Spider-Man: Far from HomeReviewed By alejandroariera
Posted 07/02/19 09:00:00
(Worth A Look)
Sam Raimi’s first “Spider-Man” film (2002) resurrected a genre that was left moribund by Joel Schumacher’s mediocre to horrible contributions to the Batman film canon: “Batman Forever” (1995) and “Batman & Robin” (1997). Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” (2000) may have wiped away the bitter taste left by those two dayglo sequels and may have opened Hollywood’s eyes to the box-office potential behind the hundreds of titles and characters produced by the likes of DC and Marvel. But Raimi’s “Spider-Man” was special: it was exhilarating, fun, full of wonder. Tobey Maguire felt right as Peter Parker, Willem Dafoe portrayed a memorable Green Goblin and J.K. Simmons brought the house down as J. Jonah Jameson. In its sheer sense of joy, it evoked Richard Donner’s “Superman”; it made you want to swing across Manhattan’s skyscrapers. It reminded you why you read these books in the first place.Two years later, Raimi struck gold again with “Spider-Man 2” thanks in large part to an equally memorable (and I would argue, stronger) performance from Alfred Molina as Doc Ock. But then, Raimi made the same mistake others made before him by adding one villain too many to his third outing as director of the series when one, Venom, was more than enough. After developing “Spider-Man 4” for Sony/Columbia, Raimi, unsatisfied with the script, stepped down from the director’s chair thus opening the door for the studio to reboot the character ten years later in the first of two films starring Andrew Garfield as a perpetually moody Peter Parker in “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Part One was somewhat amazing; the less said about the second, the better.
Trust a different British actor to wipe the slate clean: introduced to the role in “Avengers: Civil War,” Tom Holland not only proved a worthy successor to Maguire but by turning back time and turning Parker into a teen, Marvel Studios took the character back to its origins. Both Holland and the studios made the character fun again without ignoring the moral and emotional conflicts that sometimes weigh upon the character. And yet, I was not fully impressed by “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Holland’s first full feature-length outing as the web-slinging friendly neighborhood hero. It felt like a series of great set-pieces and dramatic scenes in search of a structure, of a special kind of glue that would connect them together. And, come on, did you really think Spidey was gone after Thanos snapped his fingers in “Avengers: Infinity War”?
So, here we are, with “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” Holland’s second full feature-length adventure as the character, opening in the heels of the animated and very inventive “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse,” a delightful, giddy, pop concoction that celebrated what makes this character and many incarnations so special while introducing Miles Morales, the first Afro-Latino to wear the mantle, to the big screen. It may not have been that films directors and writers intention to throw the gauntlet, but “Spider-Man: Homecoming” director Jon Watts and writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers seem to have, without realizing it, accepted the challenge, delivering in “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” one of the most entertaining, fun and wonderful films in the Spidey cannon. It may not be as revolutionary as “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse” but it does tick all the narrative boxes.
Taking place right after the events of “Avengers: Endgame,” the film opens in Ixteco, Mexico, where Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his assistant Maria Hill (Cobey Smulders) are investigating the aftermath of a cataclysmic event and meet a mysterious figure from a parallel Earth: Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal). The scene is followed by a hilariously cheesy “In Memoriam” video produced by the students at Peter’s school acknowledging those who gave their lives to defeat Thanos and those who came back from the “blip” (as Thanos’ population control plan is now known) are coping, among them Peter and almost half of the entire cast of “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) included. You can’t blame Peter for wanting to leave his Spider-Man costume behind and embark on a summer vacation in Europe with his classmates and his dopey faculty advisers. You can’t blame him either for sending Fury’s calls directly to email.
So off to Venice he goes, with a step-by-step plan to woo MJ (Zendaya), one that he urgently needs to put into action since a rival has appeared: Brad Davis (Remy Hill) who aged five years during the blip. But superheroes get no break, the group is attacked by a water monster in the canals and is saved both by Peter (who does his best to disguise his identity, a recurring motif in the film…not since James Bond has a character failed at keeping his secret identity a secret) and Quentin, who soon adopts the name the awestruck teens have given him: Mysterio. Fury comes knocking at our reluctant hero’s door and Peter finds himself and his schoolmates travelling to Prague where he will fight alongside Mysterio against the final and most dangerous creature who has crossed the multiverse to destroy this one. Oh, and I almost forgot, Peter’s late mentor Tony Stark left a gift for him: his voice-controlled tinted glasses which give Peter access to a sophisticated and dangerous intelligence system. And that’s just the first hour.
Act Two is a minefield of spoilers. All I have to say (given that this review is coming out opening week of the film) is that: a) of course there is more to Mysterio than meets the eye!; b) that this second act’s plot is driven by two themes: all appearances are deceiving in this post-truth world and a more mature, deeper consideration on the notion that “with great power comes great responsibility”; and c) there is one sequence that is as mind-bending and virtuosic as anything on “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.” Then there’s the film’s coda and post-credits sequences: the latter hinting at what may come in the next stage of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; the former not only sets up the next Spider-Man sequels but should also be the source of many standing ovations and fist-pumping from the die-hard Spidey fans.
Tony Stark’s death and the consequences of his actions —good, bad and ugly— loom large over the film. They drive Peter’s doubts and misgivings. But “Spider-Man: Far from Home” is no funeral march much less a downer. Watts, McKenna and Sommers understand that, at its core, Spider-Man is the story of an average teen who happens to have been blessed and cursed by a gift. That, as such, he will struggle to find the perfect balance between living a normal life and his responsibility as the heroic figure everybody looks up to and admires. That he will also struggle to keep his loved ones safe from his actions and enemies. Watts, McKenna and Sommers find that perfect balance that proves so elusive to the character: here we have both a sweet, charming, funny and endearing teen comedy living comfortably side-by-side with the special effects extravaganza that are part and parcel of the genre. They have surrounded him with familiar yet recognizable and all too human teen archetypes. We do care what happens to them as much as Peter does. They have given these teen characters room to grow. Nothing, in fact, gave more pleasure in “Spider-Man: Far from Home” than to see MJ step out of the shadow she had been pushed into in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” to emerge as a full-blown character.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance as Mysterio presents a quandary considering what happens in the second act, especially when you compare his motivations to Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes/Vulture in “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” how they reflect the current corporatized world we live in and its impact on those who toil in it. Suffice it to say that Gyllenhaal brings an earnestness to his performance in the first act that makes his duplicitousness in the second that more shocking and understandable.After two doom-laden Avengers films, “Spider-Man: Far from Home” is a palate cleanser, one that more than setting up the next phase of the MCU, sets up the next chapters in Peter’s story. And with that eye-opening coda, it leaves you begging for more. I wish I could say the same of most of this summer’s drab sequels.
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