Spider-Man No Way Home film review: Oh no, it’s for the fans

The latest outing is still lighter on its feet than most of the Marvel Comic Universe

Spider-Man No Way Home
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Director: Jon Watts
Cert: 12A
Genre: Action
Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, JK Simmons, JB Smoove
Running Time: 2 hrs 28 mins

We regret to tell you that the liveliest and least pretentious of the Marvel sub-sequences has made one “for the fans”.

Our friends at a major US publication have already been cancelled for revealing what now constitute spoilers (anything), but you are surely already aware that the latest Spider-Man film, ghosting some moves from the terrific animation Into the Spider-Verse, has put its hero and his friends in the way of characters from parallel takes on the web-spinners’ adventures.

Yes, at times the self-referential intertwined curves become a little too much to bear. The film winks so furiously at the audience that it risks rupturing a ligament. No Way Home is poorer for featuring little of the high-school humour that so enlivened the first two episodes. But the new film – despite some dreaded “darker” moments – remains much lighter on its feet than 90 per cent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s as if Eternals never happened.

The picture also has an issue with reaching too hard for socio-political meaning

The trailer has made clear (look, if you don't want to know anything at all then stop reading) that Peter Parker, back in the agreeably weightless form of Tom Holland, is struggling with the public's new awareness that he is Spider-Man. The amusing, no-nonsense MJ (Zendaya, still stellar) is reasonably relaxed about the situation, but poor old Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, yet another MVP contender) is not enjoying the press helicopters hovering outside the window.


Peter visits Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and asks him to make the world forget his identity, but the spell goes wrong and entities from those other worlds arrive to render life complicated.

Before leaning too heavily on the Spider-Man team for peering up their own webshooter, we should acknowledge that no less venerable an institution than Doctor Who did something similar nearly 40 years ago. The problem is less the cultural solipsism itself than the way those complications crowd out the likeable characters’ interactions.

At its busiest and noisiest, No Way Home is just as alienating as are the fights in the sky at the end of every Avengers movie. The jokes are better, but the CGI still occludes more than it illuminates.

The picture also has an issue with reaching too hard for socio-political meaning. Unless I am reading it wrongly, a core dilemma appears to be arguing for generosity in our treatment of asylum seekers. This is a very worthy message, but the stand-ins for the exiles are, shall we say, not entirely appropriate.

Holland has always been convincing as a kid with a power he can't quite believe, but here he gets the chance to stretch convincingly into adulthood

Much better is the satire of contemporary media courtesy of a badly hair-dyed J Jonah Jameson (JK Simmons, crossing over from Raimi-era Spider-Man without the benefit of a portal) and the disreputable gossip site that the Daily Bugle has become. "Good Night and God help us all," he signs off in hilarious style.

What makes the thing really fly – and it does still fly – is the witty energy of Jon Watts’s direction and the fizzy chemistry between the core actors.

Holland has always been convincing as a kid with a power he can’t quite believe, but here he gets the chance to stretch convincingly into adulthood. The essence of contemporary movie stardom flows through Zendaya’s veins. Tomei is simply the closest thing to a real human being in the whole Marvel Universe.

Few sequences in mainstream cinema this year have been quite so joyous as Spider-Man and MJ’s opening passage through New York City to the strains of Talking Heads’ I Zimbra.

The downbeat ending is genuinely touching and points towards a promising future for the superhero who set the cinematic ball rolling close to 20 years ago. We can’t blame Spidey for the glut that followed. He is still the most fun of the lot.

On general release now

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist