Jon Watts’ third Spider-man flick, No Way Home, truly proves the power of nostalgia.

Movies like this should not be this good. The whole concept of bringing all sorts of characters from previous Spider-man franchises into one feature is the exact recipe for mediocre, live-action fan fiction. But shockingly, everyone involved pulled it off.

After the Russo Bros’ Avengers: Endgame (2019), I pretty much left the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe after a decade of casual viewing. But when it was revealed characters from Sam Raimi’s trilogy (2002-07) and Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-man (2012-14) played by their original actors would be appearing in the current iteration of the film series, my interest was piqued.

That’s because I grew up with the original films starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, and can remember specific moments from my life by revisiting these movies. Now, with Tom Holland’s Spidey up against all the superhero’s villains in one film, No Way Home takes meta to a whole new level.

After his true identity is publicly exposed by Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) from Watts’ Far from Home (2019), Peter Parker/Spider-man (Holland) is now challenged with saving New York as well as making sure his friends and family aren’t affected by their affiliation with him.

Peter’s solution is to ask his superhero colleague, Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), to erase the public’s knowledge of him as Spider-man from their memories. But when he asks Strange to make exceptions to his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), the wizard’s spell becomes overwhelmed with the sudden additions, and instead causes multiple universes to be exposed to each other in real time.

Charlie Cox makes a cameo appearance as Daredevil and Jon Favreau returns as Happy Hogan. Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock and Jamie Foxx’s Electro are some of the villains who return and make their MCU debut in No Way Home.

While one would naturally assume characters from multiple series with different tones and direction might be jarring and out of place in one picture, Watts and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers somehow make it work with movie magic. All of the callbacks, crossovers and hypothetical fan service fit into the plot and feel natural.

Holland hits all the notes emotionally for Peter in hero mode as well as the more dramatic/personal moments. His chemistry with Zendaya continues to grow, most likely aided by their real-life relationship. Molina and Dafoe appear to be having fun revisiting their famous nemesis roles.

Those who enjoyed Sony’s animated Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse (2018) will probably appreciate this No Way Home the most, but those who are fans of any of the Spider-man screen efforts will get a kick out of this variation.

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