Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Last weekend, I was pleased to see there were alternatives at the local movie theater to seeing the last two movies I saw there, two or three weeks ago. However, one of the two new flicks was Clifford the Big Red Dog, so it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that I would see Tom Holland's third outing as Spider-Man. To make a long review short, I came out of the movie still resolved (but partly by sheer willpower) that the best Spider-Man movie is still Into the Spider-Verse. Even allowing for Spider-Man 2 featuring Tobey Maguire to be close behind in the rankings, this latest movie is definitely in contention.

Part of the fun of seeing it was sitting directly in front of a group of fanboys who gasped, applauded and went "Whoa!" when they recognized other MCU characters, such as Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Wong, Venom (in a mid-credits bonus scene), pretty much every villain Spidey has faced since the Tobey Maguire era (all played by the original actors) and, of course, alternate-universe Spideys played by Maguire and Andrew Garfield. The patter between the three webslingers was fun, if perhaps a bit over-indulged. The death of Aunt May, three movies in, provided a crucial but long overdue ingredient in the Holland-Spidey origin story. Two separate bonus scenes (including one at the very end of the credits) teased movies that fans, long abused by the MCU's practice of pasting phony teasers at the ends of their movies, won't dare to trust until they see the whites of the next Doctor Strange movie's eyes (or Spider-Man/Venom, or whatever). And the fact that the story basically gives Peter Parker an excuse to ditch his girlfriend and lifelong best friend with no consequences could represent anything from the end of Holland's tenure to a shakeup of the formula (what next, a gay Spidey?) to a roundabout journey back to status quo ante, minus Aunt May.

That's a confusing jumble of pros and cons, but the cons really are in the minority when you look at the movie from the point of view of action and adventure being done right and a chance to revisit a lot of characters whom previous entries in the franchise left immortality-challenged. Willem Dafoe crushes it in his return as Norman Osborne/Green Goblin, a basically decent man tormented by an evil alter-ego. Alfred Molina suffers a similar personality split thanks, in his case, to AI implants. Jamie Foxx becomes the embodiment of electrical power. Thomas Hayden Church appears, mostly via CGI modeling, as that guy who fell into a supercollider and turned into a sentient sandstorm. At the short end of the stick is Rhys Ifans, mostly unrecognizable as the voice of a CGI lizard man who appears only fleetingly in his human form. And of course, there are all the Peter Parkers, the same but different, all at different points along the wave function of how hard it is to be a crime-fighting mutant while experiencing the vicissitudes of aging and what have you. Each shares emotionally vulnerable moments, but there's also fun between them. And not to be forgotten are Prime Peter's MJ and his buddy, Ned.

At the heart of it all is a moral dilemma about what to do with villains from other universes who have been drawn into the prime reality by a botched magic spell. Is Holland/Spidey going to do the truly good-guy thing, and exactly what is it? Strange wants to send the multiversal interlopers back to where they belong, even though it means their certain death. Aunt May urges Peter to help them somehow, but the obvious alternative – "fixing" who they are to make them safe – comes with its own set of ethical issues. And then of course, there's the side of Peter, which all three Peters seem to have in common, that he may not be able to control: an urge for revenge that could turn him into a bit of a monster, himself.

Of course it wouldn't be Spider-Man without J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) bending journalistic ethics to portray Spider-Man as a menace to society who turns everything he touches into disaster. The fact that, since the previous installment in the franchise, the whole world knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man leads to everything that happens in this movie, and maybe it's a sign that there's something wrong with all of us, but somehow watching the weight of responsibility (that comes with great power, etc.) nearly crush Peter Parker to the ground is just solid entertainment, unfailingly fun to watch.

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) Peter and Strange duke it out in the Mirror Realm. (2) Peter fights Doc Ock on the freeway bridge while, at the same time, trying to get himself and his friends admitted to MIT. (3) The three Spideys (and co.) face five super-villains in an absurdly complex, yet totally followable, boss fight on the Statue of Liberty. Everybody makes an enjoyable contribution, including a villain who switches sides, a buddy-sidekick who suddenly has magical powers and a pissed-off Doctor Strange, who arrives right at the climax of everything after spending 12 hours dangling over the Grand Canyon. (See #1.)

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