Spider-Man: No Way Home

Directed by Jon Watts

Written by Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers, based on Spider-Man Comic Book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Starring Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei

There’s a moment early in “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” where our protagonist struggles to gain control over a situation and realizes that geometry is the answer to his question. Now, I am no mathematician; I find it scary. But put a movie in front of me, and the infinite geometric patterns become effortless and evident. The characters move within the eddies and currents endemic to the central thesis – a rousing, human drama coming to terms with ourselves.

Jon Watts’ latest entry in the Tom Holland-starring film starts with the fallout from Spider-Man’s identity having been revealed. There should be something quite relieving about it, almost like my coming out to my family: “I’m no longer stuck in prison.” It turns out that the exact opposite reaction occurs as the citizens of New York City, fueled by J. Jonah Jameson’s (J.K. Simmons) onslaught, demanding to know where he is, descends on Peter and MJ (Zendaya). Akin to Verhoeven’s prescient use of news beats in “RoboCop,” Watts intersperses Jameson’s diatribes throughout: “when will you reveal yourself?” The story eggs the character on; he won’t go so gently into that good night.

Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, the film’s co-screenwriters, don’t necessarily answer that question until the film’s end. Still, it makes for interesting commentary on the current state of the always-on news cycle. The writing duo dots our re-orientation into Spider-Man’s world through character familiarity, offering us comfort; Aunt May played by the ever-lovely Marissa Tomei, Jon Favreau’s Happy, the one remaining link between Spider-Man and Stark and Jacob Batalon’s plucky Ned Leeds, Peter’s best friend from high school. The early, concentric circles form as Peter surrounds himself with a shield, each character forming a point with which Peter remains connected to his world. Tomei is understanding and supportive, a motherly presence reminding Peter of his commitment to society, Favreau serves as the link to the real world, a reminder of the consequences. Zendaya and Batalon serve as the stakes for which Peter is fighting for.

Watts knows better than to have Peter sit idly by; his cloistering has consequences for those around him, especially MJ and Ned. Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) returns to aid Peter in correcting this trajectory. Incredible chemistry between Holland and Cumberbatch strengthens the mission to come; an uncle-nephew bond Peter feeds off that is both endearing and comedic.

Concentric ripples inherent in McKenna’s and Sommers’ story continue to expand as Peter tries to do the right thing in restoring his secret identity with integrity and honesty. However, Parker’s attempts result in a tear opening the multiverse up to our present timeline, and with it comes villains from the various iterations of Sony’s “Spider-Man” franchise. Each villain comes in their own time, and Peter feels obligated to help them restore their humanity, rather than facing his own.

There are several action pieces where the effects punctuate “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” including the arrival of our villains, a scene where Strange tries to take action, and the final duel at the Statue of Liberty. The movement within the space is fluid and dynamic as the characters make their gravity-resistant feats with ease.

Most of the run time is dramatic, lending strength to Peter’s journey, an ode to Watts’ independent background and Holland’s strengths, something I confess I missed from “Eternals,” though I owe that film a rewatch. (No, that’s not a clue that you should revisit “Eternals” before seeing this film; it’s an admission that I might have been wrong about that film.) The established characters are more well-rounded in this story, something that Watts has gone to great lengths on this “Spider-Man” trilogy that other entries from Sony might have missed. The drama does feel a bit heavy-handed at times. Despite any misgivings I have about this entry serving as the 27th movie in the MCU franchise, Sony’s “Spider-Man” movies have been consistent in character, motivation, and heart. This entry continues those elements in exemplary fashion.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” hits theaters on December 17th. See it on a giant screen with the best sound possible and stay for the inevitable mid-credit and end-credit sequences.

PG-13, 148 minutes, Columbia Pictures/Marvel Studios/Pascal Pictures