Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)

Director: Jon Watts
Notable cast: Tom Holland, Samuel L Jackson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zendaya, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei

In a way, Spider-Man has always been the perfect superhero. He’s relatable in a lot of ways. Granted, most of us couldn’t have invented web fluid and shooters in high school… but we’ve all been a day late and a dollar short in our real lives, and that’s the thing that’s made him so endearing. He’s kind of a sad sack. For every success, something must go terribly wrong. As our third “Spider-Man 2” in twenty years, this accidentally proves true for the franchise. Again.

Getting out of the way immediately that Spider-Man: Far From Home is not actually a bad movie, especially in comparison to either of the “Amazing Spider-Man” movies, it is lacking a certain something. And I believe that ‘something’ is a fundamental misunderstanding of the character’s strength.

Far From Home finds Peter and friends living in a post-snap world preparing for a European summer vacation. The world is mourning Iron Man, and we find Peter tired of the superhero life. All he wants is to confess his feelings to MJ and enjoy a vacation. Nick Fury has other plans as he butts into Peter’s vacation to secure Spider-Man’s assistance in dealing with a world-ending threat that happens. Luckily, Fury and company get a heads up in the form of Mysterio. A multiversal traveler whose own world was destroyed by the very threat he’s trying to protect us from. Jake Gyllenhaal absolutely, and predictably, steals the show as the mysterious traveler, civilian name Quentin Beck. The last battle mage of his world, he proves to be a friend and mentor to Peter who, after watching his previous mentor Tony Stark die, is something he’s desperately seeking. He’s friendly, affable, and absolutely relatable… while his power set, both early on and later in the film, is absolutely intimidating, if not terrifying.

The action in this film is nearly worth the price of admission alone and is dizzying in its realization occasionally. The rare film that’s actually worth seeing in 3D. And, as is par for the course for an MCU film, the design is awesome all the way through. The four elementals, especially Molten Man, are frightening and visceral. Not to mention, they did the impossible. They made the Mysterio costume work in live-action. Seeing him and Peter team up against the elementals is one of the real highlights. They even deeply commit to the plot for good or ill. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Martin Starr and JB Smoove lending some really on-point comedy relief. Seeing Starr as the human doormat is hilarious after his role in Silicon Valley, and I could watch a whole movie of Smoove ranting about witches and their intention to ruin summer vacation.

The real downside of this movie, for me, is that everything just comes too easily for this version of Spider-Man. It took until this, Tom Holland’s fourth appearance, for me to put my finger on this, but this version of Peter just gets everything too easily. He has a pop culture reference, an invention, a rock-solid solution to every problem. He keeps disappearing on MJ and his friends? That just makes him more interesting. He has a low moment? It’s cool, he’s still on speed dial to Happy Hogan, who’s still high ranking within Stark technology, there to lend an ear and some support. His biggest problem is that Nick Fury wants him to be a hero too much. Tony left him a tactical AI that may be too powerful for him. Despite the apocalyptic stakes of the film, there is never a moment where you don’t know everything is going to be okay.

That seems unfortunate because even the worst of the previous live-action takes kept this aspect of the character intact. Garfield’s version having had legitimately wonderful chemistry with Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy, so that everything else about the movies aside, her death is impactful. Even the Raimi trilogy, for all of its patented insanity, wasn’t afraid to dive into the tragedies of Peter’s life. Hell, that trilogy even seemed to revel in it. That and coming off of the unbelievable Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse, not to mention Avengers: Endgame this movie just seems frivolous, save for an admittedly cool, world-altering pair of post-credits sequences.

I realize that it’s not necessarily fair to hold the movie to the standard of what it isn’t, but even judging Spider-Man: Far From Home strictly on what it is… it's kind of slow-paced, with more jokes that miss than hit, punctuated by legitimately cool, although shockingly infrequent, action scenes. It’s trying to do the same thing Homecoming did, in emulating a John Hughes movie, but without Michael Keaton’s performance to coast on. Good as this take on Mysterio is, it’s not the relatable but terrifying Vulture. Still, I don’t want to come off as overly harsh, I certainly cannot claim I came out of the theater feeling anything but pumped, and I certainly still had a good time. I just think Far From Home is missing a big part of what makes Spider-Man an interesting character, and releasing about six months after a movie that successfully showed us eight different Spider-Persons and made them all absolutely captivating is unfortunate for it.

Written By Sean Caylor

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