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New ‘Spider-Man’ swings plenty but never quite soars

The Art of Nerding Out

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“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is an epic adventure and a mile-marker for how far comic book movies have come in the past two decades. Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, getting this kind of multiverse-spanning spectacle on the big screen was only the stuff of dreams. Now it seems like we’re getting a movie of this epic scale every couple of months.

But while “No Way Home” is certainly packed with spectacular scenes, it seems like something had to go to make room for all the massive action sequences and ensemble banter. “No Way Home” has plenty of eye-popping visual candy but it feels a little bit hollow.

“No Way Home” finds Peter Parker (Tom Holland) dealing with the fallout of having his dual identity as Spider-Man revealed to the world by J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons). When the blowback begins to extract costs from his girlfriend M.J. (Zendaya), best buddy Ned (Jacob Batalon) and his beloved Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), Peter takes it upon himself to fix things.

Peter contacts Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and convinces him to cast a spell that will make the world forget he’s Spider-Man. Unfortunately, the spell goes wrong and villains from other universes begin to pop up in Peter’s world, beginning with Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina). That’s as much of a summation as I want to give if I want to avoid spoilers.

“No Way Home” tries to have multiple cakes and eat them, too. It wants to be a big MCU event movie, and it basically succeeds at that. It also wants to depict the price the good people have to pay to do what’s right. Watching Peter, a genuinely decent kid, deal with what happens to him in this movie, you feel moved and you want to see him succeed. “No Way Home” mostly succeeds there, too.

The movie makes some really fun choices, like reinterpreting Jameson as a new media journalist and pundit. Think of him as Alex Jones with slightly less bombast and a bigger budget.

Where the movie is less successful is that it also wants to tell a story about Peter and M.J.’s relationship and how it is impacted by all the superheroic mayhem he faces on a daily basis. With so many major characters involved in the story, so much plot to unspool, the focus gets shifted from M.J. and Peter to Peter finding a way to save the day.

Unfortunately, that makes the scenes between Peter and M.J. at the end of the flick less impactful than they should be. We get a fantastic scene between the two of them (and Ned) on the Midtown High School rooftop early in the film and then we never get anything else that intimate in the flick. It was a lovely scene that lets you inside the heads of those characters and I wanted more of that.

There’s nothing really wrong with “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” Honest. The direction is solid, the acting is strong (especially from Holland), the writing is both imaginative and the banter between characters is excellent. There are a ton of surprises for long-time “Spidey” movie fans and there are even a few emotional moments that may draw some tears. But, for the most part, “No Way Home” seems much more interested in getting you to laugh or gasp in wonder than telling an emotionally fulfilling story. In my eyes, that makes the movie good but not great.

3 ½ Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG-13