenwriters’ pens at work. And they wrap it all up with good feelings and excitement for the possibilities moving ahead.

My strongest suggestion is to stay away from social media as much as possible until you see this. Nothing will match the unsullied experience – trust me. So now, swing to your nearest theater, and go get bit by this geeky love bug.

PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Critics Choice Association and the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work here, on FreshFiction.tv and on RottenTomatoes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PrestonBarta.

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