Spider-Man: No Way Home

Spider-Man: No Way Home 2021

Directed by Jon Watts. Screenplay by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, (based on characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko).

The film opens immediately after Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019), where Spider-Man is revealed to the world as Peter Parker. In desperation to regain a normal life, he turns to Doctor Strange for help but a spell goes wrong and characters from alternate realities appear in his world.This is the third installment of the current Spider-Man franchise under the Sony/Marvel deal, with Tom Holland in the titular role. He’s joined again by Zendaya, Jacob Batelon, Jon Favreau and Marissa Tomei plus many returning characters from the previous films and Benedict Cumberbatch, Benedict Wong and J. K. Simmons are also appearing.

Of course, there have been other relatively recent iterations of this beloved comic book character, played by Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire (my personal favourite web spinner), and this movie brings all three together. Added to the mix are villains from these previous films too, played again by Alfred Molina, Jamie Foxx, Rhys Ifans, Thomas Haden Church and Willem Dafoe.

The premise of bringing together so many characters from previous films is bold but not unheard of (Marvel’s Avengers movies anyone?) and I have to confess, I was afraid this would be yet another shallow exercise in fan service, which is my feeling about some of the recent Star Wars and Star Trek releases. This is especially true of season two of Picard, (currently streaming on Amazon Prime in Australia) which is rapidly becoming my biggest disappointment of 2022. This time, Patrick Stewart’s Picard is crossing swords with not only the Borg Queen but also John de Lancie, reprising his role as Q, (a kind of intergalactic Loki) one of my all time favourite Star Trek roles. But a lot of what made these characters so very special back in the day has been lost in the cocoon of nostalgia that engulfs this series.

What should be exciting, dangerous and new is lost, with fine actors being placeholders rather than extensions of their previous roles. It doesn’t move their stories forward, resulting in Picard feeling hollow, insincere and (it galls me to say this) boring, whereas Spider-Man: No Way Home feels surprisingly fresh and at times, incredibly moving.

And I think the key is in the screenplay by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. All our Spidey’s are written to behave and react true to their particular characters. Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man has come to terms with it all, very calm, very zen; Andrew Garfield’s emotionally damaged version gets the support and validation he needed – if only from his other selves; and Tom Holland’s man-child is still trying to be everything for everyone.

They’re all striving to be better men and the script gives them space to do that – in surprisingly redemptive ways. And the same can be said for the returning villains, (particularly Molina, Foxx and Dafoe) who are all just as horrible as they ever were, but through a good script they’re given room to grow.

Naturally, it also helps to have a massive budget to employ people like Mauro Fiore (one of the great action cinematographers currently working) as DoP and the small army of specialists required to create special effects that are smooth and surprisingly seamless.

This film is a joy from start to finish. Spider-Man: No Way Home is available to rent or buy through Amazon Prime but was recently released on DVD and Blu Ray world wide. If you like fan service done right, this is very highly recommended.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 2018

Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman.

I’m usually a little suspicious of films with multiple directors that aren’t siblings. Though it can be argued the Spierig brothers and the Wachowski’s have made some suspect pictures – think Winchester (2018) or Jupiter Ascending (2015) – usually multiple directors in something other than anthology films speak of behind the scenes production issues and on set problems.

On the other hand, there’s a movie like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

I finally got round to it yesterday, at the end of its run in Hobart, and I’m so glad I saw it initially on a big screen. This movie is very special at a number of levels, not least of which is its massive vision, courtesy of producers, Phil Lord and Chris Miller.

The script by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman is excellent, making sense of what could’ve been very messy in lesser hands. But the big thumbs up from me goes to production designer Justin Thompson, who gave this ambitious project its amazing look. At times it’s like being in an animated comic book and it took me a few minutes to get used to it. Also, this is very action-heavy but most scenes have a central point to frame around, making it easy to follow.

The animation is top class with multiple Spider-people and villains innovatively appearing in appropriate styles, and the level of detail here wasn’t lost on me. This mostly echoes the work of Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, and it is a fabulous homage to them both.

Narratively, the set-up was excellent. Miles Morales is a teenager struggling to fit in to his new school, maintain a good relationship with his loving parents but still hang out with his shady Uncle Aaron. Once he gets bitten by the radioactive spider, the action goes into overdrive and it’s a pure delight.

As a PG rated film in Australia, this is suitable fare for family viewing and I was impressed at how many kids were at the session. Essentially, the story is about belonging, family, friendship and expectations – mostly those we impose on ourselves – and it hit all the right beats with me. It also has to be noted there are moments that are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. The voice cast are uniformly outstanding and the soundtrack is excellent. Do wait for the post-credit scene – it’s worth it!

All in all, it’s a movie that’s about superheroes of all ages, ethnicities, genders and even species. While there’s plenty for adults, it’s perfectly suitable for younger viewers and it’s a total joy to watch.

Destined to become a classic for its technical innovations and feel-good story.