Logistics aren’t sexy, but throughout Marvel’s latest Spider-Man adventure I was struck time and again not by the antics of the heroes on the screen but the ones in an office in Los Angeles. How many scheduling clashes must have been overcome, how many legal meetings someone must have sat through, in order for this most unlikely movie to exist at all.
Students of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will know that running parallel to the 27-film franchise has been a meta narrative involving Marvel’s struggle to regain the rights to a bunch of its most iconic heroes, sold before the MCU was even a twinkle in producer Kevin Feige’s eye.
Rival studio Sony owns Spider-Man, which, until a recent – and temporary – deal, meant he couldn’t appear alongside the likes of Captain America and Iron Man. No Way Home, is Marvel’s ambitious and rather inspired way of addressing this.
And to point out that it’s not actually very good is kind of missing the point. This is pure sugar, a gift wrapped present for fans of the cinematic juggernaut, designed to make them feel all warm and fuzzy and appreciated. It’s so packed with references and in-jokes that it barely qualifies as a feature-film at all, feeling more like an immersive Spider-Man experience, a theme-park ride through the life – or lives – of Marvel’s most iconic superhero.
It’s difficult to write about No Way Home without spoiling something – I’ll tread as carefully as possible but if you’re sensitive to that kind of thing you should probably skip this until after you’ve seen the movie.
It picks up directly after 2019’s Far From Home, with Mysterio having outed Peter Parker as Spider-Man, messing up his life in the process. After he and his friends are rejected from college on account of being dangerous vigilantes, he turns to Doctor Strange for help, with the grumpy wizard grudgingly agreeing to cast a spell to make everyone forget the whole thing. What could go wrong?
The answer soon becomes apparent when super-villains from other parts of the “multiverse” – i.e. Sony’s movies – start appearing. Seeing Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus and Jamie Foxx’s Electro back on the screen – and in a Marvel movie, to boot! – is a joy, with Dafoe on particularly fine form as the deranged scientist who met a sticky end in Sam Raimi’s 2002 movie. They are joined by other ghosts of franchises past as Spider-Man attempts to “fix” the villains of their evil ways in order to save them from death at his own hands upon their return home.
Tom Holland is an excellent Spider-Man and he’s as engaging and likeable as ever, making the moment-to-moment action as breezy and fun as any Marvel film. His scenes with girlfriend MJ and best mate Ned are touching and often genuinely funny, and the thrill of seeing him simply swinging through the city is as strong as ever. Largely thanks to Holland, the two and a half hour run-time flies by, even if there are a few too many cookie-cutter action sequences.
But with so many characters and overlapping narratives to juggle, No Way Home is a creaky affair. The pacing feels off, with scenes tumbling out in what feels like an arbitrary order, more a collection of cool stuff than a cohesive whole. It also relies so heavily on 20-years’ worth of superhero movie knowledge that huge chunks of it would be incomprehensible to a newcomer.
That said, it’s impossible not to smile when greeted by this film’s roster of familiar faces. While not on par with Marvel’s best, it’s a fascinating experiment and a well deserved celebration of two decades’ worth of movie memories.