Spider-Man Far From Home — with excess baggage

Movie Review: Spider-Man Far From Home

The web-slinger gets sticky in a whole new set of places in a so-so sequel that finds a sweet spot in the unspoken codes of masculinity, and what it means to be Spider-Man and awkward teen, Peter Parker, simultaneously.

Spider-Man Far From Home

3.5/5

Starring: Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, JB Smoove, Jacob Batalon, Martin Starr

Directed by: Jon Watts

Running time: 2 hrs 9 minutes

Rating: PG-13

Opening wide July 2, 2019

By Katherine Monk

There’s a reason why Peter Parker is the most relatable character in the superhero universe, and it’s because he’s the most “immature.” Reflecting the major chunk of comic book readership, Peter is still locked in the cage of his teenage years, an insecure kid trying to find his path to adulthood. Yet, when he dons the mask, he doesn’t become Spider-Boy. He becomes Spider-Man.

It’s a bit of a Peter Pan conundrum, as Peter is torn between his desire to be a grown-up member of the Avengers, and his normal hormonal urges, which inevitably lead him in a more personal direction — and set up the central dilemma in Spider-Man Far From Home.

Peter Parker wants to go on the class trip to Europe as Peter Parker so he can court his super crush, MJ (Zendaya). At the same time, former S.H.I.E.L.D directors Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (B.C.’s own Cobie Smulders) need Spider-Man’s help in dealing with a new threat to the planet: Elementals — sentient creatures that possess the forces of nature on any planet they visit, eventually incinerating every orb in their path.

It’s a bit of a Peter Pan conundrum, as Peter is torn between his desire to be a grown-up member of the Avengers, and his normal hormonal urges, which inevitably lead him in a more personal direction — and set up the central dilemma in Spider-Man Far From Home.

In typical teenage fashion, Peter decides to ignore Fury’s texts and calls so he can do what he wants: Buy a black dahlia pin for MJ and take her up the Eiffel Tower. Needless to say, but it’s spoken anyway, “you don’t ghost Nick Fury.” Nick tracks Peter down in the midst of an Elementals attack on Venice, and debriefs him on the state of the UFO situation — which includes a parallel Earthling named Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), who dons a gassy green helmet and spurts green clouds at his enemies. Peter dubs Beck Mysterio, and eventually sees him as a new mentor — a surrogate Tony Stark.

It’s a nice interlude in the otherwise workaday script fashioned by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. Watching Holland and Gyllenhaal work together is an easy eyeful of male dynamics. Holland, the consummate English actor who wears cute with subdued confidence, bounces off Gyllenhaal’s stainless steel presence like a squeak toy desperate to be chewed.

It’s perfect, because it’s also just a teensy bit tongue-in-cheek at a performance level. The actors know exactly what they have to do to make it fun, as well as dramatic, and it’s all in their ability to nail the need for male affirmation.

The actors know exactly what they have to do to make it fun, as well as dramatic, and it’s all in their ability to nail the need for male affirmation.

The movie is the most enjoyable when it’s tracing these human lines of connection, and what each character is seeking from the other. Whether it’s the mentor-student dynamic between Peter and Mysterio, or the all-accepting buddy dynamic between Peter and his classmate Ned (Jacob Batalon), director Jon Watts (Spider-Man: Homecoming) spins enough coming-of-age strands to keep us emotionally entangled.

Yet, when the running joke all about “the Peter tingle” — and whether Peter feels his “Peter tingle” at given moments — you know you’re scraping the great barrier reef of frat-boy lazy, where many a good idea has been grounded by an urge to go low for an easy laugh.

More troubling, it’s a special kind of snag that doesn’t really belong in the Spider-Verse, given Peter Parker is the anti-frat boy — a nerdy outsider who feels nervous around the jocks and his super-popular peers. The whole “Peter tingle” thing is something that belongs to the Tony Stark, Iron Man, world — which, again, is where this movie finds more masculine tension.

…When the running joke all about “the Peter tingle” — and whether Peter feels his “Peter tingle” at given moments — you know you’re scraping the great barrier reef of frat-boy lazy, where many a good idea has been grounded by an urge to go low for an easy laugh.

Will Peter be able to live up to Iron Man’s legacy? Will he be responsible with the gift Tony bequeathed him? These are the central questions swirling at the centre of this slow and chaotic hurricane of a movie that picks up random debris from the Marvel Universe, and awkwardly — sometimes violently — spins it around before landing with a wet thud.

Everything is scattered on the surface. Yet, the inclusion of John Favreau as Tony Stark’s best friend, Happy, accesses a different manhole, and digs into the crux of what’s really going on so Far From Home. Favreau directed that first Iron Man that gave birth to the platinum Marvel goose, and as such, he represents that “Peter tingle” frat-boy sensibility that made Tony Stark such a lovable douche.

Peter isn’t that guy, but this movie offers him the chance to see through Tony’s eyes — almost literally, through a pair of glasses attached to the Stark computer network. Yet, Peter just isn’t comfortable looking at the world through a lens of power (read manhood). He doesn’t really want to be the man. Not now. Not while he’s in Europe.

Obviously, we want Peter to be the hero. But what kind of hero? Will he be able to maintain his own voice through this changing of the Avengers guard? Or, will he become more like Tony as he grows more comfortable in the glasses — more comfortable with his masculine privilege?

The film leaves it open for the next chapter, but watching the two worlds Man-Worlds mingle adds some much-needed-tension a pretty by-the-book exercise in franchise formula, and an exhausting assembly of manufactured action footage.

Obviously, we want Peter to be the hero. But what kind of hero? Will he be able to maintain his own voice through this changing of the Avengers guard? Or, will he become more like Tony as he grows more comfortable in the glasses — more comfortable with his masculine privilege?

The graphics team deserves an extra hand for creating Spider-Man moves in street clothes, which felt new and added an almost realistic quality to the pixelated mayhem. For the most part, though, the big-ticket action sequences with swollen sea monsters and oversized lava lamps get tired fast. Far From Home could have saved itself some cash and some running time by sparing us the blaring 15-minute apocalypses. Then again, there’s something about those wordless, eye-rocking distractions, those reductions of problem-solving to hurling large objects through space and shooting pistols, that capture something unspoken in the male psyche.

It’s the compulsion to blow shit up. Peter Parker was never the type to pack a cherry bomb, and he still isn’t. But as the doors of adulthood swing open with a little help from Happy, we could be in store for more “Peter tingle” and whole lot less “Spidey Sense.”

@katherinemonk

Official trailer: Contains spoiler, and an alert from Tom Holland.
THE EX-PRESS, June 27, 2019

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Review: Spider-Man Far From Home

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Summary

3.5Score

Though the big-ticket action sequences with swollen sea monsters and oversized lava lamps get tired fast, Far From Home captures something unspoken in the male psyche: The need to blow shit up. Peter Parker’s never been that kind of kid, but as the pressure of being Spider-Man catches up to him, Peter is forced to accept adult responsibility. This movie lays out different paths to manhood, but only on the surface, as the hurricane of action keeps interrupting the deeper discussion. -- Katherine Monk

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