Visually stunning, creatively audacious, thrillingly inventive... But enough about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse; what of Spider-Man: No Way Home, Jon Watts’ trilogy-completing follow-on to 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming and 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home?
You’ll probably be aware by now that it’s a mash-up of sorts that uses multiverse-straddling wormholes to allow villains from earlier iterations of Sony’s Spidey franchise to cross over into the universe inhabited by Tom Holland’s web-slinger, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange and other members of the Avengers family. So the only question really is this: does it do so with enough energy, panache, and originality to make it not just a worthy successor to Holland’s spirited previous outings, but also the Oscar-winning 2018 animation with which it shares its narrative DNA?
The answer, in truth, is not so much. Sure, there’s a rush to be had seeing Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus and others suddenly materialize, thanks to a magic amnesia spell cooked up by Cumberbatch to let Holland’s Peter Parker regain the anonymity he lost at the end of FFH.
Yet it becomes evident writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers don’t quite know what to do with these old/new cast additions, the majority of whom – after initial salvos of fisticuffs involving bridge traffic and electricity pylons – spend most of their screen time cooling their heels in Doctor Strange’s basement.
Alfred Molina’s Otto Octavius and Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn are given the most room to shine, with the latter providing a level of cackling menace that’s all too often been missing from Holland’s stint in the suit. Jamie Foxx’s Electro, alas, feels distinctly underpowered this time around, while the computer-generated Sandman and Lizard (Thomas Haden Church and Rhys Ifans respectively) are really only back to make up the numbers.
Cumberbatch too is a tad surplus to requirements, only coming into his own in a dizzying zip through the Mirror Dimension that provides NWH with its most spectacular and jaw-dropping set-piece. It’s a little ironic, though, that a film whose plot involves an attempt to erase everyone’s memory should itself end up somewhat forgettable - though there is an undeniable pleasure in seeing J.K. Simmons fulminate as an Alex Jones-style conspiracist, and the welcome appearance of other familiar faces who turn up late to the party.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is in UK cinemas now and US theaters from December 17. For more, check out our guide to everything coming up in Marvel Phase 4.