Spoiler Free Review of “Spider-Man: No Way Home”

Secrets have a life of their own. That life usually resides in the mind of the secret keeper. It gets a bit more complicated if that secret can affect the lives of others. If you knew a friend was cheating on their partner and you chose to cover for them when asked, now that secret could damage the lives of three people. More if the cheater in question has children. Even secrets that are totally your own can have long tentacles that wrap around other people’s lives. If you’re addicted to drugs, alcohol, gambling, shopping or whatever, your secret could damage, ruin and destroy the lives of those around you and total strangers. The bigger the secret, the more carnage it can create. Imagine being Peter Parker and your secret is you’re Spider-Man. That secret has been spread all over the world and your Aunt May, your girlfriend MJ, your best friend Ned and others are being hounded by the press and curiosity seekers relentlessly. You’d do anything to make that harassment end…anything!

Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) secret identity as Spider-Man has just been blown by dying declaration video from Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) run on J. Jonah Jameson’s (J.K. Simmons) TheDailyBugle.net. Now, Peter, MJ (Zendaya), Ned (Jacob Batalon), and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) are all being hauled into interrogation rooms and questioned by the Department of Damage Control. Even Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) may be charged with crimes as Stark Industries technology was used in the attack on London. With helicopters and onlookers constantly trying to get a peek at Peter and his friends, the publicity causes MIT to reject all three of their applications. Desperate to undo the damage, Peter goes to Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), asking him to cast a spell that will make the world forget Peter Parker is Spider-Man. As Strange casts the spell, Peter asks if MJ can still know his secret, then Ned, and finally Aunt May. The changes in the spell cause it to run out of control, shattering the boundaries between the multiverses. Strange contains the spell and orders Peter to leave, his secret still out in the world. While going to meet with an MIT official about MJ and Ned’s applications, Peter is interrupted by an attack from Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina). When Octavius traps Peter and rips his mask off, he sees it’s not the Spider-Man he knows. Norman Osborn, aka Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), then appears, but Peter and Octavius are transported to a dungeon under the Sanctum Santorum. Dr. Strange has captured Octavius and Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) in his form as the Lizard. Both are villains of Spider-Man, but from alternate universes. Dr. Strange equips Peter with a gauntlet that will transport the other multiverse villains, Goblin, Max Dillon, aka Electro (Jamie Foxx), and Flint Marko, aka Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) to the dungeon and hold them until Strange can send them back where they belong.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is a reboot of sorts for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s similar to the effect “Captain America: Civil War” had on the series as it shifts the dynamic of so many characters in the aftermath. While we only have two Avengers present in “…No Way Home,” the far-reaching consequences will be felt throughout the MCU. In that way, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is important within the structure of its shared universe. But it is also important for the character, as by the end of the film (no spoilers), Peter has a fresh start and is facing a future that is uncertain and uncharted (no pun about Holland’s upcoming videogame-inspired film intended). It’s also a very exciting and emotional film.

Tom Holland was the perfect choice to play Peter Parker/Spider-Man. I know he hasn’t found much success outside of his MCU character, but that’s more a reflection of the material he’s given, not his talent. Holland embodies all the character’s various personalities. From the wisecracking webhead to the polite and deferential high schooler, Holland makes the audience believe he is both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. I’m excited to see where Holland and the filmmakers take this character in the future as the multiverse opens enormous possibilities.

The rest of the cast is flawless, with special kudos going to Alfred Molina and Willem Dafoe. Both reprise their Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” trilogy roles 17 and 19 years later respectively. Dafoe is especially unhinged as the split personality of Green Goblin. His face undergoes changes when the evil persona takes over that are legitimately frightening. Jamie Foxx takes command as the de facto leader of the five alternate universe villains. He’s commanding and charismatic as Max Dillon, while also easily being knocked off his pedestal of self-importance. Rhys Ifans and Thomas Haden Church are mostly voice cast as their characters are entirely CG. Still, they do a fine job of conveying their megalomania and angry fear respectively.

The story of “…No Way Home” is fairly simple as Peter wants everyone to forget he’s Spider-Man. When he messes up the spell, he feels it’s his responsibility to correct the mistake. At every turn, Peter’s efforts to fix things blow up in his face, creating more damage he feels obligated to fix until Peter…gives up. It sounds more dire than it is, but it’s a learning experience for the character. He can’t fix everything simply because he’s Spider-Man. There are things out of his control, and he must learn to fix what he can and let everything else go. It’s a hard lesson that comes with enormous personal cost. While none of us is a superhero with a secret identity, it’s a lesson we must all learn for ourselves.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is rated PG-13 for sequences of action/violence, some language and brief suggestive comments. The suggestive comments happen early and are so mild and nearly drowned out by overlapping dialog they would be easy to miss. There are some very intense fight scenes, especially at the end between Green Goblin and Peter. Minor facial injuries are shown. One character’s death is especially painful to watch. Peter loses control and nearly kills a villain. There is also a stabbing that isn’t shown but can be heard. Foul language is scattered and mild.

