TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — There's no way watching "Spider-Man: No Way Home" could ever live up to the experience of seeing it in a crowded theater.
Crammed with fan service, surprise cameos, clever references, blowout action set pieces and steady laughs, it's close to an audience participation event. The gasps, "oohs" and "whoahs" that reverberated off the walls underlined and emphasized the thrills onscreen.
Director Jon Watts' third Spider-Man film caps off a trilogy that mutated the stalled franchise with superpowers, rightly elevating the hero to the top of the expanded Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film abounds with such a bounty of surprises that theaters are putting out placards at concession stands instructing audiences not to spoil the film.
The way to see this one is cold, with as little advance info as possible, preferably with a group of like-minded friends. That said, if you haven't seen the previous five "Spider-Man" films, you won't catch half of what makes this movie special.
The plot finds Peter Parker (Tom Holland) frazzled after the revelation of his Spidey secret identity. Obsessed with reverting things back to their previous state, he coaxes Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) into casting a spell meant to eradicate everyone's memories of the secret.
The wizardry goes sideways, opening up portals to parallel universes that allow heroes and villains from other dimensions to enter the fray. What ensues is a masterfully written, often hilarious confluence of well-known fish out of water. The surprises run the gamut of the Disney-Soney Marvelverse, even tapping into the oft-forgotten Netflix series continuity.
The writing deserves praise for eschewing the usual superhero trope of good overcoming evil with brutal violence. "No Way Home" is a soft-hearted, empathetic animal, perhaps to a fault. This is a film in which characters aren't shy about opening up about their regrets and insecurities. There is enough therapeutic hand-holding in this movie to match the likes of "Fuller House."
Even though the soft touch is a bit corny and unsettling, it doesn't detract much from the event-film majesty that the film delivers. This is big-budget, superhero filmmaking of the top tier, and it feels like a watershed event in the pandemic. To watch this one in the theater is to initiate yourself into the tribe and feel the communal joy wafting from the giant screen.
In that respect, "No Way Home" feels like a long-awaited, mid-pandemic return home for Spidey movie fans.
RATING: 3 stars out of 4.
Watched Thursday at Harkins Arizona Pavilions.