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St. Nick

Where are the parents? Is it a game? Detached style draws you in. —Marty Mapes (review...)

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As the MCU’s first formal feature foray into the multiverse, No Way Home is a strange — make that Strange — mash-up that is both entertaining and tedious.

The Expanding Universe

MJ (Zendaya) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) take flight
MJ (Zendaya) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) take flight

Get used to the notion of the multiverse. It’s the next level, so to speak, for the MCU.

Think of it this way: Spider-Man has had numerous variations in both the comic books and the movies. There’s plain-old Spider-Man, Amazing Spider-Man, Sensational Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man and so on. Those variations include different relationships; Mary Jane, Michelle Jones and Gwen Stacy are among the web-slinger’s romantic entanglements.

But what happens when those various universes collide? That’s where the notion of the multiverse enters the picture. It’s something DC’s also going to explore in an upcoming Flash theatrical feature sporting both Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne.

In No Way Home, Peter Parker is thrown into the multiverse after he interferes with a spell Doctor Strange attempts to cast so everybody — well, everybody except for MJ, Ned, Aunt May and maybe one or two other cherished friends and family — forgets Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Essentially, Peter wants to undo the moment when the nefarious Mysterio revealed Peter as Spider-Man.

No Way Home picks up right where Far from Home left off, with that big reveal instantly complicating Peter’s life. And, of course, media spin — particularly by the likes of J. Jonah Jameson, the epitome of a yellow journalist if ever there was one — paints Peter Parker in a particularly problematic portrayal. The fact Jameson is once again played by J.K. Simmons is not a matter for the multiverse, regardless of his ties to the Raimi movies. So, there’s that extra bit of meta.

The Wizard’s Dungeon

As with so many movies released during the past few months, spoilers abound in this one. That’s hardly something to complain about; it’s stunning to think about the longstanding series that have managed to find new ways to thrill audiences, including James Bond and Ghostbusters. Now it’s Spidey’s turn and the strategy for this analysis is to stick with the safe stuff, the things already revealed in the trailers.

For starters, Doc Ock (aka Otto Octavius, aka Alfred Molina, Raiders of the Lost Ark) is back after his run-in with Spider-Man nearly 20 years ago in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. So is Green Goblin (aka Norman Osborn, aka Willem Dafoe, John Wick). But, piling on the interest factor, The Lizard (aka Dr. Curt Connors, aka Rhys Ifans, The King’s Man) is back from battling a completely different Spider-Man in The Amazing Spider-Man. Similarly, there’s Max Dillon (aka Electro, aka Jamie Foxx, Ray) from The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

That’s a whole lotta brain power for (most) everybody’s favorite neighborhood Spider-Man (Tom Holland, The Lost City of Z) to battle. Thank goodness he’s got Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain) to cast some spells and make it all better.

Or maybe not. There’d be no story if things were that simple.

Inception

In Homecoming and Far from Home, director Jon Watts breathed fresh life into Spider-Man, wholly embracing the likability of Tom Holland and bringing an abundance of youthful energy into the MCU with Peter and all his school friends, in addition to all that romantic angst.

Peter Parker (Tom Holland) spells it out with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch)
Peter Parker (Tom Holland) spells it out with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch)

From that point of view, No Way Home is a bit of a letdown. It doesn’t ride quite as high on the fun quotient — despite numerous spoiler-ridden aspects that on paper make this one a mega-event movie, even by MCU’s outsized standards.

The trouble isn’t within the multiverse; that’s an interesting concept that opens all sorts of ridiculous possibilities for future movies — indeed, next up is episode 28, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, currently scheduled for May 2022. (The post-credits bit at the end of No Way Home plays less like a tantalizing tease of things to come and more like a traditional trailer.)

Sure, it’s entertaining when No Way Home riffs on the differences between the various Spider-Man comic book series and the quirky, zany oddities that have been the movies’ top-drawer antagonists. The different suits, the different personalities, the different shortcomings. Fun stuff. Good humor. Lots of creativity to appreciate there. And Foxx gets some of the movie’s best lines, including, “Damn. Gotta be careful where you fall.”

The Metaverse of Troubles

The trouble stems from Peter himself this time around. Yeah, it’s cute to see him wearing a remarkably wrinkled dress shirt and washing paint off his Spidey suit using soap and water. Yeah, it’s classic Peter to see him duct tape his smartphone to his Spidey suit so it can serve as a makeshift GoPro camera.

But, dang, Peter. You’ve been an Avenger. You’ve seen mass destruction wielded by all manner of pure, unadulterated evil, all culminating with the worst of the worst, Thanos. And yet, somehow, you think it’s a good idea to try to reform those classic baddies? Seriously? What kind of grades are you getting in school, kid? And you think you’re MIT material?

Even more to the point, the ultimate question that is now, in this context, stripped of all sarcasm and facetiousness: What universe are you living in?

It’s not the brightest idea. And, to some extent, Doctor Strange serves as a voice of reason, albeit a weak one. Even as Strange warns there are consequences for trying to “fix” people, it’s unheeded and quickly dismissed. It’s borderline malpractice on the strange doctor’s part, nonetheless.

And it makes for a rather burdensome third act in wrangling all that evil. So much of what happens in No Way Home is historic for the MCU and for moviegoers. The movie most certainly needs to be acknowledged for that, but, even so, one of the most impactful lines in movie history is resurrected here and it lands with a thud instead of a swoon. It’s a line that predates the MCU, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

As warned, there are some heavy-duty consequences that dramatically change the landscape of Peter’s world. But in the aftermath of the game-changing conclusion to Endgame, No Way Home comes across as a little too manipulative and it doesn’t quite land the punch it’s pulling for.