Movie Review: “Spider-Man: No Way Home” gives fans a “Doctor Who” Marvel Movie

I can’t recall ever dumping on a “Spider-Man” movie, and I see no reason to start now.

Yes, they’re as repetitive and formulaic as the other franchises in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But they never fail to find the cute or deliver a little warmth and laughs amidst all the increasingly impressive effects and fan service.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” takes its inspiration from the blockbuster success of the animated “Into the Spider-Verse,” which toyed with the physics concept, sampled on “Star Trek” and embraced like the Holy Grail in comic books, that there are infinite universes, infinite versions of life on Earth and in the cosmos and infinite Spider-Men.

In modern memory, there have been three Peter Parkers, so the gimmick here is to create a worst-kept-“secret” situation that puts all three — Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and the fellow who succeeded them, Tom Holland — on the screen at the same time, joining forces to fight some fresh threat to the order of things.

And when you go down that multi-verse rabbit hole — or worm hole — you can toy with the possibilities of villains of the past. A little digital-de-aging, and Alfred Molina, Willem DaFoe, Thomas Haden Church and Jamie Foxx can collect a fresh check for bringing us “Spider-Man’s Greatest Hits.”

The fact that “No Way Home” hits during the holidays points to another inspiration. It’s like a “Doctor Who Christmas Special,” a reunion of many of the actors who’ve played a character over the decades — and it has indeed been nearly 20 years since Maguire and director Sam Raimi made Marvel the dominating Doc Ock of cinema and video culture, jamming its metal tentacles in everything.

These gimmicks don’t electro-shock the moribund storytelling, the not-quite-witty dialogue, don’t create chemistry between our romantic leads Holland and the latest MJ, Zendaya. But the effects are off-the-chart dazzling, and it nothing else, the picture jumps out of the gate and sprints until one and all get good and winded entirely too quickly.

Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) lashed out and “outed” Peter Parker as he met his doom in the last “Spider-Man,” “Far from Home.” Yes, even the title-writers are out of new ideas these days.

The opening of Holland’s third outing in the spider suit has him coping with the awful blowback over that confrontation, that “murder,” and that exposure as the formerly unknown masked do-gooder vigilante.

Oscar winner J.K. Simmons brings Limbaugh, Alex Jones and Hannity-style hype and fake vitriol to the devolving newspaper editor J.J. Jameson, now fulminating furiously about this “murderer” and “menace” on The Daily Bugle’s web channel show, The Daily Fix.

Peter is stalked, baited and mobbed.

With handheld cameras, extreme close-ups and next-gen web-slinging, skyline-hopping effects, director Jon Watts, who did all three films of this trilogy, puts this action IN YOUR FACE, and how. See this in IMAX and you’ll be utterly bowled-over by how far the CGI assistance puts Spidey and MJ on the Roosevelt Island tram towers, hunted by the paparazzi and TV news helicopters.

The new “exposure” and negative publicity makes Peter controversial and leaves him imprisoned in his own apartment. And it isn’t just Aunt May (Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei) and her just-ended love affair with Tony Starke’s man Happy (Jon Favreau) that suffers. MJ and Peter’s pal Ned (Jacob Batalon) all see consequences when it comes to where they can all go to college together. The trio is basically black-listed.

That makes Peter wonder if there’s a way to undo his “outing,” maybe make the world “forget” who he really is so that they can go back to the way things were and maybe get into a decent Boston school.

And that’s why he visits his friendly, neighborhood wizard, Doctor Stranger (Benedict Cumberbatch), looking for another Marvel “reset,” like the one that brought the world and the Avengers back to status quo ante.

That spell is where all the multiverses colliding comes from.

One sweet touch to the script is the way each “Spidey,” when they all come together, plays around with the “strengths” and peculiarities of their version of the character — Maguire’s wide-eyed earnestness, Garfield’s Peter’s lack of confidence, Holland’s much more manic take.

A few laughs are to be found in each’s ignorance of the other’s story and “universe.”

“I was in the Avengers!”

“Cool. Are they like a band or something?”

The villains remind us why Marvel is always best served when it cares enough to send for the very best. Dafoe’s scientist/Green Goblin Jekyll & Hyde thing is a winner, Molina’s Doc Ock in a fine lather, Thomas Haden Church’s working class Sandman eager to please and help out, until he senses he’s chosen the wrong side. And Oscar-winner Foxx’s Electro gives new meaning to the phrase “power mad.”

The multiverse rift means that even the dead villains are brought back for another round here. Apparently though, there is no spell for uncanceling James Franco and his Son of Green Goblin.

There are renewed efforts to get back to the Big Statement of the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man pictures, the consequences of violence and revenge.

But the message to this movie, the line repeated by MJ time and again to tamp down her own expectations from life, is “If you expect disappointment, you can never be disappointed.”

That applies to colleges you want to get into, and Spider-Man movies. The breathless hype surrounding this one only applies to the augmented cast and some first-act chase sequences. It’s a perfectly ordinary arachnid installment starring your “friendly neighborhood” you-know-who, with a little wit (not a lot) and a nice dollop of pathos, good effects, limp dialogue and a great big gimmick.

It ends one trilogy with an almost-bang, and opens the door to more movies without the traditional Spider-Man reset and change of actors. Could Tom Holland become the Sony/Marvel James Bond, serving for a decade or more, barring a belated growth spurt?

That’s the ultimate “fan service.”

Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbacth, Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, J. K. Simmons, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Benedict Wong, Jon Favreau, Jamie Foxx and Marisa Tomei.

Credits: Directed by Jon Watts, scripted by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. A Sony release.

Running time: 2:30

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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