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Let’s start with what we’re allowed to say about Spider-Man: No Way Home without spoiling anything, because it’s something you already know or could have guessed (or maybe even watched online already): It begins immediately after the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home, with J. Jonah Jameson, recast as an Alex Jones-like renegade buffoon but, crucially, still played by the inimitable J.K. Simmons, exposing Spider-Man’s secret identity to the world. So No Way Home starts in a tizzy, and only gets tizzier from there: Peter (Tom Holland) is accosted by the public, pursued by the press, and mortified that his nearest and dearest—the select few who already knew his secret, including his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), and his beloved Aunt May (Marisa Tomei)—are getting swept into his Spider-Drama. (He claims to also feel for the plight of Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan, but who really believes him?)
These opening scenes represent a welcome pivot to the beleaguered Spider-Man who hasn’t always felt central to the Marvel Cinematic Universe incarnation, guided here, as in the previous two installments, by Jon Watts. Sure, Peter Parker has faced plenty of tough choices, but they’ve often felt a little softened: by a lifestyle that has appeared more middle-class than just-scraping-by, a mentor-benefactor in the form of Tony Stark, and by the support network of Ned, MJ, and May that’s gradually formed around him. The tradeoff has been that the Watts Spider-Man movies, especially Homecoming, have an appealing lightness of tone, where the patented MCU comedy beats mostly feel natural and in-character, with a sense of teen-comedy community around Parker’s misadventures (at least when he’s not blasting off into space for other people’s epics). Having the world learn his secret is a setback that Mr. Stark can’t buy out. Dr. Strange, however…
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