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A review of 'Spider-Man: No Way Home' with as few spoilers as possible

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

If advance ticket sales are any indication, the film "Spider-Man: No Way Home" is about to have the biggest opening of any Hollywood film since before the pandemic. The Marvel superhero epic has been shrouded in secrecy, and our critic Bob Mondello has promised us he will not pierce that shroud in his review.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: It's not every superhero I'm inclined to feel sorry for, but Spidey has been through a lot. In his last movie, he went to London on a high school trip to get away from all the Avengers drama. And rather than just getting to hang out with his pal Ned and with MJ, the girl he's sweet on, he had a supervillain reveal something that, as this film begins, pretty much destroys his shot at a normal life.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME")

J K SIMMONS: (As J. Jonah Jameson) That's right, folks. Spider-Man is, in fact, Peter Parker.

MONDELLO: Good luck with senior year after that, especially with this media troll weighing in.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME")

SIMMONS: (As J. Jonah Jameson) People looked up to this boy and called him a hero. Well, I'll tell you what I call him - public enemy No. 1.

MONDELLO: And it's not just Spidey's problem. MJ and Ned are pulled in, too, just for being associated with him. What to do? Maybe seek help from wizard Doctor Strange.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME")

TOM HOLLAND: (As Peter Parker) When Mysterio revealed my identity, my entire life got screwed up. I was wondering if maybe you could make it so that he never did.

MONDELLO: Doctor Strange agrees. But as he starts to cast a spell, golden runes spinning in the air, Peter realizes what it is he's asked for.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME")

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: (As Doctor Strange) Nice knowing you, Spider-Man.

HOLLAND: (As Peter Parker) Excuse me.

MONDELLO: (As Doctor Strange) The entire world is about to forget that Peter Parker's Spider-Man.

HOLLAND: (As Peter Parker) Everyone. Can't some people still know?

CUMBERBATCH: (As Doctor Strange) That's not how the spell works.

HOLLAND: (As Peter Parker) So my girlfriend's just going to forget about everything we've been through. I mean, is she even going to be my girlfriend?

CUMBERBATCH: (As Doctor Strange) All right, fine. Everyone in the world is going to forget that you're Spider-Man except your girlfriend.

HOLLAND: (As Peter Parker) Thank you so much - oh, my God, Ned.

CUMBERBATCH: (As Doctor Strange) OK.

MONDELLO: You see where this is headed. He remembers Aunt May, and those golden runs that were spinning so prettily start sparking and shuddering. And though Strange thinks he's contained the damage, turns out not so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME")

CUMBERBATCH: (As Doctor Strange) When you botched that spell where you wanted everyone to forget that Peter Parker's Spider-Man, we started getting some visitors from every universe.

HOLLAND: (As Peter Parker) The multiverse is real.

MONDELLO: Not the point, but yeah, which allows director John Watts to conjure up mirror dimension landscapes that don't have a lot to do with the three dimensions we're accustomed to as well as to take advantage of an odd wrinkle in the Spider-Verse - that the series has basically started over every time they recast the hero - first Tobey Maguire, then Andrew Garfield and now Tom Holland. So when multiverse portals open up, they can admit bad guys who've had beefs with the previous Spider-Men but that this Spider-Man has never encountered.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME")

ALFRED MOLINA: (As Otto Octavius) Hello, Peter.

MONDELLO: Doc Ock, for instance.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME")

HOLLAND: (As Peter Parker) Do I know you?

MOLINA: (As Otto Octavius) You're not Peter Parker.

MONDELLO: If I counted right, four other supervillains follow his lead, some of whom I confess I'd forgotten...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME")

SIMMONS: (As J. Jonah Jameson) Was that a dinosaur?

MONDELLO: ...At which point the film gets seriously meta in ways that I can talk about - say, dealing with the weight of heroic choices - and also in entertaining ways that will make fans' Spidey senses tingle but that I cannot talk about without spoiling surprises. We can debate some other time the wisdom of studio-promoted spoiler avoidance, but happily, surprise isn't the only thing "No Way Home" has going for it. The writing's clever. The relatability that's long made Spider-Man movies a cut above is in overdrive. And some six years and five movies in...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME")

HOLLAND: (As Peter Parker) Can we just, like, stay up here all day? It is so crazy down there.

MONDELLO: ...Tom Holland's Peter Parker still has a sweet vulnerability to him, his tear-streaked face an emotional special effect easily as powerful as the film's digital ones. What prompts the tears? That I can't talk about. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.