Spider-man: Far From Home
Okay, so were 23 movies in and I think we all need to stop and take a pulse check on a few things to take into consideration with MCU films. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is praised for being a unique critical and box office success. It’s an expansive interconnected story that somehow balances hundreds of charters and decades of time passing between them and for the most part works. The drive to have the film and tv projects working together failed to manifest in the way they initially thought it would but, it’s still kind of there, and it’s just something that’s not really talked about. With the MCU’s success, cultural impact and cinematic legacy it has a lot of grace with audiences and critics too. Meaning, were likely to forgive somethings in an MCU film that we wouldn’t for others. Not saying that’s the case for everyone, but I know for me I’ve seen it even if its not explicit. On the other hand, I believe a standard has been set and the bar has been raised; so many of the recent films in the MCU whether fair or not can be judged a bit more critically.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
When you go out to fancy restaurant with a famous name attached, you have an expectation set to have met wen you dine there. If you go to McDonalds, you also have an expectation set and for different reasons you know what your getting and may take your meal for what it is.
The MCU for the most part are sequels. All spawning from 2008’s “Iron-Man” and while solo films featuring debut charters are injected and should be digested on their own, its hard not to take in to account the films that came before it, or what’s on the slate after it. How does that effect the stakes, what are the consequences to our hero’s actions? I consider for some films, not all, the full production; pre and post. The marketing, mainly the trailer as apart of the product that sets and informs my expectations.
Not all critics will do this.
But this is how I do things. There’s a unique discussion about expectations with films I’m dying to get into but, for right now I believe when your expectations aren’t met that can lead to a negative perception of the film you just watched. Who’s to say if that’s fair or not, it’s a feeling you may or may not have and if you feel it, you feel it. I know in several MCU films the intentional misdirects that aren’t substantive to the plot have negatively impacted me in the expectations department. However, that can be redeemed in other areas of the filmmaking process. The plot, the character engagement, the action, etc. also, when a film is released in relation to the previous films narrative ending can do the same.
“Spiderman: Far From Home” had a difficult job at being a split production between 2 Studios that was to be a successful sequel to “Spider-man: Homecoming”, a sort of epilogue to one of the greatest sagas in cinematic history after the devasting events in “Avengers: Endgame” and set the stage for where the MCU/ Sony moves forward. That’s a tall order. An even taller order when you take into consideration the emotional weight attached and the time between the 2 films. A little over 2 months isn’t a lot of time to breathe between the ending and the starting of something and is apart of the reason why “Far From Home” (FFH) may have been screwed from the jump.
After the events of “Avengers: Endgame” Spider-man (Tom Holland) must step up to take on new threats in a world that has changed forever. Or so we’re told. Or that’s what the trailers wanted you to believe. I’m going to do my best at being respectful to this film and the films before it regarding spoilers.
The events preceding FFH in Avengers: Endgame left us with a shattered team of heroes reveling in a bittersweet victory against the Mad Titan Thanos, that resurrected half of existence throughout the universe, but came at a great cost. Lives were lost, and a world must put itself back together someway somehow.
Several students of Midtown High School’s science class including Peter Parker aka our friendly neighborhood Spider-man take a summer trip to Europe. A little quick for leisure if you ask me, just 8 months after the “Hulk Snap”, which is now being called “The Blip”. Its summer time and Peter is ready to decompress a bit and enjoy time with his friends across the pond and hope to give Spidey duties some much needed time off. Unfortunately, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and new threats have different plans in mind. While in Europe, Peter is visited by the pseudo-dead former Shield Director who enlists his help to thwart the destructive paths of elemental monsters who have already destroyed one Earth and will be dammed if that same fate will happen to theirs. You heard that right, another earth. Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal) has arrived from that destroyed Earth to help what’s left of this Earth’s mightiest heroes defeat these new foes. A gift from beyond the grave is delivered to Peter to aid in his superhero journey but comes with a lot of responsibility he’s unsure if he’s ready for. His focus is on his pursuit of MJ’s (Zendaya) affection and it seems at every turn another obstacle gets in the way. Peter makes a naive decision to regift what he’s been given to Quentin, now known to the world as Mysterio who appears to be better equipped to handle an Iron-man sized mantle to defend the world from any threats before it needs avenging.
On paper this narrative seems straightforward. That’s not necessarily the case. As stated before a lot of what makes an MCU film successful may or may not hinge on events and films that precede it. In this case, FFH must emotionally pay off the devastation and correction in Endgame. In my opinion it doesn’t. It glosses over or cheapens many of the events in that movie that make it my #1 film of the year. At the same time, it trots out a story that is inconsequential. There is more emotional and character growth at the end of “Spider-man: Homecoming” or “Infinity War” for Peter than in this film.
