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Spider-Man: No Way Home Review: Petered Out

Stuffed from beginning to end with crowd-pleasing cameos, in-jokes, Easter eggs and MCU building, "Spider-Man: No Way Home" is a movie that is so much fun, it doesn't need to be good. Everybody you think is going to make a cameo does indeed make a cameo — as do a few others you likely haven't figured out— and the result is a surreal, wild experience unlike any other superhero movie you've ever seen, even if "Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse" did it better, more creatively, and with more swagger.

"No Way Home" picks up where 2019's "Spider-Man: Far From Home" left off, with Mysterio seemingly murdered by Spider-Man and J. Jonah Jameson (JK Simmons) revealing him to the world as Peter Parker (Tom Holland). This has a huge impact on Peter's life, as well as those of best buddy Ned (Jacob Batalon) and girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), seen as accomplices in his perceived misdeeds. The three friends have high hopes to attend MIT together, and in a touching storyline, they all learn about guilt by association.

Distraught, Peter seeks help from old buddy Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, who seems to have taken on the Robert Downey Jr. role of fast-talking, smart-alecky Marvel standout). The Doctor attempts to cast a spell that will make the world forget Peter Parker is Spider-Man, but when Pete's noncommittal ramblings distract the sorcerer, the spell instead opens a window to other universes — and villains Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), and Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) from the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies and Electro (Jamie Foxx) and The Lizard (Rhys Ifans) from the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man movies.

After about a third of the movie, it becomes clear that Tom Holland Peter Parker can't battle this crew alone — so guess who arrives when Ned and MJ call in the cavalry? As far as a "plot" is concerned, it also becomes clear that the majority of these baddies were transported to our reality moments before they were about to die the various deaths we've seen in other Spider-Man movies — and Tom Holland Spider-Man is determined to find a way to "cure" them of their evil tendencies in the belief it will save their lives and presumably make them model citizens when they return to their own universes.

To paraphrase "Billy Madison": Everyone in this room is now dumber for having read that last sentence. "No Way Home" gets into trouble whenever it spends time acknowledging its logic-straining plot, which exists to remind us that Spidey is a kinder, gentler superhero. It gets into further trouble every time we see its McGuffin — a box where Doctor Strange put the spell, and we're told that if a button is pushed, everybody will instantly go back home. Any time a movie has a problem that can be easily fixed, a central character whose logic is flawed, characters who can be dramatically stabbed only to essentially walk it off, and villains who can be made "good" via serums, energy devices and other plot machinations (and frequently, it's hard to recall whether they are good or bad since several keep switching from scene to scene), this does not add up to a good movie.

Jumping the snark

But somehow, "No Way Home" makes you want to throw all that out the window, because the whole experience is just so fun. It's impossible to predict who will show up in any given scene, and many such surprises will leave you grinning from ear to ear. It's a film that has taken the time to watch (and re-watch) all three Tobey Maguire movies, both Andrew Garfield movies, and of course the Holland films as well, making it feel like "Spider-Man 8" while tossing off clever moments referencing Maguire's Peter Parker being the only one with "organic" web-shooters, or building a comparison between Maguire and Garfield (both lost an Uncle Ben) or Holland and Maguire (both have fought aliens). It also has some emotional beats paying off dramatic "mistakes" that need to be rectified nearly twenty years later.

In other ways, the film feels like the MCU equivalent of a "Cannonball Run" movie, hoping to overwhelm the audience with so many familiar faces that there's no need for a decent script. Jon Favreau, Marissa Tomei, JB Smoove, Martin Starr, Benedict Wong, Hannibal Buress, Church, Ifans and Simmons all appear — and only one of the above has anything of true substance to do. Molina and Dafoe, both great actors, gamely resurrect characters who rely heavily on the viewer remembering plot points from 2004, while Jamie Foxx seems to have transformed himself into a completely different, far funnier, character than he played in 2014's "The Amazing Spider-Man," arguably the worst of these eight Spidey films.

Superhero pose

It all builds to a climax that, appropriately enough, feels like it is combining old Marvel movies. Not only do you get another showdown that involves scaffolding ("Shang-Chi"), but it also includes the Statue of Liberty (2000's "X-Men") and a renovation that references another unseen, heavily-referenced hero. But after you sit through the "No Way Home" credits and watch two entertaining post-credits scenes — okay, one post-credits scene, and what is essentially a trailer for "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" — you won't be remembering that fairly generic showdown on the Statue of Liberty.

What you will remember is the hero shot of multiple Spider-Men, swinging into action side-by-side. The moment when Tom Holland Peter realizes the Avengers don't exist in other realities; the symbolism of the LEGO death star set; the jokes about Ned realizing that in some universes, Spidey's best friend turns against him. But most significantly, some poignant moments between Holland and Zendaya in the film's final moments, as his Peter Parker is forced to make an agonizing decision — which is also pretty dumb, if you spend two minutes thinking about why Doctor Strange couldn't have just done that in the first place.

In a nutshell, the finale sums up "Spider-Man: No Way Home," a movie that doesn't want you to focus on the journey so much as the destination. If you're simply looking for the vicarious thrill of seeing certain people on screen together, or references to movies you grew up watching, look no further, there are many Memberberries to be found. But in a world where "Into the Spider-Verse" feels so daring and original, "No Way Home" often feels derivative and unfulfilling.