After the events of Spider-Man: Far From Home, the secret identity of our friendly neighbourhood etc etc (Tom Holland) has been plastered all over by newshound J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons), exposing Peter Parker to public vitriol and his friends and loved ones – girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) – to danger. What’s a webhead to do but seek out sorcerer Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for some help?
But the spell Strange cobbles up to make the whole world forget Parker is Spider-Man, instead dragging in a number of villains from alternate dimensions, including the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), Electro (Jamie Foxx), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), and the Lizard (Rhys Ifans). All these guys have been killed by Spider-Man in their own universes, but our Spidey doesn’t kill, so he sets about rounding up these mad menaces in a less-than-lethal manner. But that’s a pretty big job for one kid…
…and that’s as close to spoiler territory as I want to get and believe me: this is a spoiler-heavy flick if you’re concerned with that sort of thing. Far From Home is largely a succession of cameos and special guest stars strung along a pretty straightforward plot, the easy charisma of the cast doing the work of the narrative engine that should be pulling us along. It’s “this happened, and then this happened, and this guy showed up, and then this other guy…” until we hit the third act, where some genuine pathos and catharsis helps stick the landing. It’s never not fun – seeing Alfred Molina and Willem Dafoe in these roles again is worth the price of admission alone – but it’s also a little less than the sum of its parts.
It’s also deeply metatextual, and that’s fine. Crossovers in comics often need the audience to just go with the flow in terms of plausibility, and that’s the case here, too. No Way Home is drawing on the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb Spider-flicks along with the established MCU canon, and it all works in the moment – as does Doctor Strange’s magic – you’ll be picking away at more than a few elements after the credits roll, pondering the big questions like “How does time work across parallel dimensions”, “Would a memory spell affect physical records?” and “Does free will even exist in the MCU given the recurrence of people and even phrases across the multiverse?” Or maybe you won’t; the Comic Book Movie Paradox is that these films (according to their stans) want to be considered Real Cinema, but picking holes in them is apparently overthinking it. It’s mean to find fault with the biggest, most successful entertainment franchises in the history of bipedal life, I’m told.
But I still dig these movies, and I dig Spider-Man – certainly I like dirt-poor working class Spidey more than Iron Man’s heir Spidey (and this film takes steps to address that), but I like Tom Holland more than Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire, so it sort of balances out. Everything else I could talk about is behind the spoiler curtain, so I’ll close by directing your attention to the star rating and just say that if you’ve liked the MUC Spidey stuff so far, you’ll certainly enjoy this one, and we should reconvene when all the secrets are out in the public sphere.