The script is problematic tonally. It misses the mark and misunderstands who Spider-man is at his core. The battle is trying to do something different and I get it. It’s a risk to remove Spider-man from New York. Its been that way for decades and has mostly not works in many comic book runs. To translate a Spidey story to the big screen and get the scale right can be fantastic when it works. Get it wrong, and it can be frustrating. As frustrating as having our protagonist constantly exclaim over and over through out the movie how he doesn’t want this life and wants to be a friendly neighborhood Spider-man.
We get it.
So, do that. Give us a story that still deals with the passing of the torch and incorporates the villain you want with the backdrop being New York and sprinkle something larger.
In a world of Gods and monsters, Spider-man is a teenage boy where if you run the risk of making his world too big, that means you have to spend too much time in your script plugging up holes in a world that could respond and should. The best parts of FFH is the teenage John Hughes angst. Except in this film when that happens around chaotic set pieces it’s a jerky narrative that gets the tone wrong. This film plays more like an Ant-Man movie trying to be an Avengers movie. The directorial choice to lead our characters in this way creates hurdles that are unnecessary and produces a film that feels the same way
At the end of the day you can appreciate Tom Holland and Zendaya’s individual performances and their chemistry together. They get the quintessential teen awkwardness and its cute, and it really works. We see a natural progression to their relationship that add to Peter’s story. His emotional maturity is tested both in this pursuit of MJ and in how he deals with the death of someone he looked up to.
Other characters like Ned (Jacob Batalon) and Betty (Angourie Rice) try for the same and its cute at first, and then it begins to stop working and wears off quick. You have other characters like Flash (Tony Revelori) just stop working altogether and revert to a Joe Manganiello-early Raimi interpretation that is only around for a gag and just when you think there’s a layer of something great about to happen it falls on the ground to never be explored further and comes across weird in the end.
Mysterio and Nick Fury are both a bit peculiar. Mysterio, for those that read the comics or watched the animated series growing up know he’s a principle Spidey Villain. So, when his character makes a distinct choice, that turn is only satisfying for an audience that has no idea who he is. Once again, this universe is interdependent on things that came before it and, in this instance, not just preceding films, but the comic book source material. I’m all down for new interpretations but when events happen to shape character choices, you see these intentions coming a mile away and end up producing a frustrating, cliché mustache-twirling bad guy exposition dump that make your eyes roll to the back of your head. Jake does the best he can with what’s written and somehow manages to make the overall charter work for how Marvel wants the Spider-man story to progress, but that doesn’t mean work to great effect for the audience.
Mysterio is far from Killmonger or Thanos and closer to Talos from “Captain Marvel”. Funny enough that brings me to Nick Fury. Jackson reprises his role for the umpteenth time and most recently seems to be phoning it in. I’m, unsure if it’s the way he’s been written or his acting choices but the cool calculated Nick Fury who was always one step ahead like in the end of “Iron-man”, or “Iron-man 2”, or “Winter soldier”, he seems to be a bit feebler and with out direction. There appears to be an explanation in the end credits of this film, but I contend that further complicates things and cheapens them too. The consequences of building a story interconnected with so many set before it, and then adding conflict that reverse engineers many of the events to constrict a new narrative and do it bad is unnerving.
These are super hero stories which have been told for decades so I’m not asking for the wheel to be reinvented or saying we can’t have stories be trot out again and again. At this point its kind of hard not to. Like I stated earlier, ill give grace to this franchise when it does something similar and it really works. When it doesn’t it’s a big turnoff and will get a harsher critique for it. If there were more connecting points cinematically, or sequences kinetically to overcome the script I’d be all in.
I loved “Alita: Battle Angel” for that reason. It was because of the graphics, and the hyper action and stunt choreography that help drown out the malaise of the script.
What I’m not saying is that there was no action in this story, just too little for me even though some of the scenes were large in scale. Maybe they were too big, and when you understand the intentions behind it, I just wasn’t sold. However, there was a super dope “coming in to Spider-man’s power set” that played out amazingly well ala Darth Vader in “Rogue-One”.
A lot of this film is about what we choose to believe. Believing in the things around you, believing others or believing in yourself. Peter goes on a journey of self-discovery, all while in the shadow of one of Earths greatest heroes. He makes mistakes along the way, but he quickly learns from them. That’s Peter’s greatest super power. His intellect. He’s not perfect and he’s still very much a kid, yet his penchant for seeing the good in others, could be problematic but it’s his power to see the good in himself that shines through. FFH tackles the themes well even if it’s a bit wonky in how it gets there. It has problems in tone and I feel it cheapens the emotional impact of Endgame while it lazily slaps together a plot that badly reverse engineers the narrative to seem clever. The film however, is somewhat saved by Tom Hollands strong performance and a thrilling 3rd act filled with dope action and good CG. This doesn’t necessarily feel like a closing of Phase 3 or a solid setting up of the MCU going forward but does bolster strong themes that Peter tackles to make this an ok sequel. Damn, I think I may have just sold my self on a film that was not good, to now calling it a fine or ok one.
KOLBYTOLDME RATING- 6/10
Director: Jon Watts
Writers: Chris McKenna
Starring: Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon
Run Time: 129 mins