Damon Smith, PA Film Critic
According to whip smart Midtown School of Science and Technology student Michelle Jones aka MJ (Zendaya), inflicting the minimum self-harm as you ride the bucking bronco of life can be distilled into one affirmation: if you expect disappointment, you will never be disappointed.
After all the feverish online speculation and hype, fans braced for disappointment from Tom Holland’s third tour of duty as the web-slinging superhero are going to be disappointed because Spider-Man: No Way Home is a thrillingly wild ride that should leave every face mask in the cinema sodden with freshly spilt tears.
Returning screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers graduate with honours by striking a whoop-inducing balance between spectacular action sequences and gut-wrenching tragedy that proves in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, history repeats through a glass darkly.
Director Jon Watts has been safely installed behind the camera since Holland first swung into solo action in Spider-Man: Homecoming after his big reveal as an ally of Tony Stark in Captain America: Civil War.
The Colorado-born filmmaker sets pulses racing from the vertiginous opening scene of Spider-Man (Holland) and MJ swinging through the streets and subways of New York after Peter is exposed to the world as the boy behind the red mask.
A breathless chase between the eponymous hero and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) through the Archimedean spirals of a Mirror Dimension that recalls the folding cityscapes of Christopher Nolan’s Inception is another adrenaline rush, and a showdown at the Statue of Liberty fully flexes the digital effects team’s abilities to render brutal combat in mid-air and on tumbling scaffolding.
Plot twists are plentiful and none will be distilled here for fear of summoning dark forces from the multiverse. However, your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man would strongly urge you to stay seated until the very end of the credits.
Alliteration-loving Daily Bugle hack J Jonah Jameson (JK Simmons), who makes mischief with his TV broadcasts claiming that Spider-Man murdered Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) in cold blood, would gleefully report that Peter Parker picks a peck of particularly pressing personal problems in this third chapter.
The media swarms when Peter is exposed as Spider-Man and he tries (unsuccessfully) to ride out the storm with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and Tony Shark’s former chauffeur Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau).
When the people he loves are penalised for associating with him, Peter entreats master of mystic arts Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to cast a spell with ancient runes in the Sanctum Sanctorum to make the world forget his secret identity.
The incantation is botched and fissures in the multiverse allow five of Spider-Man’s most fearsome adversaries – Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), Electro (Jamie Foxx), Lizard (Rhys Ifans) and Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) – to converge on this refraction of New York City.
Spider-Man: No Way Home puts the characters – and in turn us – through the emotional wringer to underline the great responsibility that comes with great power.
Holland delivers those sucker punches with aplomb as his web slinger stands on the precipice of noble yet tumultuous manhood.
Strong supporting performances across the multiverse serve both fans and the narrative.
McKenna and Sommers’ script is playfully self-referential, swinging towards an uncertain future that rests in the black claw of a third Venom film.
(12A, 148 mins) Action/Adventure/Romance. Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Jamie Foxx, Rhys Ifans, Thomas Haden Church, JK Simmons. Director: Jon Watts.
Released in Ireland: December 15th