Rating: 5 out of 5.

Easily the largest film event of 2021, Spider-Man: No Way Home explodes into theaters just in time for the holiday season. Every single live-action Spider-Man since the 2002 Tobey Maguire has been a memorable theater experience, and this one was no exception. Minutes before the showing was about to commence, my packed theater was still buzzing with waves of anticipation, and murmurs of speculation. A short pre-recorded segment preluded the movie, with the cast urging the audience: “don’t spoil!” Suffice to say, there was uproarious applause and rampant celebration for each exciting set piece. No Way Home feels like a wonderful ode to decades of Spider-lore.

Picking up merely seconds after the ending of Spider Man: Far From Home, the world now knows the true identity of the hero, Peter Parker (Tom Holland, more buff than ever). Not only that, but because of Mysterio’s leaked viral video, everyone thinks Peter is a murderer. “Public Enemy #1,” so says the dailybugle.net‘s J. Jonah Jameson (played once again by the hilarious, J.K. Simmons). Surrounded by helicopters and press on the regular, Peter and those closest to him become caught in the midst of an aggressive media circus. High school’s end looms on the horizon. Peter’s biggest battle yet has arrived: “college admissions!”

If eye candy is your thing, Tom Holland spends a fair amount of this movie in his underwear, and his shirtless physique is also on display. The relationship with MJ (Zendaya) crackles with awkward and charming chemistry. Holland’s performance functions far beyond surface level this time around. Eventually, it evolves into an emotionally rich and breathtaking effort as Peter Parker. The responsibilities of daily life and making the difficult choices weigh heavier than ever on the soon-to-graduate Peter. The whole crux of the plot is that Peter, MJ, and Ned (Jacob Batalon) have made a pact to open their acceptance letters from MIT—specifically, they do not get in based merely on Parker’s status as an unearthed vigilante. Now that Peter’s secret is beginning to have real effects on those he loves, he turns to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in the hopes that Strange can offer a remedy to the situation. 

A simple forgetting spell, what could go wrong? Wong (Benedict Wong) tries to talk Doctor Strange out of it, but with a mission as straightforward as making everyone forget Spider-Man’s true identity, Strange is rather confident. Peter keeps altering the parameters of Strange’s spell, while Strange is attempting to cast it. This causes an explosive result in which every person aware of Spider-Man’s true identity in all universes is now sucked into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What is your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man to do when forced to face off with some of the most deadly foes of the multiverse?

It is so refreshing to have a film that cares just as much about the villains as it does the hero. The rogues gallery of monsters from Spider-Man films of yesteryear are honestly fantastic, exchanging sharp banter with minimal effort. In this field, Jamie Foxx’s Electro and Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus are both phenomenal. However, the real MVP here is the OG Spider-Man baddie, Norman Osborn aka Green Goblin. Getting each actor to return for their roles was a stroke of genius, but none so much as veteran actor Willem Dafoe. As he did in Sam Raimi’s 2002 original, he completely steals the show.

In AMC’s wonderful Dolby Cinema, the sound completely envelops the audience with a rich score evoking the past, present, and future of Spidey. Visuals spanning the full seven-film legacy are frequently stunning to behold. Folding in the mind-bending creative touches from Doctor Strange also allows an opportunity for director Jon Watts to play up the unique visual style. As the first MCU trilogy to hail from the same director, Watts brings an overall consistency to the series lacking from other entires. No matter what way you slice it, most people go to see superhero movies on the big screen with a certain set of expectations. No Way Home delivers on this front as well with epic action set pieces scattered across its nearly two-and-a-half hour runtime. Lest you forget, as is the tradition with Marvel, be sure to stick around until the very last frame.

Of course, what any voracious fan really wants to know is if those many leaks are true. While I cannot directly address this, I will say the answer is extremely satisfying. For even the casual fan of the other movies, No Way Home weaves it together with a fancy bow, and an emotionally powerful core. Tears were certainly shed; in a way, the connective tissue between every film is beautifully realized at long lost. This film is not just my favorite Tom Holland Spider-Man entry, but my favorite Spider-Man movie of all time. It has gifted me what I could not envision in my wildest desires, and goes the extra mile with its powerful and age-old message: “with great power comes great responsibility.” Truer words have perhaps never been spoken.

Spider-Man: No Way Home promises a fitting and epic moviegoing experience for fans all over the world when it debuts exclusively in theaters on Friday, December 17th. 

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