If you happened to read my A Quiet Place Part II review this spring, you might remember that it was the first movie I saw back in a theater for more than a year after COVID hit, and I ended up having a deeply emotional response to getting back to my old film-screening routine.

Since I’m headed on a holiday vacation soon, Spider-Man: No Way Home will be the last 2021 movie I experienced in a theater. And I’m so glad that something about this year ended on a high note.

Critics often debate whether it’s easier to write a review for a film that you love, or a film that you hate. I’m not sure there’s a much of a difference for me, but one thing I do know is that it’s definitely tough to love a film and then not be able to say hardly anything substantial about it in your review because you’ll ruin what makes it special. Such is the case with No Way Home, which exceeded every single one of my expectations, but did so because it held so many surprises and twists. My experience would’ve been compromised had I known about them beforehand, so rest assured you’ll find no spoilers here.

That’s why part of me just wants to say: If you’re a Spider-Man fan and are completely caught up on all things Spidey, then you’re going to freak out during this movie. As in, you’re going to lose your mind. It’s that good, and it’s that rewarding for mega-fans. A lot of its power will be lost for anyone who’s not up to speed, so if that’s you, I would hold off watching No Way Home until you can remedy that situation. (You can actually catch up on all previous Spider-Man films at Redbox!)

Here’s what I can say without giving anything away: Due to the events of Spider-Man: Far from Home, the world now knows that Spider-Man is Peter Parker (Tom Holland). However, that big reveal ends up causing a lot of trouble for not only Parker, but also his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), and basically everyone else in his life.

This drives Peter to beg Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to use his mystical powers to find a way to make everyone forget Spider-Man’s identity. Strange reluctantly agrees, but something goes awry with the spell he casts, and the multiverse breaks apart as a result. As in, the faulty magic opens a portal between our universe and other universes that exist parallel to ours, but that might have slight differences. Seeing the multiverse “in action” is mind-bending, let me tell you. It’s like Dr. Strange mixed with Inception mixed with Tenet.

While theit world seems to be melting around them, Peter and Strange fight about how to best undo the mayhem and get everything back to the way it should be. When they can’t agree on a solution, Peter decides to take things into his own hands (webs?) before Strange can act. And from that point forward, boy, does it get interesting.

Holland is the best he’s ever been, giving us every possible emotion over the course of 2.5 hours, and making us laugh—and cry—right along with him. Some others in the film are stellar as well, but I can’t mention them! However, the biggest kudos go to screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, as well as director Jon Watts. All three were involved in Marvel’s other two Spider-Man films, and the amount of Spidey-center history and lore and snappy one-liners they managed to fit into this movie is jaw-dropping. Every time I thought they couldn’t possibly do anything else to amaze me, they topped themselves. Marvel movies are almost always smart, but No Way Home is on a whole other level of complexity and insightfulness and meaning.

Though our cheers and gasps might’ve been a little muffled by masks, I’m so glad I got to end the year with such a fantastic communal movie-watching experience in a theater of big ol’ geeks. With Marvel’s great power comes great responsibility to entertain, and No Way Home did not disappoint.

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