First things first.  If you want to make it to this movie spoiler free, stay off social media, don’t listen to the soundtrack, and definitely avoid IMDB.  There are more than a few fun surprises in store and they are best enjoyed without any teases or blatant reveals.  With that in mind, our review will tread carefully.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” wastes little time jumping into the action as it begins the exact second “Far From Home” ended, with J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) revealing that Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker (Tom Holland) in disguise.  Spider-Man has always attracted a lot of media attention, but now a media frenzy breaks out.  Not only does everyone know who he is and who his friends are, but he’s also been implicated in the murder of Mysterio!  Swooping in to rescue MJ (Zendaya) from a crowd of nosey social media addicts, Spider-Man makes a hectic retreat to Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) where he finds her and Happy (Jon Favreau) dealing with issues of their own.

It’s at this point the film slows down a bit, catching its breath after that frantic prologue.  Peter and his friends are all dealing with the legal and social fallout from the revelations.  All their privacy is gone.  The safety of anonymity has been removed.   The Feds are investigating the misuse of Stark Tech.  None of the colleges Peter, MJ, and Ned (Jacob Batalon) have applied to want anything to do with them due to the “ongoing controversy.”   Peter has saved the world, more than once, but now his world has come crashing down around him.  If there was only a way to have the world forget who he really is…

This leads to a visit with Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who is at first hesitant to help Peter, but also realizes that he’s already gone through a tremendous amount during the Infinity War.  Dr. Strange tries to help, but as expected, things go wrong and soon villains from other Spider-verses are being sucked into their world.  This is where the movie really finds its footing and takes the audience along for a ride that, against all reason, works extremely well.   One by one, Peter finds himself face to face with antagonists that he’s never met, but share traumatic history with Spider-Man.    While most films with multiple bad-guys fail, this one works mostly because each character has a unique motivation that is true to their backstory.  Some want only to return home. Some prefer this strange new world.  Others are good at heart but fight against evil impulses.  Some even want to be cured.  This, coupled with Peter’s strong desire to do what’s right even while fighting self-doubt, creates a dynamic storytelling environment that screenwriters Chris McKenna  & Erik Sommers use to their full extent.  The writing is tear-jerkingly sincere at times, but still find the right space for a full range of humor, including some hilarious self-depreciation.  (The scenes where the villains discuss how they obtained their powers are absolute gold.)

The last, and one of the very few times, I’ve heard a theater of critics loudly cheer at the screen was 2 1/2 years ago during “Avengers: Endgame.”  That happened again in this movie and is the greatest indicator of what to expect.  If you have an affinity for Spider-Man, “No Way Home” will make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, and it might even make you cheer.

Spider-Man: No Way Home