And in Marvel-land… Peter Parker Goes On Vacation

One time we watched 22 Marvel films in 8 weeks. Now, we just watch them once in awhile – but why not talk about it anyway?

With this past weekend’s big preview of the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Black Widow, a vampire, Shang Chi… oh my!) at San Diego Comic Con, it’s clear there is all sorts of fun yet to be had in Marvel-land post-Infinity saga. So let’s keep this conversation going – starting with the latest, Spider-man: Far From Home. Spoilers certainly to follow.

In addition to lots of property damage and bureaucratic challenges, the post-Endgame world has some gaping holes in the superheroic earth defender-force. Nick Fury and Maria Hill are back at the thankless work of monitoring threats to earth’s safety and Happy Hogan is back to keeping tabs on Peter and making eyes at foxy Aunt May. We also get to check in with Talos (in a post-credits scene), the Skrull leader who inspired Captain Marvel to rebel against the Kree (who, as you remember, then inspired Nick Fury to start The Avengers waaayyyy back in the 90’s).

Heroes: Peter Parker / Spider-Man

“I think Nick Fury just hijacked our summer vacation.”

Peter Parker is doubling down on the idea that he’s not ready to be an Avenger, he’s too young and insignificant to be more than a minor-league hero, and he just wants to go on a trip with the school nerd squad and maybe work up the nerve to start holding hands with the girl he likes.

Other heroes:

  • Nick Fury
  • Maria Hill
  • Happy Hogan
  • Talos and Soren

Villain: Quentin Beck / Mysterio

“It’s easy to fool people when they’re already fooling themselves.”

Back when he used to work for Stark Industries, Beck created sophisticated interactive hologram technology called Binarily Augmented Retro-Framing – basically, the Holodeck from Star Trek – which Tony Stark nicknamed B.A.R.F. and repurposed as a completely impractical experiment in immersive therapy, back in Civil War. Beck was none too pleased about Tony’s decision to disregard his life’s work and name it after vomit, and got fired for raising a fuss. By the time Far From Home rolls around, Beck has teamed up with some other disgruntled former Stark employees to repurpose B.A.R.F. for their own self-serving purposes.

Villain Complexity Rating: 4/5

Though he is doing the “oooh that asshole Tony Stark thinks he’s so great, I’ll show him” thing that all the Iron Man villains did (see: Obadiah Stane, Justin Hammer, Aldrich Killian), Beck’s version is by far the most interesting. His illusion technology is science that looks like magic, and the “superhero from another dimension fights primeval interdimensional monsters” scenario he manufactures on a massive scale is delightfully gonzo. Charismatic, emotionally manipulative, and reliant on trickery to achieve fame and power, Mysterio feels more than a little like Loki (my favorite and everyone’s favorite).

“What’s at Stake” Rating: 2.5/5

If Beck gets his way, he’ll be anointed defender of planet earth, will be the new leader of the supersquad, and will hold the keys to Tony Stark’s armory, which includes drone tech not unlike the kind that freaked Captain America out in Winter Soldier. He doesn’t want universal genocide or even the enslavement of the world – he’s just an unscrupulous guy after good, old-fashioned power.

What did our hero(es) learn?

Peter learns some hard things – like how the post-blip world needs Spider-man too much now for him to go on vacation whenever he wants…  and how you can’t always trust people, no matter how paternal and heroic they seem. What you can trust is the Peter tingle. Every time.

Heroism Rating: 1.5/5

It’s true that he’s been through a lot lately – fighting monsters, going to space, turning into dust, etc. – but Peter really isn’t at his most heroic here. He spends most of the movie running away, avoiding, or hiding. He even gives the planet-altering power of Tony Stark’s arsenal to a guy he has known for just a couple days. Though he does embrace his power and responsibility in the end, exposing Beck’s illusion and taking him down, he does it mostly to save his friends.

Visual Aesthetic/CGI Rating: 2.5/5

With the exception of the striking kaleidoscopic dreamscape Beck weaves to trick Peter (which is fantastic! Very Into the Spiderverse), the look of the film is pretty straightforward Marvel fare – shiny and crisp, with the spectacular backdrop of European cities and the highest quality CGI. It isn’t bad, it just doesn’t have its own specific stylistic identity. However, it was fun to hear both AC/DC and The Ramones pop into the soundtrack toward the end, one signal of the many ways this movie blends together the Spider-man and Iron Man stories.

