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Tom Holland runs from new (old) enemy Alfred Molina in "Spider-Man: No Way Home."

Will you look at that? I got a kicking for not liking the Ghostbusters sequel, and now comes Spider-Man: No Way Home, a movie that proves my point by going right in all the ways that that movie went wrong. It approaches the old material with a good dose of irreverence and folds the fanservice into a story that somewhat holds up on its own. This is how you do it. The film itself has some issues, but I dare say that fans of Spider-Man in all his different incarnations won’t walk away disappointed.

The story picks up with the events at the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home, with Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) outing Peter Parker (Tom Holland) as the wall-crawler and claiming that Spider-Man attacked him. Peter quickly becomes mega-famous and publicly reviled for his part in Mysterio’s death, and MJ and Ned (Zendaya and Jacob Batalon) become tarnished by association. He goes to Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), asking for a magic spell that will turn back time so that everyone forgets he’s a superhero. Even though this is an unbelievably bad idea, Doctor Strange goes along and accidentally drags in Peter’s enemies from parallel universes. Soon, the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Sandman, Lizard, and Electro (Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Thomas Haden Church, Rhys Ifans, and Jamie Foxx) are all making beelines for him.

The real reason you have all these callbacks to the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb movies is so that all these great actors can be in the same room and bitch at each other. Doc Ock jokes that Electro has fixed his hair and teeth since they last met, while Peter and his friends burst into laughter upon learning that the doctor is actually named Otto Octavius. When Peter mentions the Avengers, the response is, “What is that? Are you in a band?” Confronted with a different version of the web-slinger, Electro mumbles, “I’m sure there’s a Black Spider-Man somewhere.” Meanwhile, J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) hilariously resurfaces as a conspiracy-mongering TV host. This is not even the end of the cameos from other superhero movies, and while there’s a huge stretch of the film that I can’t discuss without giving away too much, I am crestfallen that neither the X-Men nor Deadpool made the cut. Peter teams up with the supervillains to help them reform their ways — a dangerous business, as the script points out — because Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) tells him, “With great power must come great responsibility.”

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Peter discovers how right that familiar line is. You don’t mess with the time-space continuum without paying a heavy price, and Peter can’t put things right without losing people who mean something to him. As an act of storytelling, No Way Home only occasionally reaches the highs of Into the Spider-Verse. It’s still gratifying to see Peter receive inspiring words from someone who truly knows his predicament, and to see him retcon fixes for some of the issues in the previous movies. Much like Avengers: Endgame, this movie makes even its most unloved predecessors seem worthier in retrospect. That’s not a bad trick.

Spider-Man: No Way Home
Starring Tom Holland and Zendaya. Directed by Jon Watts. Written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. Rated PG-13.

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