Movie Review: SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME a serviceable addition to Marvel’s growing list of franchise pics, but nothing more than that.

It’s hard to believe, but as of this year’s Avengers: Endgame, Tom Holland has donned the spider-suit in more movies than any other actor, and it’s only been three years since his first appearance in Captain America: Civil War!  To my knowledge, only Nicholas Hammond has played the character more than him.  This time around, it’s in his second solo outing, subtitled Far From Home.

Early in the movie, the lingering effects of the Avengers epic are dealt with: the “snap” which killed off half of the universe’s population – including Peter Parker and his closest school chums – and the loss of Tony Stark as Peter’s mentor.  Ok, I’m sure that second one is a massive spoiler to anyone who hasn’t seem Endgame, but after a couple of months, that’s kind of on you.  Following the snap, undone by The Hulk in Endgame, that half returns, but it’s after a five-year gap in which those left behind have gotten older.  There are a couple of jokey references to this, but overall it felt pretty phony to me.  While everyone keeps saying all this happened five years ago, there’s almost zero evidence that it actually happened, especially given that none of the crew from Spider-Man: Homecoming were affected by it.  There was a great chance to show this to comedic effect by having at least one them appear in the movie five years older, but I felt that the need to stand by contracts hamstrung the writers to the point where all they could do was pay lip service to the event.  And in a weird way, I also feel that the whole Tony Stark/Peter Parker dynamic seemed a little forced too – but only a little.  I never *really* got the sense, even in Homecoming, that a high school-age Peter Parker would really mean THAT much to Stark.  Anyway, I’m digressing.  On to the review!

I tend to get a little windbaggy when I write about these Marvel movies, and how Marvel Comics was a keystone of my early childhood development, and it’s the same with this movie, but I’ll keep it a little light: Spider-Man’s costume is my earliest memory of superhero costumes – my second? Mysterio, in Spider-Man Comics Weekly #5, in 1973, which reprinted the original story by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko from a decade earlier.

I remember loving that costume so much as a kid, and it’s always stuck with me as one of my all-time favourite costumer designs. I always enjoyed the character’s appearances over the decades, so when I heard none other than Jake Gyllenhaal (Enemy, ) was cast as Quentin Beck I was in two minds: on one hand, I’m a fan, but on the other, would he just phone it in as another paycheque job?  The good news is I didn’t think at any time he did.  I had much the same fears over Michael Keaton’s turn as The Vulture, and I was surprised there too.  Is the Spider-Man franchise the one where good actors are hired to play the villains?

The plot of Far From Home is pretty basic: Peter and his high school crew go on a European trip for some much-needed escape from the recent cosmic events, and during this trip, Peter plans to tell MJ how he feels about her.  But while they’re in Venice, a giant Hydro-Man type water-creature appears, only to be confronted by a new hero on the scene – Mysterio.  Well, it won’t come as a shock to anyone that Mysterio is the movie’s bad guy.  I mean, if you went into this movie thinking otherwise, maybe movies are not your thing.  Knowing that he’s the villain of the piece, it makes the next hour or so of the movie a little repetitive while you’re waiting for the inevitable reveal – during which, Peter interacts in an awkwardly, weirdly-written way, with Nick Fury.  You wonder, how can Fury possibly be taken in by Mysterio’s outlandish story?  In a nod to the early and brief days of Alan Moore’s stint at Marvel, Earth-616 gets mentioned by Mysterio as he claims to be the sole survivor of an alternative Earth, now here to help Peter’s from being destroyed.  There’s an answer to Fury’s apparent gullibility much later.  Alongside these scenes, Peter still has to interact with his school friends, and it’s all mildly amusing and somewhat realistic – to a point.  At no time do they feel like real, contemporary teenagers.  They’re all way too wholesome, even MJ who is set up as the mysterious, deadpan, sarcastic chick who’s really only about as “edgy” as someone who makes a point of not listening to Taylor Swift.  Having said that, I mostly liked all the kids in the movie, even though they’re the lightweights that are there to remind long-time Spidey movie fans that this is an “all-new!” version.

My interest was always with Gyllenhaal, and I’ll say he delivered.  Not any kind of award-winning role, and not as meaty as Michael Keaton’s Vulture, but once his motive was revealed I was onboard with it, and I enjoyed how scenes during the key reveal were doled out alongside previously meaningless clips from other Marvel movies in a manner that reminded me a little of Keyzer Soze’s in The Usual Suspects.   From that point on, it’s all about how Spider-Man is going to take down Mysterio, and for me, it made for a pretty good, energetic ending.  What added to it for me is that while Mysterio’s true plans are revealed, there’s still plenty of classic Mysterio/Spider-Man confrontations, which I greatly enjoyed.  I felt like The Vulture, Mysterio was given a pretty reasonable update, and it didn’t hurt that there’s a kind of nod to Mission Impossible in the storyline too.

