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We’ve ended the Endgame now

by Thom Yee

spider-man-far-from-home-one

Spider-Man:  Far From Home images courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing

Y’know what?  We are really, really, really lucky that Marvel and Sony got the whole Spider-Man thing straightened out.  Like, lucky as a culture.  Like, lucky as a people.  Like, lucky as a species.

For the time being at least.

It’s taken me a while to realize this, at least realize this fully with as much force and with as little doubt as I’m about to present here, but I’m finally ready to just say it:  I hate the original Spider-Man movies.  They’re dramatically overwrought and clichéd, their plots stretch out to the point of near total incredulity, and they feel so much more concerned with the idea of what a superhero movie is supposed to be that they get nowhere near what they can be.  For me it’s the scene where the Green Goblin first shows up to menace the town that completely sh*ts the bed.  And of course the usual caveat about the times in which these movies were released, very near the dawn of our modern superhero movie age and years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe would rear its all-consuming head, has something to do with it, but the issues I’ve just outlined with the original Spider-Man movies aren’t merely what I’ve realized gradually over time with the perspective of years of reflection, they’re what I thought the very first time I saw the first Spider-Man movie way back in 2002.  “We’ll meet again, Spider-Man!”  Takes me out of it every time.

And really, those old Spider-Man movies aren’t as much like their early 21st-century contemporary superhero movies as you might think.  They’re not like the Blade movies that introduced a little-known character that was and would always be somewhat on the fringes or like the X-Men movies with cautiously small budgets and a haphazard approach to world-building.  Those kinds of movies I can make concessions for.  They are victims of their time.  But the 2000s Spider-Man movies?  Those had the benefit of an extremely well-known intellectual property and a much more deliberate and thought-out approach for laying out their stories.  They were made with the full confidence of their studio.  So the problems with the early Spider-Man weren’t the times in which they were made, not only anyways, but with their core.  The very way they were conceived.  And it really bugs me that people still give them as much credit as they do.

But let’s get back to some positive thinking.  And that’s that the biggest benefit we get in our current age of superhero movie domination is that they can no longer get away with the kind of deliberately small-minded storytelling that the 2000s Spider-Man movies were trapped by.  Introductions and origins are long past, the boilerplate stories are done.  These days not only does the hero matter as a real-life person, it matters how they get along with other heroes as people, it matters that all of the relationships ring true, it matters that the stories do more than just the basics, and lately we’ve even gotten superhero movies of cosmic import and multidimensional appeals.  Stories that can show us something new and unexpected and that can prove why superheroes matter.  And Spider-Man:  Far From Home matters.

Oh, and spoilers for Avengers:  Endgame ahead.  And I guess Avengers:  Infinity War too (if that still counts for spoilers).

What’s it about?

When the Avengers’ war with the cosmic villain known as Thanos resulted in the death of half of all life in the universe, Peter Parker (Tom Holland), the amazing Spider-Man was among the trillions of lives lost.  Though he’s [Five.  Years.  Later.] resurrected by the Avengers, the spectre of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Iron Man, a mentor to Peter and the hero whose sacrifice ended Thanos’ threat, still looms large over the young hero, who would like nothing more than to get back to a normal life.  But when a new threat emerges, Peter must decide if he can become the hero Tony was or instead leave these great responsibilities to someone like Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a seeming new hero who appears to be better qualified.

So I doubt that there were too many of you out there who were seriously concerned about how well Spider-Man:  Far From Home would do financially, but, for the sake of your own edification, I’ll go ahead and point out that it made $185 million domestically over its six-day opening weekend, and made the most money ever for a Tuesday opening.  By now it’s made more than $600 million worldwide and looks poised to cross the $1 billion mark without too much strain.  All of which is pretty good and all of which shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.  After all, it’s the direct sequel to a very well-received, financially healthy movie in Spider-Man:  Homecoming, it’s got the Marvel bump from being a key part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and following Avengers:  Endgame, a movie dangerously, achingly close to becoming the highest grossing movie of all time, and it’s a movie about Spider-Man, a character who your grandparents and quite possibly even their parents were well aware of even before Marvel took over the box office and made characters like Groot and Rocket Raccoon into household names.

