Spider-Man: Far from Home

Spider-Man: Far from Home ★★½

There are some spoilerish things herein.

MCU is challenging.

Firstly, with a few of the comics' characters the lore is so rich, that there is some challenge in accepting the characters' changes in the newly unfolding MCU. So it is with Spider-Man. His suit is a Stark enterprise prototype, Spidey's not a photographer (not yet, at least), and Aunt May is hot and dating.

But accepting that type of 'new Feige-Marvel canon' stuff (and leaving it out of film judgment), the MCU also challenges the viewer to accept Spidey and Peter Parker in the context of a greater world of 20+ other films. And the last few years of 'Phase Three' have asked viewers to view films as entries in a series (with no end in sight) rather than a free-standing experience. And it's this kowtowing to the MCU and Avengers' Initiative that drives me bonkers at times.

Suddenly the events of Ragnorak, Endgame, have to make sense now in the context of SPIDER-MAN's high-school rom-com genre mashup. And it doesn't really work. Nick Fury is the super-glue here, but the character keeps getting less and less interesting as his appearances become more and more generic. And in the context of SPIDER-MAN's high school class trip, Fury is a square-peg plot device in a round-whole of a story rather than a cool Marvel Team-up. Furthermore, the Endgame 'Blip' makes for clumsy exposition and a weird ever-present backdrop to the film (wasn't upstate New York practically leveled in the events that brough Spidey back, making this entire casual 'vacation' plot point rather awkward in the greater scheme of things?)

Anyway, the worst piece of Marvel greater world-building lies in Peter Parker's contrived character arc. Although his desire to simply be a kid is legit, the Tony-Stark Mini-me is truly terrible--as phony as it is forced. It simply doesn't make sense to me. I get the mentor thing, and I liked it. Downey and Holland had some great moments together previously. But the spider-suits, the tech, the glasses, the heir to the tech-throne, the private jet on speed-dial is a bizarre path that rings false in the confines of this movie AND in the greater MCU AND for the Spidey comic purists. Holland is a great Spider-Man (he cognitively, physically, comedically, demographically fits the role perfectly--he's even a gymnast), but the future Avengers CEO is a forced path for his character.

Getting down to the actual business of the movie, FAR FROM HOME takes the good idea of HOMECOMING's teen-comedy-superhero movie and expands it into a teen-romance-comedy-superhero mashup. I like this idea--it's worked for some of MCU's best films. But FAR FROM HOME unfortunately disappoints in navigating these waters. The teen rom-com stuff smacks too much of silly after-school Nickelodeon tween programming with its silly teachers, bad one-liners, and awkward romantic pairings (for humor's sake).

The actual superhero stuff--the Mysterio business--works quite well. Mysterio as an anit-hero/villain--whatever you want to call him--is great. He has interesting motives (which do make an effective tie-in to the MCU story-world) and cinematically worthwhile dastardly plans. Gyllenhaal is a smooth, naturalistic presence in the role of the sort-of-good, sort-of-bad guy. The action scenes are strong, and the in the midst of this storyline, director Jon Watts and the writers have an interesting message about beliefs, fake news, and national heros. A little bit of a creative voice emerges out from under the shadow of Marvel's Head Office of showrunners. Jon Watts does seem to be a good fit for managing the scope of these huge productions. Marvel has done a great job in hiring capable directors from the indie circuit.

Unfortunately, what resonates, though, is the overshadowing presence of Tony Stark to the point that he is written into the script as a pair of glasses. Tom Holland wears a pair of glasses which not only make him look like Tony Stark, but actually are a weird AI heirloom that allows our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man to hack social media and launch satellite-based missile strikes. It's not what Peter Parker should be nor is it interesting on its own terms. However, if Peter Parker's character arc has him destined to be Tony Stark's Mini-me, if nothing else, there is a symbolism here and direct comparison to Sony's little-guy role to Disney's in the greater scheme of the Marvel Studios business model.

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