The emotional depth of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is surprising for a comic book movie. There were moments I was deeply moved nearly to the point of tears. It also is a film that is frequently funny as well as genuinely thrilling at times. While the finale is jammed with sometimes confusing CGI action, and it doesn’t help that one of the villains can create sandstorms causing the images to look muddy, along with a rush to tie up loose ends, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” may rank close to “Spider-Man 2” as one of the best comic book movies of all time. It certainly didn’t feel like it’s runtime of almost two and a half hours (and you will need to sit through all of it to see a mid-credits scene featuring Eddie Brock/Venom and an end-credits scene that’s a teaser for “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”). Any film that can make me ignore a full bladder is quite the achievement.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” gets five stars out of five.

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Review of “Baby Driver”

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a quiet young man who listens to music constantly through his iPod to drown out the tinnitus that has plagued him since he was in a car accident as a child. That accident also left him an orphan as both is parents died in the crash. Baby has been the foster son of Joseph (CJ Jones) for many years but Joseph, who is deaf, is confined to a wheelchair and now Baby takes care of him. Baby has a job as a driver but it’s not like being a chauffeur: Baby is the wheel man for a rotating group of bank robbers led by Doc (Kevin Spacey). Baby stole a car of Doc’s several years prior that was filled with expensive “merchandise.” Baby dumped the car after his joy ride but Doc, who had watched the whole thing, held him responsible for the value of the merchandise lost in the theft. Baby has been the getaway driver for all the jobs Doc has masterminded since they met. Baby gets an equal share of the take but Doc keeps most of it giving Baby a tiny fraction to live on. Doc never uses the same crew twice on a job and has recently brought in Bats (Jamie Foxx) for what may be their biggest job yet. Bats is unstable and violent, willing to kill at the drop of a hat, and he rubs the rest of the crews the wrong way. Baby has recently met Deborah (Lily James), a waitress at the diner he frequents and he is falling in love. They share a love of music and a desire to leave their lives behind for the open road. Baby thought his days of driving for Doc were over but he gets pulled back in (thanks to threats on the lives of everyone he loves) for one more job. Now Baby is having more and more trouble keeping his professional life from jeopardizing the lives of those he loves.

“Baby Driver” is a rare original idea in a summer of reboots, sequels and massive franchise films and it’s from a director that nearly helmed “Ant-Man.” Edgar Wright, the creative mind behind the “Cornetto Trilogy” of “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz” and “The World’s End” along with the underappreciated “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” has given audiences a refreshing treat in a summer of warmed-over ideas and CGI-heavy extravaganzas. If only more studios and filmmakers would be willing to take a chance on small stories of fairly regular people trapped in extraordinary circumstances there might be more tickets sold and more money in their pockets. Of course, not all filmmakers have a mind as creative at Edgar Wright but we are lucky he found a studio willing to take a chance on his vision.

Ansel Elgort is a vision to behold playing Baby. The character is so laid back he’s practically lying down: but Baby is far more in tune with what’s going on around him than many believe and he truly comes alive behind the wheel. Elgort finds the perfect balance of calm and energy for Baby. He never raises much above a low boil even when he has a gun shoved in his face. Baby can calculate what needs to be done to avoid a police roadblock and an oncoming car without breaking a sweat or losing an earbud. It’s a performance many actors could not have believably pulled off but Elgort does it with ease. He’s brilliant in the role.

While also brilliant, Jamie Foxx is scary as the unstable Bats. His intense stare and hair-trigger temper make Bats a dangerous man to be around and Foxx is able to bring a level of menace and unpredictability to the role that few could. Watching the film I was never quite sure which way Bats would go in any situation and that made the scenes he’s in incredibly powerful to watch. It would not surprise me to see Foxx nominated for a supporting actor award next year.

While the trailers have emphasized the car stunts in the movie, aside from the opening chase there aren’t really that many in the film; but that chase has a level of beauty and precision other films will feel the need to match. It has the kind of stunts that the “Fast and the Furious” films wish they could do but now must have cars flying over mountains and blasting through buildings. There are a couple more car chases in “Baby Driver” but they are more of the ram and slam variety where the opening stunt series is like watching a surgeon remove a tumor from a very delicate part of the brain. It is an amazing opening sequence.

“Baby Driver” is a movie where the soundtrack is a character unto itself. Comprised of 30 songs ranging in style from jazz to hip-hop, the music is what Baby is listening to as he drives. It is a window into his mind and personality. It conveys the emotion of the scene and the people in it. It takes over for exposition where none is needed. The movie is edited to, and the characters move in time with, the music that is constantly playing through Baby’s earbuds or the speakers in his car. I’m not sure they give awards for that kind of thing but if they do, “Baby Driver” is a shoe-in to take home the trophy.

“Baby Driver” is rated R for violence and language throughout. There are numerous shootings, some bloodier than others. We see a character hit by a car and thrown into the air then run over again. A character is shown impaled on metal rods after a car crash. There are other acts of violence in the film as well. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

Edgar Wright has been working to get “Baby Driver” made for over 20 years. His dismissal from the director’s chair for Marvel’s “Ant-Man” may have been a blessing in disguise as it gave Wright the incentive to make a movie the way he wanted to make it and the result is a music and thrill-filled film that should be viewed twice just to catch all the little touches the director has thrown in to add an extra dash of flavor to an already tasty bit of filmmaking.

“Baby Driver” gets five stars.

This week the much anticipated “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is the only film in wide release and that’s what I’ll see and review:

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