ST. LOUIS — We all end up paying for our sins, but Peter Parker always pays triple the cost.
Jon Watts made the world fall in love with Spider-Man again in 2017's "Homecoming." The 2019 follow-up, "Far From Home," legitimized Tom Holland's ability as a stand-alone Marvel avenger--even if the actual movie was a step down from the original film. But with this weekend's "Spider-Man: No Way Home," Watts pulls out the golden oldies and tries to mix it with the new. Did it work? Let's talk it out.
The one thing that holds these films together is the star of the show: Holland. He makes Peter Parker both strong and fragile, injecting raw poignancy into the slightest of expressions. A dancer before he ever acted, Holland also performs many of the stunts, at least the ones that aren't generated by a computer. Whenever "No Way Home" starts to get extra convoluted in its storytelling, it's the young British star that holds everything together. There's something earnest and vulnerable in his portrayal of a guy who was not only forced to skip being a teenager, but take over the hero mantle as well.
Here's the thing about "No Way Home." It's more of a greatest "Spidey" cinema hits collection than a traditional sequel. In other words, don't expect a normal extension of the previous film, one that climbs from the original duel with Michael Keaton's Vulture to the anti-climatic showdown with Jake Gyllenhaal's rogue Stark employee. Unless you've spent the better part of the fall season under a rock, you know Parker is trying to erase the events of "Far From Home," enlisting the help of fellow New York native, Stephen Dr. Strange.
Parker's goal is to erase from the world's memory that he is Spider-Man, something that could have catastrophic repercussions. Nobody does anything big in a superhero film and gets away nice and easy. Played with an extra dry layer of cynical wit by Benedict Cumberbatch, Dr. Strange is integral to Peter's world-altering plan. It's here where you know things don't go according to our heroes' plan, because there wouldn't be a movie if they did.
The multiverse opens, and certain old faces arrive and wreak havoc, both good and bad. In order to respect the organic moviegoer experience, I won't divulge any names here. However, I can tell you there is some electric sand action at the Otto factory of Marvel toys. It's a nice touch for fanboys of the series to take delight in, even if it doesn't particularly move Holland's story forward that much.
Characters like Ned (the indispensable Jacob Batalon) and M.J. (Zendeya, making gold out of crumbs) are often shoved to the side for the old baddies to have a free shrink session with Peter. It feels fresh at first, but grows tiresome as all the cameos start to stack up. Thankfully, that one guy DID show up, and it made for the movie's best scene. The always-reliable Jon Favreau also gets a couple scenes with pathos to keep Happy vital to the plot, even if Marisa Tomei is shortchanged in her role.
In the end, the dedication of the cast and some well-timed and self-aware comedy make this one worth savoring. It brings out all the good and advanced MCU action with a few nice touches and fan service surprises. Stay for the two end credits scenes, even if it means you spend an extra 15 minutes inside the theater. They are each nicely produced, leaving just the right amount of tease upon your exit.
All in all, Watts did a fine job with his third attempt, a solid if unspectacular "Spider-Man" adventure. Like "No Time to Die," a riveting finale helped seal the deal for an imperfect film. The only worry here is that if I had to rank the three Holland-led "Spider-Man" films, this latest one would sit at the bottom of the pile. While the multiverse presented an infinite array of possibilities and introductions (Miles Morales!), it's gotten a little outlandish and sloppy.
If Sony chairwoman Amy Pascal is telling the truth and we're getting more Tom Holland as Spider-Man adventures, they should give the story back to him in the fourth film.