At first, I was sceptical of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It seemed cheap, uninspired and dull. There were some good movies, such as Iron Man and perhaps even the first The Avengers, but much of it is guys, and eventually women, in tight spandex, jumping, flying and blowing stuff up all the time.

But I had underestimated Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studious, and what he was trying to do. We need a different mindset to appreciate the MCU. If we are looking for Pulp Fiction or Citizen Kane, we will never find anything worthwhile in these superhero movies. They are not art and are not meant to be. They are supposed to be escapist fun, which we all need in these times of uncertainty.

The brilliance of Feige and his Marvel team was evident to me with Avengers: Endgame. Until that point, I had assumed that all of the sequels and prequels were commercial attempts at banking on the originals' success. In that most Marvel movies cost at least 100 million dollars, of course, box office success figures into the conversation.

But they are also more than that. The MCU, as the initials suggest, is a cinematic universe being created before our eyes. It is a telling of a universe – now universes – with characteristics and laws much different than that of ours. It is one of the most impressive endeavours at world-building, where the bits and pieces of the puzzle slowly fit into place.

Spider-Man: No Way Home builds on this while also utilising it with an impressive effect. It is not as imaginative as Loki or even WandaVision, both of them TV series that were given leeway to run with creative ideas. But No Way Home, while not being the best outing in the MCU, is a light, nostalgia-packed celebration of both Marvel and the Spider-Man character.

The film picks up right where it left off the last time in Spider-Man: Far from Home, after Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) reveals the web slinger’s identity to the world. This throws Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) life into a spiral, especially for his two friends who struggle to get admitted to college due to the media spotlight associated with them.

As a last resort, Peter decides to seek the help of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). He asks him to cast a spell that would make everybody forget that he is a superhero. But the spell is botched when Peter cannot decide who should be spared memory erasure and a Multiversal event unravels. Everyone that knew the true identity of Spider-Man from parallel universes is dragged into the MCU. This includes the villains from the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield spider-man universe. Peter has to undo this mistake but at a tremendous personal cost.

The movie has an unfair advantage over most films. It is very had to objectively measure – in as far as this is possible with art – whether or not it was a good movie because it dumps so much nostalgia on the audience. Half of the time, we are simply happy to see characters we like, some of which we have grown up watching, make an appearance. And No Way Home does deserve to be commended for using them not as mere cameos but making them an integral part of the plot.

In the same token, it is hard to be as intensely anticipated as this one was and still be good. The only MCU movie that pulled this off is Endgame. No Way Home falls short. Parts of its plot seem contrived and Doctor Strange, which we have been persuaded until this movie is a powerful sorcerer, is at best useless and at most frail here. The movie's events are also not nearly as consequential to the MCU's world-building as, say, Loki.

But perhaps that was not the point. Maybe what Feige has in mind here is not more world-building but some web-slinging fun. If this is the case, then job well done.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 01,2022 [ VOL 22 , NO 1131]

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