Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
USA, 2021. Columbia Pictures, Pascal Pictures, Marvel Studios. Screenplay by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko. Cinematography by Mauro Fiore. Produced by Kevin Feige, Amy Pascal. Music by Michael Giacchino. Production Design by Darren Gilford. Costume Design by Sanja Milkovic Hays. Film Editing by Leigh Folsom Boyd, Jeffrey Ford.
Picking up just moments after the devastating conclusion of the very exciting previous chapter, this third Spider-Man film to star Tom Holland as the friendly neighbourhood superhero begins with the devastation of his secret identity being revealed to the whole world by the Joe Rogan-esque slimy infotainment host J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons). This means that not only is Peter Parker the object of scrutiny and criticism, but he feels responsible when his girlfriend Michelle (Zendaya) and best friend Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) don’t get into their college of choice because of their association with him.
Peter appeals to the magical abilities of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to wave his wand and make the world forget who Spider-Man really is, but when he gets carelessly picky about the terms of the spell mid-casting, he throws a wrench into the works in his customarily youthful, well-meaning way and, oops, upsets the balance of every universe in existence. Now villains from other locations in the multi-verse start showing up in his, all of them known to audience members who have seen the previous Spider-films, including Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Electro (Jamie Foxx), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Lizard (Rhys Ifans). Dr. Strange creates a spell that will send them back, but Peter gets the idea that maybe if he tries to help them become good guys, he can send them back to a better life in their worlds; as always, the road to superhero hell is paved by his innocent good intentions, and the consequences for his good-natured attempt to turn frowns upside down causes even more messes that he needs to clean up. Thankfully, he gets some help, because not only does the rift in the multi-verse bring the bad guys from the previous two films, it also brings the two previous Spidermen (Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield), and the only thing better to fight villainy than one unforgiving Lycra body suit is three of them.
While most of the films in the Marvel series are brimming over with cross-references and Easter Egg factoids for fans to feel like they’re at a convention for disingenuously alienated people (you all feel like such outsiders but you’re also fans of the most profitable entertainment on this entire planet), this one gets a lot of fresh energy from its open-heartedly embracing its nostalgia factor. The return of Garfield and Maguire is a welcome delight, even if it involves stealing much of the plot from the excellent animated Into The Spider-Verse, and their presence is a pleasure even if Garfield reveals just how much he’s grown as an actor in the last seven years (he looks like a cool dad in a Halloween costume), and Maguire, who has hardly been in three movies this decade, spends all his scenes looking like someone let their country cousin visit the set for the first time (those wide eyes appear to be excited to see where movies are made).
Things get a bit overloaded in the last third, particularly with the amount of times that we stop to let the actors get teary over each other, but the eye-popping visual effects (which find their greatest achievement in a mirror dimension sequence) and the genuinely imaginative adventures we go on make this a fitting entry in what is so far the best of the three incarnations of the franchise since Sam Raimi got it rolling in 2002.
Academy Award Nomination: Best Visual Effects