What prevents me from being more enthusiastic about the movie is that, at over two hours, I felt the action and story flagged along the way.  It felt bloated, and it had a couple of scenes that feel too similar to others in the movie, and while the main plot is the kids’ chaperoned trip to Europe, that felt really redundant to me.  None of the locations in the movie are anything other than interchangeable backdrops, given that they have almost zero interaction with the locals or cultures that they meet on the trip.  That, too, felt phony.  Far From Home is simply the Marvel juggernaut trundling along on its own world tour, vacuuming up money along the way.  The story doesn’t stretch any of the characters, doesn’t really force any great change upon them.  Marvel’s already done that, and it was called Endgame, and Far From Home is far from that.  Stay through the end credits though – there are two fairly meaty scenes that you won’t want to miss.  If you heard they’re amazing and unmissable, that’s not exactly how I felt about them, but they’re worth waiting for.

3.0/5.0

© Andrew Hope., 2019

Links to other movies mentioned here:

AVENGERS: ENDGAME

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

 

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Movie Review: AVENGERS: ENDGAME – impressive, emotional end to the Avengers saga, but where can the studio possibly go from here?

Just about a year after Avengers: Infinity War was released, the second part of the story, Avengers: Endgame has descended upon the Earth, much like the kind of invading alien force audiences are all too familiar with, ironically, because of movies just like this.  I write this on Saturday, April 7 – opening weekend – and the movie is projected to have an opening weekend gross in excess of $1 billion, and that’s in addition to other cinematic records it is crushing.  Of course, the age-old question asks: is it any good?  My reaction is similar to that of Infinity War: it’s really good, and I really liked it, but it doesn’t get 5 stars, and left me with questions about the future of the entire Marvel franchise.

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Movie Review: CAPTAIN MARVEL – the latest in the Marvel Studios juggernaut is enjoyable thanks to Brie Larson’s charm, but lightweight.

Carol Danvers, much like Tony Stark in 2008, was a comic book character largely unknown outside of the increasingly insular world of comic book readers, but thanks to her inclusion in the cinematic Marvel Universe, now over $1 billion worth of people know the name worldwide, bringing with it untold fame and riches for its Oscar-winning star, Brie Larson.  More importantly, the movie introduces Marvel’s first female headliner and positions the character as potentially the most powerful in the entire franchise.  Unfortunately, in today’s sociopolitical climate, the very notion has been met online with the kind of outraged-male bile all too common.  I’d have preferred not to put this kind of spin on my reviews, but it’s unavoidable.

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Movie Review: VENOM – other than Tom Hardy’s enjoyable turn as Eddie Brock, this movie flatlines everywhere else.

Two Spider-Man related movies in two weeks (for me), and the hands-down winner is Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse, a movie that just about succeeds in every department.  In contrast, Venom, the second live action appearance of this character from Marvel Comics (the first being 2007’s misbegotten Spider-Man 3), falls flat just about everywhere, with only the character of Eddie Brock saving the movie from being a complete bore.  A lot better than being a disastrous piece of crap like Bird Box and Holmes and Watson, but still nothing to get even mildly enthusiastic about.

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Movie Review: SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDERVERSE – fantastic animation and art design + a smart script + well defined characters = best Spider Man movie yet

If you’ve been following my reviews, you know I trend toward genre movies, and as someone who has written for Marvel Comics, I’m predisposed to seek out superhero movies, even if I don’t think they’ll be that great.  Hey, I’m a nerd, what can I say?  I don’t remember hearing about Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse until about a month before it dropped – the fourth quarter of 2018 was a busy one for me – and at that time I hadn’t seen Venom, so I missed out on the post-credits preview too, but I finally saw it just after Christmas, and I have to say it’s my favourite Spider-Man movie to date.

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Movie Review: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR – a technically impressive achievement, but I didn’t quite love it.

So the headline describes this movie perfectly for me.  Marvel’s 19th movie in its cinematic franchise is a hugely impressive piece of movie making, given the sheer scope.  I’m not just referring to the visuals, since this is generally the part of a CGI fest I find the least impressive.  No, the technical aspect I’m talking about are all the behind-the camera stuff, from script to production and everything in between (the legal department must have worked overtime for weeks on just the contracts).  Avengers: Infinity War is finally the main event that the franchise has been building toward since 2012’s Avengers, arguably 2011’s Captain America.

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Movie Review: DOCTOR STRANGE – Marvel’s latest sticks to the format, but Cumberbatch is typically great and the visuals are nice.

dr-strange

As well as having written for Marvel Comics in the recent past, I’ve been a Marvel Comics fan for as long as I can remember.  My interest in their comic books has waned dramatically over the last couple of years, but I still have a soft spot for the company.  One of my first memories of reading any kind of material was the first issue of Spider Man from Marvel UK in 1973.  I was hooked, and the characters and stories became a huge part of my life for decades to come.  This isn’t going to be a giant retrospective about Marvel Comics, but I couldn’t really start a review of Doctor Strange without a self-indulgent opening, right?

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