Spider-Man: No Way Home (4 stars)

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange helps out Spider-Man when there's no way home

High-octane effects and nifty dialogue power a meta narrative that lifts the Spider-Man universe into more emotionally-charged territory

At the finale of 2019's Far From Home, Peter Parker was outed and shamed as Spider-Man. Usually, the unmasking of a superhero wouldn't be the cause for such public loathing except he appears to have blood on his webbed hands amid the drone-based carnage at that film's conclusion. That this awful accusation, plus the dastardly reveal of Parker's identity as Spidey to the entire world, comes from the fake-news online organ of J Jonah Jameson (JK Simmons) only makes it a tougher tablet for Peter to swallow.

But our hero, played with a still youthful verve by Tom Holland (despite his reported admission that a pre-midlife crisis may force him out of the acting game), is never alone. Some old familiar foes show up with reasonably good intentions (though can you ever fully trust Willem Dafoe's wolfish Green Goblin?) while friends such as contemporary confidantes including his aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and college girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) are joined by other characters from parallel universes.

In an intriguing twist of structure, the high-octane effects of the opening section (generally eye-opening if a little predictable in places) are slowed right down for a more satisfying second act in which expectations are turned upside down and something a little deeper, measured and funnier emerges. But all of the fizzing action and sharper dialogue are all heading in one direction towards a single major question: can Peter keep living in a world that sees him as much of a villain as Jamie Foxx's Electro?

There are solid turns from Benedict Cumberbatch as an avuncular if impatient Doctor Strange while Alfred Molina is as sly as ever in the role of Doctor Octopus. Your love of the Spider-Man universe may well be wound up in your admiration of whoever is squeezed into the red and blue outfit, while a post-Holland future with a black Spider-Man is aired within a film where nostalgia aches and meta run riots.

Spider-Man: No Way Home is in cinemas now.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

  • 4 stars
  • 2021
  • US
  • 2h 30min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Jon Watts
  • Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Jamie Foxx, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfred Molina
  • UK release: 15 December 2021

A continuation of the story from Spider-Man: Far From Home.