Spider-Man: No Way Home (PG)
148 minutes/ now showing/ 3 stars
The year's last superhero blockbuster comes with some of the worst-kept secrets. Yes - spoiler alert - the rumours are true: The Peter Parkers of old, played by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, make an appearance.
Seeing the three men together is electrifying, to be honest. Not just because of the novelty factor, but also for the satisfying feeling of closure that comes from catching up with characters who feel like old friends. It's a tragedy that this feels glib and undercooked, making this project feel more like a fan convention than a movie.
Following the events of the previous film, Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019), the Peter Parker of this slice of the multiverse, played by Tom Holland, has had his alter ego publicly outed. This has disastrous consequences for not just him, but also classmate and crush MJ (Zendaya) and best friend Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon).
Enter Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose powers are needed by Peter to set things right. Those actions, however, open doorways to alternate universes.
The animated feature Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018) took the idea of parallel worlds to wildly imaginative, wonderfully absurd places - one of its Spider-Beings is named Peter Porker, also known as Spider-Ham.
So this project, featuring three distinctly human white men, feels starved of imagination. Was it not possible to include more Spider-Persons, such as one where, say, he or she is a Malaysian? Or a giant flower?
Despite its two-hour plus run time, director Jon Watts (who helmed the previous two Tom Holland Spider-Man films, in 2017 and 2019) keeps things pacy, to the point where it feels rushed. At certain points, the movie feels like the Olympic Games opening ceremony when national contingents do the march-past. The ensemble of familiar characters walking through the world portals demands the extra screen time.
There is also the need to include exposition that embeds this work into the continuous storyline of the only dimension that really matters, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or the MCU, as portrayed in movies and on the Disney+ network.
Having a Disney+ subscription and some knowledge of what's coming up in the MCU will be helpful in enjoying this film to the fullest, though not essential.