Heroic Cinema Saturation Index

Betsy Rating: 4/5

After the epic finale of Endgame, Far From Home felt like a little extra treat, a coda tagged on to the end of the infinity saga, gently cracking open the door to the next wave of MCU stories. Peter is a good choice to focus on after the big war to save the world; as Tony’s protege, he naturally carries the gravity of his death in a more personal way than most of our other heroes, grappling with the weighty responsibility of being chosen as Iron Man’s successor even though he’s still young and dumb and wants young, dumb experiences. This dynamic works just fine, and Tom Holland does admirable work at balancing naivete and anguish, but what really elevates the movie for me is Jake Gyllenhaal as Quentin Beck. Not only is his mythology hilarious and his plot so brilliantly out there (and such a red herring for the reddit theorists), Gyllenhaal is fantastic to watch – compassionate and warm one moment, dastardly and icy the next. And after so much epic heroism in the MCU of late, returning to a smaller story about one guy’s narcissistic vendetta feels like a relief.

Though not as lighthearted as Homecoming, the jokes are still funny – and the nerd squad characters are growing into themselves. Especially Zendaya, who is great as MJ, a gothy, sarcastic millennial version of Mary Jane. And I kind of hate to admit it, but Jon Favreau doesn’t even annoy me as Happy Hogan in this film… In fact, he’s kind of charming. Playing an awkward uncle-type is so much more palatable than being Tony Stark’s resident putz, and having him, a small piece of Iron Man, in Peter’s story is surprisingly comforting. 

There’s a ton of cool groundwork being laid here for future stories too – shapeshifting Skrull who work for Nick Fury, Mysterio probably not dead, fake elementals foreshadowing a mythology that is about to become real, and lots of dynamics forcing our heroes to question the nature of reality… good stuff! I enjoyed Far From Home, and I’m curious to see how time alters my perception of its strength and value. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m even more enthusiastic about its merits when I watch it again someday.

Justin’s Rating: 3.5/5

Considering its unenviable spot in the MCU lineup behind the still-rampaging box office behemoth Endgame and my general lack of interest in that smart mouth punk Peter Parker, Far From Home was always going to fall a little flat with me. This is not to say that there aren’t plenty of things to enjoy in this film, including great performances from the leads and a clever juvenile sense of humor, but the cinematic superhero field is pretty crowded these days, so if a film isn’t killing the game, it’s losing. To employ a metaphor that will connect solidly with our readership, this Spider-man film is like one of those Tour De France riders like Vincenzo Nibali or Mike Teunissen, incredible athletes languishing mid-peloton through the mountain stages while the leaders get all the press and good drugs. Far From Home is a solid superhero film, but it doesn’t distinguish itself from the field enough to qualify as truly special. 

Of the many points being bandied about, the thing I find most troublesome about the film’s plot is Peter’s apparent amnesia regarding the events of the past year, which was, you know, pretty big for the kid. He took down Ebony Maw side by side with Iron Man, fought Thanos on Titan and on earth as a member of the coolest superhero army ever assembled, and DIED -to name a few of the more memorable events. And now that he’s helped save the universe from untold destruction and hardship, earning him access to endless resources and forging bonds that will surely last a lifetime, not to mention having first-hand experience with space travel, demigods, aliens, and the great beyond, I am to believe he just wants to go back to high school so he can finish the Science Decathlon season or whatever and maybe hold hands with MJ? I dunno man. I can suspend my disbelief only so far.

I know it makes me sound like a wiener, but the foundations of this thing are a bit shaky, just like your favorite show, The Office (not the British one), and I have trouble looking past that. While a number of the franchises that comprise the MCU to this point require some logical gymnastics to get on board with superpowers, magic, or technology, they rarely take shortcuts or detours inconsistent with character development, which is why this stands out to me. I know Joss Whedon has been out of the picture for some time, but I hope this isn’t a sign that his influence is lost to this universe moving forward. 

Jeez, that got kinda serious. I guess I feel kinda serious these days. Deal with it.

OVERALL: 3

Spider-man: Far From Home is in theaters all over the place and is totally worth your $10.


More analysis of Marvel Cinematic Universe films here.

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