Now Playing — Spider-Man: No Way Home

When I delved in devotedly to superhero sagas, many Marvel Comics Calendars ago, it was generally understood that the publisher of Spider-Man’s super stories was able to maintain a more coherent continuity because they hadn’t tinkered around in alternate universes in the same way as their distinguished competition. The What If series ostensibly indulged in the notion that there were parallel timelines with all manner of off-kilter shenanigans, but it was generally understood that the framing device of the Watcher peeping into other dimensions for a counterfactual renderings of familiar Marvel masterpieces was merely a conceit, not a representation of how the broad narrative was actually assembled. Some time ago, there was a seismic shift, and every last bit of ephemera that ever sprung from the House of Ideas was now fair game, available for whatever gonzo adventure creators dreamed up. Fun as this admittedly could be, the freewheeling style was treacherous, too. A fictional universe at least partially predicated on presenting a more grounded, logical version of the fantastical could start to look mighty confusing where there were carbon copies of costumed crusaders zipping around.

The above comics-nerd observations bring me to Spider-Man: No Way Home, the third feature headlined by the alter ego of Peter Parker (Tom Holland) since the Marvel-industrial complex convinced Sony Pictures some cross-corporate collaboration was in their best interests. I think it safely sidesteps a spoiler to note that the web-slinger becomes acquainted with the concept of the multiverse in the new film, allowing him, for example, to tangle with villains who were caught just like flies by earlier screen incarnations of Marvel’s signature do-gooder. Laudably, this onslaught of additional characters hustling through a ripple in reality is handled with reasonable adeptness by screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, who were also credited on the past two Spider-Man films. There’s a lot to keep straight, and the script manages it without getting mired in exposition.

Where the script falters is in the deft comedy and charming characterizations that helped distinguish Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far from Home. Parker’s best buddy, Ned (Jacob Batalon), and his girlfriend, M.J. (Zendaya), are vital partners in his endeavors to untangle the coiling existences, but the personalities that elevated them previously are largely blunted. As drivers of the plot, they’re integral. As individuals, they’re mechanical components in a perpetual motion machine.

When scrutinized with any rigor, the plot of Spider-Man: No Way Home starts to look shaky. It’s fun to watch once disparate elements come together, though the effectiveness must vary dependent on the amount of nostalgic goodwill any given viewer brings to the experience. That qualifier is absolutely a flaw, not a strength. The bigger problem is that so many of the important components — motivation, emotional through lines, resolution — are brushed past as if they’re immaterial, mere nuisances impeding the crackling spectacle of celebratory fan service. Director Jon Watts, another returner from the preceding spider-flicks, keeps the plates spinning and not much else. He’s also done no favors by the presence of Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), providing an unflattering comparison to Sam Raimi’s visual ingenuity and storytelling clarity when working with the same character. Considering how much the Marvel Studios films hinge on action sequences, it’s remarkable how often those passage disappoint, dominated by skies rending open and finger-paint smears of digital effects.

My misspent youth with page after page of four-color adventures leaves me unduly susceptible to these Marvel movies, and my equally longstanding movie obsessiveness means I’m helplessly tickled by the abolition of boundaries between different iterations of an iconic character. And yet, I also recognize a certain hollowness to Spider-Man: No Way Home. It goes down easy, but it’s empty calories.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s