"In the multiverse, there are an infinite number of people that know Spider-Man," announces Doctor Strange in this latest - and greatest - movie to be set around Marvel Comics' web-slinging superhero.
Tom Holland returns for his third solo Spider-Man movie and it's easily his best outing. As the animated 2018 movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse showed, there are infinite narrative possibilities in this comic-book world, and it's something director Jon Watts takes to heart in Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Carrying on from 2019's Spider-Man: Far from Home, it begins with the revelation delivered by Jake Gyllenhaal's villainous Mysterio in that last film - that Spidey's real identity is Holland's high-school kid, Peter Parker. "Everything Spider-Man touches turns to ruin," rants J.K. Simmons' newshound from The Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson, and soon the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man is branded as Public Enemy No. 1.
Desperate to reverse this, Parker seeks out the mystic Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and asks him to cast a spell ensuring everyone forgets he's Spider-Man. But when some meddling ensures the magic goes wrong, the multiverse is cracked open, and Spider-Man is faced with some ghosts from his past - or rather the past of other iterations of this iconic superhero.
While the trailer gives at least one of these "ghosts" away, and there are spoilers already all over the internet, in case you don't know, it won't be ruined here. Needless to say, if you're a fan of the earlier incarnations of the character, directed by Sam Raimi and Marc Webb, then you won't be disappointed.
"It gets confusing here," remarks one returning character, but in truth, it doesn't. Watts keeps everything ticking along perfectly. Also making a comeback are Parker's girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and best pal Ned (Jacob Batalon), as well as Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), the kid who thinks he's Spider-Man's bestie.
Smartly scripted, No Way Home is as funny as its predecessors, but far more poignant - there's real emotion underlying the story as Parker comes to fully realise the sacrifices it takes to be on the frontline.
While Raimi's 2001 movie Spider-Man with Tobey Maguire was a landmark in visual effects, viscerally showing its hero swinging through New York, Watts' film also pushes the bar, with stunning de-ageing techniques used for various characters who are returning to this universe.
After the relative disappointment of Marvel's last movie Eternals, this feels like a euphoric upswing. No Way Home is unforgettable.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.