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Spider-Man: No Way Home

Year: 2021
Production Co: Marvel Studios
Studio: Sony
Director: Jon Watts
Producer: Kevin Fiege/Amy Pascal
Writer: Chris McKenna/Erik Sommers
Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Marisa Tomei, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Rhys Ifans, Jon Favreau, Benedict Wong, Andrew Garfield, Tobey Maguire, Thomas Haden Church, Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice, Martin Starr, J K Simmons

When the world was still trying to find its way out of a global health crisis that shut movie production (and attendance) down for two years, this movie reminded us all of the days when blockbusters frequently bothered the billion dollar mark.

It also proved that movie audiences are nowhere close to being as sick of superhero movies as I am, so yes, we're on this treadmill for a long time yet.

The premise of other spider-men and their villains chiming in from other universes (presented in this story as the other Spider-Man franchises and their respective stars) is cute and clever and enough to raise a wry smile, but everything else sticks rigidly to Marvel's CGI-soaked three act playbook – on loan to Sony in this case, which still owns the rights even though they now co-produce with the Disney-owned powerhouse.

It takes place immediately after the events of Spider-Man: Far From Home. Spidey's identity has been revealed as mild mannered high schooler Peter Parker (Tom Holland) thanks to the guy posing as the multiverse hero who was actually the villain wanting to get his hands on the Stark Company tech (Jake Gyllenhaal).

Instead of being hailed as a hero, the public – whipped into a frenzy by rabble rousing former Daily Bugle editor-turned-right wing podcaster J Jonah Jameson (JK Simmons) – want Parker's head. And when the fallout extends far enough for he and his friend Ned (Jacob Batolon) and girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) to be rejected from going to their college of choice because of the scandal, Peter knows he has to do something.

He calls on Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to cast a spell so everyone forgets who he is, who reluctantly agrees. But midway through the giant swirly CGI hieroglyphics thing, Peter keeps changing his mind about who he wants to actually remember. Strange gets more angry, warning Peter about changing the spell when its halfway done, but it all appears to work.

The problems arise when he's chasing the college admission executive on her way to the airport to try to argue his case and a mysterious figure shows up causing havoc, destroying cars and threatening lives. We recognise him as Dr Octopus (Alfred Molina) from the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies, and Peter only just gets out of the scrap with himself and all the innocent bystanders around him in one piece.

But worse is to come. It turns out the spell he and Strange kept changing opened doors to other universes where every other Spider-Man villain has been able to come through to Peter's world. Along with Dock Ock the good guys are attacked by Electro (Jamie Foxx), that lizard guy Rhys Ifans played and The Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe).

Strange intends to send them back to their own universes where they'll die like they did in them, ordering Peter and his friends to find them so they can be sent back, but Peter wants to save them, figuring they can be sent back to their own times alive instead. He somehow banishes Strange to some weird dimension and goes to collect all the bad guys to try and help them see the light before they're sent back.

But when MJ and Ned go looking for Peter, they instead find other Spider-Men in the forms of Maguire and Andrew Garfield, and when the Green Goblin side of Osborn's personality takes over and threatens everything it's up to all three Spider-Men to join forces and battle all their former foes on the recast Statue of Liberty (now holding Captain America's shield).

It felt like a long, quite overstuffed movie, but Marvel screenwriters know their jobs well and it all moves along as a very fast clip, only just giving you time to keep up with it all.

I find the characters all a bit bland in these things but it was fun the way the film acknowledged the other films as being other universes. I'm sure there's a meta comment in there about the whole scientific idea of multiverses referring to the modern craze for endlessly rebooting popular entertainment franchises with new actors and stories.

It was also another example of the law enforcement and military doctrine of a self-generated arms race, where the story only happens because of itself.

People from other universes only appeared because Parker wanted Strange to cast a spell because of what happened in the last film, which only happened because someone wanted to get his hands on the technology that made Spider-Man who he is, which only happened because the original villain from the first film got hold of technology from the big battle in The Avengers, and so on...

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