At the beginning of “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” the new two-and-a-half-hour-long superhero movie now playing in theatres, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) learns it’s hard to be a masked crime fighter when everybody knows who you are under your red and black suit.
Exposed by supervillain Mysterio at the end of “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” Parker’s life has been turned upside down. And not in a fun way as in 2002’s “Spider-Man” when Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst shared an upside-down smooch in the rain.
That was harmless good fun.
These days, the friendly neighborhood web-slinger’s newfound notoriety makes it impossible for him to balance his personal life and relationships with girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), best pal Ned (Jacob Batalon) and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) with his role as a world saving crime fighter.
“People looked up to this boy and called him a hero,” squawks J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons), the conspiratorial host of TheDailyBugle.net. “Well, I’ll tell you what I call him, Public Enemy Number One!”
Some think he’s a hero, others regard him as a vigilante. As his identities become blurred, Parker turns to becaped neurosurgeon and Master of the Mystic Arts, Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), for help.
“When Mysterio revealed my identity, my entire life got screwed up,” Parker says to Strange. “I was wondering if you could make it so it never did.”
Parker wants Dr. Strange to conjure up a spell to brainwash the world and make people forget he is Spider-Man.
It’s a big ask. “Be careful what you wish for,” Strange says, warning Parker that casting such a spell will tamper with the stability of space and time.
Sure enough, the spell blows a hole in the multiverse, the collection of parallel universes with alternate realities, and unleashes “universal trespassers,” the most terrifying foes Spider-Man has ever faced in this or any other realm.
There’s more. Lots more. Big emotional moments, lotsa jokes, nostalgia and fan service, an orgy of CGI and Villains! Villains! Villains! The multiverse offers up a multitude of surprises but there will be no spoilers here. Your eyeballs will dance and, depending on your level of fandom, maybe even well up from time to time.
The trippiness of the story’s inter dimensional leaps, while entertaining, are secondary to the movie’s strongest feature, Spider-Man’s empathy. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is a movie about second chances. Peter Parker doesn’t want to simply vanquish his enemies, he wants to understand them, to know why they behave as they do. By the time the end credits roll, the baddies may not be able to wreak havoc anymore, but not for the reasons you might imagine.
In real life the world is divided by ideology and opinion. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” asks us to examine those differences, look for their roots and try and heal them. It does so with plenty of trademarked Marvel action and overstuffed bombast, but the core message of empathy and understanding for others is the engine that keeps the movie chugging forward.
“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is a mix of exhilaration and exhaustion. It is inconsistent in its storytelling, overblown at times and the finale is a drawn-out CGI fest but when it focusses on the characters, empathy and the chemistry between the actors, it soars, like Spider-Man slinging webs and effortlessly zooming between skyscrapers.