The Third Second Spider-Man Movie Takes its Show on the Road.
DIRECTED BY JON WATT/2019
So, subjective reality is a thing. These days, it’s a bigger and bigger thing. When it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, what’s yours? Pick the closest option:
A) They’re big dumb action movies that trade on pre-established name recognition, spoonfeeding CG spectacle to the masses while giving lip service to their so-called “bigger themes”.
B) It’s the mythology of our time. While maintaining a carefully devised (and unprecedented!) meta-narrative, the individual films also embody the unique visions and sensibilities of each of their directors. In twenty-five years, people may well be studying the MCU the way we now study Hitchcock’s crowd pleasers.
C) Awesome!!! When’s the next one??
Not to rain on anyone’s vacation, but the objective answer really is all three, at least in part and parcel, at different times. Take Spider-Man: Far From Home, for example. Though the second entry of Sony’s third iteration of Marvel Comics’ friendly neighborhood web-head, it is once again Kevin Fiege and the MCU (Disney) braintrust calling the shots. (A tangled web, that).
In such, lip service is once again paid to a particular thought or notion without ever truly unpacking it in a very meaningful way. In this case, that notion is the rise of subjective reality in today’s world. Politicians thrive on it, old people wallow in it, middle aged people grapple with it, and young people either tune it out or have yet to be assimilated.
One thing that returning director John Watt’s legitimately youth-skewing Spidey films do that no other permutation has done yet is present Peter Parker’s high school culture in a believably contemporary way that is also somehow appealing and entertaining. If Captain America: Winter Soldier was Marvel’s spy thriller, and Guardians of the Galaxy is its space fantasy, then these are their teen comedies. Because another thing Jon Watt is tremendously good at: threading that deceptively difficult needle of visual effects-driven action comedies. Like it’s 2017 predecessor, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Far From Home is a very funny movie, but not without the requisite high stakes.
Far From Home, as one might expect, is dedicated to our hero’s literal creators, writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko, both of whom passed away recently. While Lee is famous for his mugging cameos in the MCU film’s and most the Marvel Comics-based films of the past few decades, Ditko, the genius who designed Spider-Man’s amazing suit, proved to be just the opposite when it came to the public eye. In his later years, he retreated something fierce, avoiding the ever-hotter and increasingly persistent spotlight in favor of his devotion to Atlas Shrugged author Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.
Despite its name, Objectivism is an entirely subjective philosophy espousing reason at the center of all things, and one’s own works-based happiness the only worthwhile endgame. Sound at all like the base methodology of a comic book villain? Meanwhile, in this day and age, the tenants of Objectivism have become tentacles, miring themselves into numerous institutions, political parties and belief systems, many of which initially, and fundamentally, ran 180 degrees counter. This is just one example of a subjective reality belief both directly and indirectly seducing our minds and culture.
In Far From Home, a new hero arises. With the world still reeling from the events of Infinity War and Endgame (explanations of how weird it is to have “blipped” away only to be brought back five years later, the same age, amusingly dominates the early minutes of the film), the void left by the fallen Avengers, most prominently, Iron Man, is deeply felt.
Enter Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal, said to be a close runner-up to Andrew Garfield in the casting process to play the previous Spider-Man), a supernatural super-being awash in high tech gadgetry and green smoke magic. As giant monstrous creatures made up of fire, water, and other terrestrial things emerge from the center of the Earth to wreak havoc in major cities across Europe, Mysterio proves to be the planet’s first line of defense. Yay, Mysterio!… Right?
Even casual longtime fans of Spider-Man know that there’s more to Mysterio than that. Though, subjectively speaking as just such a fan, Mysterio has never been one of the great Spidey characters. The truth is that he’s entirely limited, both conceptually and in terms of ability. (Too vague? Thank the movie studio’s request that reviews not reveal these particular specifics. Groan.). Though I’ve never been a fan of the bowl-headed purple caped character- and this film didn’t change that- I’ll concede that Far From Home does some interesting things with him.
Anyhow, good thing that Peter Parker (Tom Holland, charming as ever) and his small group of classmates are on a cross-Europe trip when all this elemental chaos happens. Also, good thing that Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, back in the patch for the third time this year) has keyed in on the fact that Spider-Man is a superhero worth courting and grooming. Tony Stark, gone but not forgotten, left him specific instructions- and a super high tech pair of glasses that is capable of summoning a massive drone strike from space. Cool! That’s just the kind of thing that should, at all costs, never fall into the wrong hands. Why not hand it over to the character played by the kid notorious for accidentally blabbing too many secrets about his upcoming Marvel movies on social media? (Speaking of which, stay through the credits of Far From Home. Even if there’s no bonus scene [I’ve been told not to say], it’s the right thing to do).
As Peter and his school pals, including his confidant Ned (Jacob Batalon), the sardonic beauty MJ (Zendaya), and the inquisitive Betty Brant (Angourie Rice), hopscotch from Venice to Prague to London, one thing is obvious: they’re being ganked around by the adults in their lives. From their teachers to their mentors to the big bad broader out-of-control world, the dug-in staunchness of grownups imposes at every turn. This, in a nutshell (or in this case, a foggy fish bowl), is the outrageous subjective-reality prone world that kids must navigate. One wonders if Tom Holland’s Spider-Man will ever emerge as his own solidarity hero. Not if the bombardment of the outside world has anything to say about it. This is both the underlying theme of Jon Watt’s Far From Home– and the bigger theme it pays lip service to in-between its bombastic CGI-overloaded action scenes.
In true MCU fashion, Far From Home is simultaneously imperative, a ton of fun, and just okay. (See the new meta-narrative get nudged into being; laugh along at the familiar faces in over their heads; glaze over in wonder at digital maelstroms of destruction). Its screenplay could’ve definitely used at least one more pass in order to solidify everything. But, like its pop culture contemporaries The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, Far From Home can be read as a semi-cautionary tale of the perils of the world that adults, both well intentioned and not, have created, and foisted upon the youth- if you take the opportunity to squint and see such messages. Or, you can just go with it and have fun.
Spider-Man: Far From Home, being the third second Spider-Man film, is highly unlikely to make any new converts to the MCU or Spidey proper. If anything, it’s biggest real-world hurdle is from within its own family: needing to live up to the universally beloved and acclaimed animated feature, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (which, coincidently, is now on Netflix and being viewed by en masse all over again). And, truth be told, and not for lack of grand effort and budget, this still-very entertaining movie doesn’t clear that high hurdle.
But then, that’s all subjective.
When’s the next one?