The concept of alternate dimensions shouldn’t sound foreign to comic fans. Marvel alone has countless. As far as the Spider-Man movies are concerned, Into the Spider-Verse already gave us the crash course in 2018. In the animated feature, Latin teenager Miles Morales took over the web-slinging following the death of that dimension’s Peter Parker. In the process, he ends up teaming up with several more counterparts, including an anthropomorphic pig donning the iconic red tights. Absurd, but, hey, it worked.
Three years later, that premise is explored anew in Spidey’s third Marvel Cinematic Universe solo outing and Tom Holland is just as rambunctious and impulsive as ever. It was a tough swing to introduce the hero to the Disney-verse. For one, Sony Pictures is still churning out spin-offs featuring his adversaries. It started with the two Venom movies, with Morbius and Kraven the Hunter expected to soon follow suit. It took Holland’s intervention to smoothen things out between the two studios. How they even managed to reach that compromise is a, well, marvel.
No Way Home picks up instantly where 2019’s Far From Home left off. Spidey had just defeated fishbowl-headed illusionist Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), but not without his identity being publicly disclosed. This sparks an intense widespread debate whether the webslinger’s on the side of good or evil. Of course, count on Daily Bugle bigwig J. Jonah Jameson to insist on the latter. Historically, he’s always been the wallcrawler’s biggest hater. By the way, it’s great to see J.K. Simmons back in that role.
The unmasking soon takes toll on Peter’s personal life. With news choppers and protesters swarming his high-rise abode, Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) is prompted to seek legal advice from Matt Murdock (cameo by Charlie Cox as Daredevil) and temporarily move to Happy Hogan’s (Jon Favreau) posh apartment. Worse, it damages the college application prospects of, not just Peter’s, but also that of his closest confidants, girlfriend M.J. (Zendaya) and best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon).
Desperate to undo the damage, his last recourse is to take the mystic approach. This leads to a visit to Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose presence here drolly verges on parody. In a hilarious sequence, what begins as a plea to erase the reveal from public memory goes haywire when Peter struggles with specificity. As a result, Strange’s spell backfires and inadvertently conjures baddies who know Peter Parker, but not necessarily this Peter Parker.
Cue the inter-dimensional (Sony) villain reunion. From Team Sam Raimi, there’s a digitally de-aged Alfred Molina reprising his Spider-Man 2 (2004) role as Doctor Otto Octavius. Remember, the movies never refer to him as Dr. Octopus). There’s also Thomas Haden Church rendered in CGI gravel for the most part as Spider-Man 3’s (2007) Flint Marko/Sandman. And then there’s Willem Dafoe hovering back as the schizophrenic Harry Osbourne/Green Goblin, from the 2002 movie.
And from Team Marc Webb, there’s Rhys Ifans as the reptile-obsessed Dr. Curt Conners/Lizard from The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and Jamie Foxx no longer looking like a Dr. Manhattan rip-off as Max Dillon/Electro from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014). Too bad they’re one member shy of forming a big screen Sinister Six. It would have been nice to see Rhino (Paul Giamatti) fully fleshed out, after being relegated to mid-credits in 2014.
But as it is, a quintet is already too much for one teen, who now seeks to send the villains back to their respective timelines and reverse their respective grim fates – much to Strange’s objection, because you cannot alter fate. This perplexes the baddies but killing simply isn’t MCU-Spidey’s way. Either way, he obviously still could use the helping hand.
Fortunately, Ned temporarily acquires Strange’s portal-generating abilities, which leads to a scene confirming the side character’s Pinoy lineage. The Tagalog doesn’t sound too organic, but, sure, thanks for the inclusion. More meaningfully, though, the borrowed gift opens (inter-dimensional) doors for more nostalgia, especially when two more friendly neighborhood Spider-Men join the riot. And for the sake of diluting the spoiler factor, let’s call them Peter Two and Peter Three, as they do here.
What ensues is an epic exercise of fan service, when the webslingers take on the wicked fivesome. It’s a treat watching the three Spideys compare notes, be it on their respective past misadventures or the variations of their abilities. It’s tough pulling off meta without making the material sound too self-conscious. But kudos to screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers for the touches of sentimentality. Be forewarned, throwback tears might be shed.
This grand reunion succeeds in also redeeming the previous Sony franchises in a way, after their respective weak finishes in 2007 and 2014. Suddenly, there’s clamor to see more installments over that end. As for the MCU iteration, it’s a pivotal turning point. Given the irreversible changes the teen hero goes through in this film, this is presumably the part he starts growing up. Every incarnation had to go through this transition, be it through loss or through brushes of identity crises. And, here, we see the youngster grappling with dark thoughts for the first time, as things take a tragic turn. This can only mean more major paradigm shifts in Holland’s portrayal, as he swings higher to new adventures.