The mind-boggling box office success of the latest Spider-Man installment during another surge in the pandemic only goes to prove that there’s no such thing as too much Spider-Man, and while some will point to the MCU imprimatur as being its own reason to print money, essentially such cynicism shortchanges the peculiar appeal of the web-spinning superhero, an appeal that Sony, as the only studio outside the Disney universe to still have control over a Marvel character, is too lucky to possess and not ambitious enough to appreciate properly. During my own brief elementary school comic book phase Spider-Man was the most interesting superhero simply because he was a kid who couldn’t quite square his powers with his immaturity, and he genuinely suffered for it. He was the most human superhero because the stories were as much about his doubts and fears as they were about fighting bad guys. There was something of that poignancy in the Tobey Maguire-Sam Raimi trilogy that made so much money, and slightly less in the angtsy, attenuated Andrew Garfield “Amazing” movies. Since Tom Holland’s gig is twofold—he not only plays Spider-Man in his own series, but also plays him as perhaps the future central character in the continuing Avengers franchise—his personality as Peter Parker is more utilitarian, and while the filmmakers have tried to get back to the adolescent self-awareness that is the core of the Spidey story, there’s too much going on in the surrounding films to make it work.
No Way Home is obviously meant to resolve all those problems as a means of getting the character back to basics, and it does an impressive job, logistically at least, in bringing all the conflicting dramatic impulses to bear on that mission. At the end of the last installment, Mysterioso (Jake Gyllenhaal) exposed Spider-Man’s identity as Peter Parker to the world, which threw not only Peter’s life into total chaos, but those of his girlfriend, MJ (Zendaya), and best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon)—specifically, their chances of getting into MIT. He can no longer effectively fight bad guys, but even worse he can’t even safely attend to his scholarly ambitions. So he does something that only makes sense in the context of fantasy blockbusters like these: he uses magic by calling on his new Avenger compatriot Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to use his special powers to make the world forget Mysterioso ever happened. As with the whole X-Men series, this sort of supreme deus ex machina plot device is so open-ended as to be practically meaningless. It’s why an in-context motivational purist like Quentin Tarantino would never be caught within ten feet of an MCU production.
Dr. Strange’s spell causes more than just mass amnesia. It opens up portals to different dimensions, all of which contain those other Spider-Men that were so effectively presented in that animated peculiarity Into the Spider-Verse. By now if you have a connection to the internet, you know what happens, but I promised Sony I wouldn’t tell, so suffice to say that all the previous incarnations of Spider-Man, as well as their most prominent adversaries, get to share the same space for the kind of blowout that guarantees anyone with a Marvel jones will line up twice to see it. As I said, it’s well done in a totally cynical, future-profit-speculating way, and settles Holland’s status as a Peter Parker manque we can believe in, but just as I was exhausted after sitting through this two-and-a-half-hour fan service epic, I can seriously say that there is such a thing as too much Spider-Man.
Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Marunouchi Piccadilly (050-6875-0075), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Shinjuku Piccadilly (050-6861-3011), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Toho Cinemas Shibuya (050-6868-5002), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).
Spider-Man: No Way Home home page in Japanese
photo (c) 2021 CTMG. (c) & TM 2021 Marvel