When Spider-Man: No Way Home hits theaters this Friday, it will arrive with some of the biggest hype we’ve seen for a movie since Avengers: Endgame. Pre-ticket sales for the third solo Spider-Man outing have been breaking records left and right, and speculation has been rampant online for over a year thanks to reveals and rumors. One thing’s for certain: No Way Home is the most ambitious Spider-Man movie yet.

Newly outed by J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) and set up to take the fall for the death of Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) during the events of Spider-Man: Far From Home, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) finds himself public enemy #1. When it starts messing with the lives of those he loves, especially MJ (Zendaya), Ned (Jacob Batalon), and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), he turns to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help with a spell that will make people forget he’s Spider-Man. As the trailer shows, however, the spell goes awry, and soon, the very fabric of reality is ragged at the seams, allowing Spider-Man villains from other realities to enter into his. Peter is faced with a dire choice: Does he send them back to their world to die, or does he try to save them and risk them destroying his world?

It’s not an exaggeration to say that considering all it’s setting up, the stakes for Spider-Man: No Way Home are arguably bigger even than Endgame. So, does it live up to the hype? Is it a worthy Spider-Man story? Read on for three reasons to see Spider-Man: No Way Home when it hits theaters.

Note: I’m going to try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. If you’re looking for confirmation of rumors, you won’t find them here.

1. It’s Funny – Really Funny

There are comedic moments in almost every Marvel movie, but outside of Thor: Ragnarok and any scene Paul Rudd is in, there are far fewer purely funny scenes in the MCU than some criticisms leveled at it. Drive-by quips are common, even in fight sequences, but movies in the MCU rarely allow the humor to play out for an entire scene or extended gag. Not so Spider-Man: No Way Home. Jon Watts wisely steps back and allows the very talented cast he has to do their thing, the natural chemistry of the actors resulting in scenes that are laugh-out-out funny. Some sequences play out like a “Who’s On First?” skit, the weirdness of the situation and confusion of the characters coalescing almost to the point of absurdity without ever going over.

Spider-Man: No Way Home is also a movie that is deeply self-aware of how silly the world of superheroics can be, and can’t resist poking fun at itself and comic book movies in general. These winking moments are sprinkled throughout, such as when two of the villains swap stories about how they got their superpowers (as it turns out, both of them fell into dangerous pits), prompting one to commiserate about how careful you have to be about where you fall. It’s a line delivered seriously, underscoring the ridiculous ways people seem to get into accidents and unleash their villainous side. It’s just one example of how the movie has no problem being cheeky about itself and its hero, one whose villains have often been exceptionally cheesy. No Way Home knows and it’s okay if you know, too.

2. But It Also Has Genuine Emotional Stakes

In between the laughs, however, Spider-Man: No Way Home is emotional. Historically, the story of Spider-Man has always been one of how he keeps going despite a lifetime of insurmountable tragedy and loss. There’s no arguing that the current live-action iteration of Spider-Man has experienced loss and seen unimaginable horrors that no kid his age should see, but the core idea of him personally enduring so much hasn’t been as much of a throughline in the MCU. Spider-Man: No Way Home finally grapples with the most foundational of Spider-Man themes, that doing the right thing often means sacrifices will be made, both willing and unwilling. Multiple characters in No Way Home comment on how young Peter is – ironic, since this is the first Marvel movie in which Tom Holland finally seems to have grown out of the baby face that served him so well in previous movies. As Doctor Strange intimates, it’s easy to forget that Peter is still just a kid, a baby in a world that has already handed him too much loss.

It’s not just Peter Parker who has to grapple with what he’s seen and lost, either. Even the villains, the heroes of their own story, have their own tragic tales of loss. Rather than treat them purely as two-dimensional baddies for Spider-Man to strike down, No From Home makes the argument that even the worst scoundrels are often merely victims of unfortunate circumstance and tragedy. So are the heroes; No Way Home illustrates how they can lose their way the same as villains. It’s an interesting angle, the attempt to rehabilitate some of Spider-Man’s greatest on-screen foes, and it doesn’t all work. Like Spider-Man himself, though, it makes a noble attempt and the result is a far more interesting story than your standard good hero vs. evil villain plot.

3. The MCU Spider-Man Finally Comes Into His Own

When Marvel and Sony set out over five years ago to bring Spider-Man into the MCU, it did so with the intention of bringing to life a version of Spider-Man we haven’t yet seen in live-action before: one who looked and actually felt young. As a result, Spider-Man: Homecoming was a lighthearted romp in the vein of a John Hughes movie; Spider-Man: Far From Home was arguably heavier, but even with that, the Spider-Man entries have been some of the more lightweight entries into the MCU. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s now at the point where it’s necessary for Spider-Man to grow up a little. Not just the character of Peter Parker, but also his story in the MCU. Spider-Man: No Way Home finally introduces core elements of the Spider-Man mythos that Holland’s movies have heretofore been avoiding, albeit delivered in clever, fresh new ways that nonetheless feel earned. It’s long overdue; those pieces of his mythology may be overdone, but they’re still core elements of who Spider-Man is, and without them, the MCU version of Peter Parker has felt somewhat unfinished. Luckily, No Way Home fills in those missing spaces.

It’s not a perfect movie by any means. The second half is far better than the first, which arguably drags in spots with a bit too much back and forth to set up the stakes. Not to mention that the movie is so eager to get to the part of the story it’s clearly interested in that the stakes of Peter Parker being in legal jeopardy, built up so much in the interim between Far From Home and No Way Home, are tossed immediately out the window. But once it gets rolling, it really gets rolling, delivering one of the most emotional, stand-up-and-cheer movies superhero fans could want. In Spider-Man: No Way Home, Spidey finally comes into his own.

Spider-Man: No Way Home hits theaters Friday, December 17.

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