Zendaya, left, and Tom Holland in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”
Zendaya, left, and Tom Holland in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” Image Credit: Matt Kennedy/Sony Pictures

There’s no point beating around the bush — so let’s just get it out there from the get-go: ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ is arguably the best superhero movie of 2021.

While Marvel scored big points in the TV department this year with shows like ‘WandaVision’ and ‘Loki’, the films (‘Black Widow’, ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’, ‘Eternals’) have mostly had a mixed response. But ‘No Way Home’ — director Jon Watts’ third outing with the web-slinging superhero — reforges the Marvel Cinematic Universe in its pre-‘Endgame’ image.

This success is mostly down to three factors — nostalgia for the core Avengers team, Tom Holland’s heart-wrenching portrayal of a teenage hero caught between a rock and a hard place, and finally, Marvel’s eerily exact knack of playing the long game.

This image released by Sony Pictures shows Tom Holland in Columbia Pictures'
Tom Holland. Image Credit: Sony Pictures

‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ wastes no time in exposition, picking up right where we left off with ‘Far From Home’ (2019). Our young Spidey’s (Holland) real identity as Peter Parker has been revealed as a posthumous gotcha moment from Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), with a little help from Daily Bugle head honcho J. Jonah Jameson (a returning and in-form J.K. Simmons).

While this opens up a massive can of worms, very specifically it hurts those closest to Parker — including Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and new girlfriend MJ (Zendaya). It’s nowhere close to a new trope — a superhero’s need to juggle their responsibility to the larger world with their need to protect near and dear ones — but it works in an endearing way here.

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Tom Holland, Jacob Batalon and Zendaya. Image Credit: Sony Pictures

For example, a scene early in the film has Parker desperately trying to solve May’s relationship troubles even as police copters surround their apartment. And it establishes early on what kind of a hero he is, even if he tends to forget it sometimes: A hero that leads with empathy and a real concern for everyone’s well-being.

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Tom Holland stars as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Doctor Strange. Image Credit: Columbia Pictures

It’s this concern that finds Parker standing at the door of one Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), desperately hoping that a little bit of magic might help him get his life back in order. But the multiverse has plans of its own and all hell breaks loose — again, as Parker and friends have Spidey’s entire cinematic rogue’s gallery show up. The adversaries in no particular order include Doc Ock (a de-aged Alfred Molina), Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Electro (Jamie Foxx), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and the Lizard (Rhys Ifans).

Keeping aside the fact that they could get everyone on board to return, what’s truly worth celebrating is the screen-time and care given to each character. Where ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ looked to the future in the multiverse, ‘No Way Home’ looks to repair the past, and in a way that makes sense in the times we live in now. In a world that’s still grappling with grief and loss over a worldwide pandemic, ‘No Way Home’ recognises its responsibility to choose love over hate, rehabilitation over violence.

Director Watts — who has gone from strength to strength with this trilogy — has also resisted the urge to brandish the typical Marvel quip at every turn and actually lets the audience sit with the uncomfortable and irreversibly sad moments, revealing a previously hidden inner world to these characters that we’ve loved over the decades.

That’s not to say that there aren’t laughs. As much as there is heartbreak, there is also joy. The carefully crafted, larger set-piece moments — from an early mirror dimension fight scene involving Doctor Stranger to the climactic battle set at the Statue of Liberty — are some of the best from the MCU’s entire history and will no doubt have viewers on the edge of their seats.

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Alfred Molina as Doc Ock. Image Credit: Columbia Pictures

At the heart of all of this is Holland and his most committed portrayal of Spider-Man to date. Beyond his ability to perform complicated action choreography and deliver witty lines, Holland truly lives Peter Parker in ‘No Way Home’. And if recent comments that allude to an early retirement for the actor are true, it’d be a huge blow to everyone involved, fans and the film industry alike.

For those who are going to watch ‘No Way Home’, we’ll say: Forget what you’ve heard about what may or may not happen in ‘No Way Home’ — because the film surpasses every fan theory by a mile-and-a-half and the only way to enjoy it is to sit back and let yourselves be swung from height to dizzyingly new heights.

Don’t miss it!

‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ is now showing in UAE cinemas.