Monday, December 30, 2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home. A Review

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I have been highly critical of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's take on Spider-Man. While I've thought well of Tom Holland as our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, I have been endlessly irritated by how he is essentially a blithering idiot, forever going on about "THIS REALLY OLD MOVIE" (i.e. any film released before his birth) or how for someone who started out as a teen whiz-kid he seems incapable of the most basic rational thought.

And I'm not even going to get into how he is so far from the traditional origins of beginning his life of crime-fighting thanks to his Uncle Ben's death.

While Avengers: Endgame is seen as the actual end of Phase Three of our world's longest and most expensive soap opera, Spider-Man: Far From Home is the actual end, or at least a coda on this season's finale, a bit of a holiday special. I know many love the comic hijinks and teen antics of our Queens gang, but by now I figure the MCU audiences are not particular on things like plot. They are perfectly content with Far From Home being essentially a mashup of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 with of all things The Incredibles.

The Blip (also known as The Snap, when half the world's population disappeared only to come back) has caused some issues among teenagers who are technically five years older but look exactly as they did before. In any case, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and his wacky friends are all going to Europe for a school trip.

Who knew Queens high schools had that much dough?

Going along for the trip are Peter's unrequited love MJ (Zendaya), his wacky best friend Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon), his enemy Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) and two new (at least to me) figures: Tracy Flick-like Betty Brant (Angourie Rice) and Brad Davis (Remy Hii), a rival for MJ's affection. Our appropriately if perhaps illogical multicultural gang is under the watchful eyes of teachers Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr) and Mr. Dell (JB Smoove).

Image result for spider man far from homePeter, still mourning his mentor/father-figure Tony Stark's death, just wants to be a teen and not the new Tony Stark. While Stark's right-hand man Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) might want him to succeed Iron-Man, Peter would rather just go to Europe and declare his total love to the dour, sarcastic MJ. Even the presentation of a gift from the late Stark, a pair of glasses that connect Peter to artificial intelligence EDITH is something he struggles with.

Struggles with in both using and figuring out how to use it, as his first efforts resulted in a drone attack on his love rival that nearly killed them all.

Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) insists Spider-Man help them, going so far as to manipulate the school's itinerary to suit his needs. After his group survived an attack by a water creature in Venice, Parker is recruited to help Quentin Beck, given the new name Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). Beck claims to be from an alternate Earth who has come to our Earth to fight these Elementals before they destroy our world as they did his. After joining forces with Spider-Man (here named "Night Monkey" to avoid any connection to Peter Parker), Parker transfers control of EDITH to Mysterio.

With an hour to go, you know this is not the brightest of ideas.

We quickly find that Beck is in truth a bitter ex-employee of Stark Industries who has joined forces with other ex-employees for a master plan to masquerade as a hero by faking attacks. Now that he has EDITH, he can create the largest monster to fight and take on the new mantle of Ultimate Superhero.

With MJ having figured out Peter Parker is Spider-Man, it is now up to him along with his appropriately if illogical multicultural group to stop Mysterio.

For those interested, there is a scene where The Daily Bugle.Net's J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) outs Peter Parker as Spider-Man.

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I have often said that I can "get" where a film is going or what it aims for yet not be on board with it. Spider-Man: Far From Home is one such film. I know it wants to be a mashup of teen comedy and Marvel Cinematic Universe canon, but I found so much of it so idiotic I wanted to throw the remote at the screen ten minutes into it. Maybe it's a generational thing, but why choose Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You for an In Memoriam montage over Sarah McLachlan's I Will Remember You or Angel or even Puff Daddy/Faith Evans I'll Be Missing You?

Maybe Celine Dion's satanic Trashtanic Lust Theme My Heart Will Go On would have been better, but now I digress.

I flat-out refuse to believe that in any universe that Betty and Ned would be in any kind of relationship. That's something out of Eurotrip, but that was meant to be idiotic. Nothing suggests that our Tracy Flick clone would want to be anywhere near someone as stupid as Ned, let alone be both erotically and emotionally enthralled with him. As played by Batalon and Rice, they didn't bother to try to make it believable, as if we all knew it was false, a joke. Maybe that's what MCU fanboys want but it really distresses me that people ask so little of their films.

Same goes for the love triangle of Peter, MJ and Brad. Why are Peter and Brad so besotted with someone who has no defining characteristic but her scowl? You knew what would happen when Brad walked in to see a pantless Peter and a hot European woman together. It is too lazy a setup. The film had nothing for Revolori to do. He doesn't convince anyone that he is a super Spider-Man fan or a Peter Parker hater. His performance, of what I can remember, is of him screaming more than Fay Wray in King Kong. His take on Flash is nowhere near interesting enough to inspire anyone to follow him on social media.

It's not entirely his fault: the screenplay gives him nothing to work with.

Image result for spider man far from homeAs a side note, I'm puzzled on the casting. I know Far From Home wants to be multicultural almost to the point of parody, and one can admire their efforts for diversity. However, why keep the character's original names? You cast a Filipino, a Guatemalan and a Chinese as Ned, Flash and Brad respectively and specifically to have diversity, so why not just change their names to reflect that? It just seems so peculiar to me to go out of your way to have a diverse cast only to pull back and keep the very Anglo/WASP names.

Gyllenhaal looked like he was having fun camping it up for all its worth as Mysterio, which is different from Jackson't totally bored take on Fury. I suppose after failing to attract the Academy's attention via psychological thriller (Nightcrawler), arthouse cinema in dual roles (Nocturnal Animals), physical transformation (Southpaw) and "inspirational biopic" (Stronger), he just wants to take the money and run. One doesn't need to be well-versed in Marvel mythos to know this Mysterio is a villain masquerading as a hero.

For better or worse, on seeing him in Venice, the first thing that came to mind was Edna Mode's declaration of "NO CAPES!" when he's fighting the Water Elemental. I genuinely thought Far From Home was taking inspiration from The Incredibles' Syndrome in the fake superhero story. I know the film is also a comedy, but was Mysterio/Syndrome supposed to be that silly?

Not that this bit of dialogue wasn't already silly. As the kids look on, someone says, "Who's that guy? (bringing back memories of Grease 2). "I don't know, but he's kicking that water's ass!", is the reply. I hope that exchange was meant to cause laughter.

I suppose it was nice to see actors from previous MCU films pop up, but unlike the fanboys I have never bothered to remember the smorgasbord of bit players.

Far From Home also echoes Spider-Man 2 in its theme of whether Peter Parker will be a superhero or a regular person. Even though I was not won over by Spider-Man 2, I do think it is better at tackling this theme. I think it is because Spider-Man 2 takes this more serious than the overtly jokey Far From Home. That joke extends to Holland's performance, where he is dead-set on convincing me that Peter Parker is a moron, forever afraid of talking to women, reacting to silly situations and being completely clueless on everything save mimicking Stark's technical abilities.

To be fair, at least they changed his "REALLY OLD MOVIE" bit to now misidentifying music. As "Mr. Hogan" (Peter stubbornly insists on addressing every adult as such) plays Back in Black, Peter perks up. "I love Led Zeppelin," he announces. Can't wait for him to go on about "THAT REALLY OLD SINGER, BIGGIE SMALLS" in Spider-Man: You Can't Go Home Again.

The more I watched Far From Home, the more I began to genuinely believe this film was made for four-year-olds.

I just don't care. I just don't care.

Next Marvel Cinematic Universe Film: Black Widow


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