What’s maybe a little bit more surprising is that there’s a lot more going on with Far From Home than just being a Spider-Man sequel.  I mean, there’s the more fraught elements of the movie and the universe it takes place in, a world five years ahead of our own, just now recovering from a cosmic tragedy thanks to Avengers:  Endgame, that’s not only continuing the adventures of our favourite wallcrawler but capping off phase three of the overarching Marvel Cinematic Universe, but there’s also all of the rights and financial implications still surrounding Spider-Man as a movie property.  For instance, did you know that Sony, who still holds the movie rights to the character, is in charge of the distribution and marketing of the Spider-Man movies and, thus, also makes all of the money from theatre earnings and home video sales?  Did you know that if Spider-Man:  Far From Home doesn’t hit $1 billion at the box office, the movie rights to the character revert entirely back to Sony?  And while it’s true that $1 billion isn’t out of reach considering how much superhero movies are known to make, Spider-Man:  Homecoming didn’t make it.  And, criminally, Spider-Man:  Into the Spider-Verse, one of the finest superhero movies of all time, didn’t come anywhere near it.  So as much as it might seem like the $1 billion thing is a done deal for Far From Home, it’s important that we all know a number like that is more than just table stakes.  Very important, because Marvel no longer having a say in the ongoing direction of the character would really mess things up for us all.  Because we all know what happened last time Sony tried to steer the good ship Spider-Man on their own.

Is it any Good?

If we were to put the now vast array of 23 Marvel Cinematic Universe movies into echelons and hierarchies, movies like Iron Man and Captain America:  The First Avenger would probably form the bulk, the prototypes that established what MCU movies are supposed to be; the Ant-Man movies would be in a lower tier, still entertaining but far from essential; Black Panther, for most, would hold an odd position of zenith, an apex of unusual cultural relevance; and the Avengers movies would most likely occupy a space reserved only for the highest levels, movies that play by their own rules by incorporating/enveloping everything else around them.  And as for the Spider-Man movies?  I think they’re the movies for all of us — the movies with the farthest reaches and broadest appeals, the ones you can show to almost anyone.  Where that might place them in a hierarchy would, therefore, be up for debate.spider-man-far-from-home-europe.png

For me, seeing Spider-Man:  Far From Home was an eerily similar experience to seeing Spider-Man:  Into the Spider-Verse last year.  You see, for a comicbook nerd like me, 2018 was very much the year of Avengers:  Infinity War, a movie that not only met and far surpassed every expectation and hope I had for it, but had such a presence that it actually improved the year as a whole.  And that’s a rare thing.  It should be unusual for any piece of fiction to be so good that it could have an effect on the complexion of my year.  Avengers:  Endgame didn’t do that for me this year.  And yet seeing Spider-Man:  Into the Spider-Verse at the tail end of 2018 had me, however momentarily, openly questioning which I liked better, Infinity War or Spider-Verse.  Eventually, of course, cooler heads prevailed and we crowned Avengers:  Infinity War the greatest movie of 2018 and Spider-Man:  Into the Spider-Verse a mere third, but this time, this year, in 2019, with Far from Home and Endgame, the Spider-Man movie won out, and so I am going to say it here definitively:  I liked Spider-Man:  Far From Home more than I liked Avengers:  Engame.

[And that’s not to say I liked Far From Home more than Into the Spider-Verse, however, nor does it mean I liked Far From Home more than Infinity War.  For more on all of that, we’ll be publishing our official GOO Reviews ranked list of the Marvel Cinematic Universe next week.  So something to look forward to then (I hope).]

spider-man-far-from-home-stealth-suitIt feels like, with Spider-Man:  Far From Home, that Marvel Studios has finally hit on the perfect formula for a truly great superhero movie, the perfect mix, the perfect proportion of elements, the perfect alchemy and sorcery needed to make these movies work for almost anyone.  I think all of the issues a person might have with it are relatively minor in the overall scope, the greatest criticisms you could have of it likely having more to do with things outside of the movie itself and more to do with Marvel movies as a whole.  I honestly think that if you don’t like Spider-Man:  Far From Home, then almost no well-told superhero movie is for you.  And, to be clear, that’s okay.  These types of movies have a direct line to a big part of my childhood and, even to this day, are a big part of what I believe in when it comes to the senses-shattering, not-a-hoax, not-a-dream underlying meanings of the universe.  And on the other hand, I don’t usually like musicals.  And that’s okay.  It’s okay to just not like things sometimes.

