My earliest memories of Spider-Man go back to the 1980s when Doordarshan aired the animated series with that iconic theme song, Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can… Those were simpler, more innocent times, the world was still black and white, with multiverses and mirror dimensions a whole universe of imagination and technology away. In the last few years, I have been schooled by my son in the MCU Spider-Man and Avengers, and been a willing convert to their more complex world. The sheer joyous spirit of Spider-Man: No Way Home transported me to the sense of excitement and wonder that each 22-minute-long episode of the Doordarshan series filled me with.
No Way Home picks up from where Far from Home left off (with the previous film’s closing soundtrack playing over the Marvel logo here at the start). Mysterio has divulged Peter Parker’s identity as Spider-Man, leaving the young man to cope with the aftermath. Distraught that his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and buddy Ned (Jacob Batalon) are having to bear the brunt of his ‘infamy’ – they are denied admission to MIT as Peter’s accomplices – Peter turns to Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) with a request: Can he cast a spell to make the world forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man?
Dr. Strange can, but he has not reckoned with Peter’s riders – can MJ and Ned and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) be kept out of the spell? Needless to say, it backfires, opening up the multiverse and allowing the whole pantheon of villains from the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield films – Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Electro (Jamie Foxx), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Lizard (Rhys Ifans) – to make their entry. The only way out of the mess is for Dr. Strange and Peter to send them back to their universes.
But there’s a catch: Peter realises that doing so would mean their death at the hands of his iterations in those alternate realities, and it’s a call he is not ready to make – he would rather try his hand at finding a way to save them. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. As things start going horribly wrong, Peter is called upon to understand the true import of and how difficult it is to live by his Uncle Ben’s hoary maxim: ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ (A subtext that gives this film much of its emotional heft.)
The first half takes its time setting up the narrative and is played largely for laughs till things take a darker turn. With so many iconic baddies in the fray, it is understandable that the Spider-Man in this multiverse will need otherworldly help. And how! What unfolds is one unforgettable, exhilarating ride. There are great action set-pieces (a stunning one in a mirror dimension involving a fight between Peter and Strange being the standout), understated and often self-deprecatory humour coexisting with sequences of genuine warmth, and a truly rousing score by Michael Giacchino.
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It helps that Tom Holland is in great form and conveys so eloquently the rites of passage from awkward adolescence to aching adulthood (just compare his childish exchange with Dr. Strange as he asks for exemptions for his friends from the spell with the tender sombreness of his post-climactic one with MJ to get an idea of his character graph). He is surrounded by a cast at the top of its game.
Director Jon Watts ties it all up – the past and the present, this and other universes, the choices and heartbreaks involved in being a superhero – into one heartfelt, almost-flawless entertainment of the highest order, just what you needed to end a depressing year on a cinematic high. A few months before the pandemic changed the way we watched movies, I was witness to viewer excitement at a theatre screening of Avengers: Endgame. The experience of watching No Way Home with a hall full of people whistling, applauding and celebrating every character entry and every other dialogue and action rivalled and, at times, even surpassed that hysteria. And most deservedly so.
TITLE: Spider-Man: No Way Home
CAST: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei
DIRECTOR: Jon Watts
WHERE: At a theatre near you
RATING: 4 stars
(Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is an award-winning publisher, editor and a film buff)
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