Saturday 5 February 2022

Make Mine Spider-Man

Spider-Man: No Way Home is a box office behemoth and I can't wait to see the beloved web-slinger's latest adventure when it debuts on Netflix.

Nick Smith, our resident US-based comic book guru, enters a multiverse of Marvel's making.

Guest post by Nick Smith

2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse took a charming swing at celebrating Spidey’s history, with turns from Spider-Gwen, Spider-Man Noir and even Peter Porker. The animated feature was a joy to watch and a deserved hit. But was a live-action multiverse adventure feasible, or would it be a futile exercise in fan pandering? Fortunately, the former is true.

Spider-Man: No Way Home is one of the most accomplished and heart-warming Marvel movies so far.

In Spider-Man: No Way Home, J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons) has outed 17-year-old Peter Parker (Tom Holland) as – gasp! – the vigilante super-hero Spider-Man. This rotten revelation adversely affects the lives of Peter, his besties Ned (Jacob Batalon) and MJ (Zendaya) and his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). The only person who seems to come out smelling of roses is Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), who proclaims himself Peter’s real BFF and has a book out to prove it.

Peter goes to fellow Avenger Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help. Strange casts a spell to help the world forget Spider-Man’s alias. Unfortunately, the spell goes wrong and worlds collide as other super-powered characters, who know his true identity, are pulled from alternate Earths.

DC does multiple worlds well, at least on TV; The CW’s shows have already schooled modern audiences on multiverses and different variations of characters. Many made charming cameos in the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover, from 1960s Robin (Burt Ward) to the current movie Flash (Ezra Miller) meeting his TV equal (Grant Gustin).

It’s a hard act to follow, but Marvel does it in its hyper-real, epic style that tugs at the heartstrings and leaves you wanting more. Amidst the action and character-based comedy, there are strong themes of loyalty and redemption. To say who gets redeemed would spoil this movie’s surprises – let’s just say some of the pay-offs are decades in the making.

All the Tom Holland Spider-Man films have been satisfying but this one respects its legacy by referring to previous entries in the saga, complete with music cues, familiar phrases (‘with great power…’) and several sinister villains.

Although the story presupposes knowledge of Avengers and Spider-Man lore, that’s balanced with characters popping into our world and being surprised – magic exists here? There’s a guy who turns green? – giving newbies a chance to relate to the far-fetched drama.

The actors help to sell the fairytale aspects of the plot as well as the more everyday drama (getting into college, actions having consequences). Tom Holland (Peter Parker/Spider-Man) gets more charismatic with each of his films. Zendaya (MJ) and Jacob Batalon (Ned Leeds) are perfect supporting players. Alfred Molina picks up his sympathetic portrayal of Doc Ock, last seen in 2004’s Spiderman 2, as if he never left it. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange provides a perfect wry remedy for Peter Parker’s teenage turmoil.

We’ve seen Doctor Strange’s eye-bending, twisted planes of existence before but a crack between dimensions opens new realms of possibility. It would be fantastic to see the Negative Zone or Jack Kirby starfields in full effect.

There’s no dispute that DC lay the multidimensional groundwork for contemporary viewers to accept different takes on favourite characters and stories. Nevertheless, since Spider-Man: No Way Home captures the humanity and down-to-earth concerns of its characters – the heroes and villains – there’s no contest. Marvel does it better.

Have you seen Spider-Man: No Way Home? Let me know in the comments below.

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