Of course, one way of making a truly great superhero movie is to build up an ever-expanding mythology and lore, an overarching backstory constructed over a decade or more, all building up to and, in many ways, all serving one gigantic, perfect explosive superheroic two-and-a-half hour spectacle.  That’s how you get Avengers:  Infinity War.  And that’s a lot of work.  The other way is to make us care more about the people in your superhero world than you do about most of the actual superheroics.  That’s the tack we get in Far From Home.spider-man-far-from-home-friends.jpg

It’s easy to view and often even dismiss a movie like this as just another superhero movie, but Far From Home is as much if not more so a high school movie, and it’s in that latter sense that the movie finds its greatest, surface-adhering purchase.  The characters in Far From Home, what happens between them, and why they do what they do is what counts far more than any one action set piece, and all of those pieces are much more informed by what these people are going through than what these battles might mean for the safety of the world.  And yeah, that’s kind of what all movies, even set-piece-driven ones, are going for, the human connection uniting all plot points, but it’s not that often that I truly want to spend more time finding out what’s going on with Peter and MJ than I do finding out how Spider-Man and Mysterio are going to beat the elemental giants they’re facing.  It’s not that often that the “When are they gonna get to the fireworks factory?” whining is in reference to the emotional moments rather than the explosions.  It doesn’t usually happen that I want to see more of the people and less of the action to the extent I did in Far From Home.  Even just seeing the burgeoning relationship between Aunt May and Happy Hogan is weirdly compelling.

spider-man-far-from-home-mayAs a sequel, Far From Home does everything a sequel should, taking the characters to the next steps in their relationships and taking the concepts to their natural next levels.  Peter and his friends are now much closer to the end of their high school years than the beginning, and while that’s normally a monumental event, it’s one complicated enormously by “the blip”, Thanos’ snap in Avengers:  Infinity War that killed half the universe only for them all to be revived five years later at the end of Avengers:  Endgame.  If you want to be nitpicky, it is suspect that all of Peter’s closest friends, notable contemporaries, and immediate family members disappeared along with him so that when they came back everyone was more or less on even footing (i.e., no friends suddenly five years older, no family members having grieved for the past five years now shocked at their sudden returns), but it’s a necessary device to keep things on an even track for a more grounded character like Spider-Man.  What does work very well is in how the blip is acknowledged, mostly comedically and quite lightly in an opening high-school-news broadcast, and in a way that opens up story opportunities — young kids who would formerly have been ignored by kids Peter’s age are now classmates and Aunt May has even started a community outreach to help those displaced by the five-years-long disappearance.  I really like that last part with May in particular as she’s a character who clearly has her own life and her own things going on that don’t revolve around Peter.  It’s just a little thing, a minor change, to have a young and vibrant [and attractive] Aunt May that changes everything for the better instead of being this:

 

For the most part, Peter’s motivations in Far From Home are simply the chance for a break, if only briefly, from his superheroic duties, but the clash with what he’d like to do and who he has to be makes that impossible even on a class trip in an entirely different country, and when Nick Fury enlists his help in defeating the elemental monsters that destroyed Mysterio’s homeworld, apparently an alternate dimension to our own Earth, the clash created threatens to keep Peter from everything he cares about in his own life.  That’s the classic Spider-Man story really, but there’s an uncanny balance in Far From Home that keeps things going at a brisk pace and intertwines these separate storylines in a way that comes across as seamless.  Instead of hoary old tropes trotted out about power and responsibility and secrets and how those things are constantly threatening those he loves, things just happen in Far From Home that are completely convincing and hit in a way that you don’t see coming even though there’s not much new going on here in terms of a Spider-Man story.  This especially is where the Tom Holland Spider-Man separates from previous eras.  There are no speeches or pontifications here, just a recognition of the reality of this spider-powers situation, something the Marvel Studios Spider-Man writers have gotten so right since day one, the moment they could use the character.  For a superhero movie, it’s the ultimate expression of show, don’t tell.

What is completely new is Far From Home’s take on Mysterio, a classic Spidey villain who never made a lot of sense beyond the basics but whose power set works better now with the current state of technology.  Tech like false image projection and drones are much more a part of our world now, even to the point of social relevancy, and there’s a backbone to the Mysterio character that works much better in the modern world of the MCU as we’ve come to know it.  Mysterio’s backstory ties into this MCU history in ways that are largely unexpected but fundamentally sound and an extension of themes we’ve seen in previous MCU installments, and it makes the villain much more than just a silly fishbowl guy.  And there’s some really great visuals and effects with Mysterio that I thought surpassed a lot of what we saw in a similarly mind-bending movie like Doctor Strange.spider-man-far-from-home-mysterio.jpeg

Similarly new to a Spider-Man story is the effect Tony Stark has on the overarching narrative of Far From Home since Tony’s passing in Avengers:  Endgame.  In the time since their initial meeting in Captain America:  Civil War, Tony has taken on a mentor/father-figure role to young Peter, something we’ve never had in any incarnation of these characters and yet it’s something that makes perfect sense and has worked incredibly well in these stories.  Without getting too far into details, there’s a level of emotional catharsis in Far From Home that’s usually not present to this level in other superhero movies, some extremely strong father-son, passing-of-the-torch stuff going on here that doesn’t draw attention to itself, distract, or interfere with what’s going on in the moments, but, nevertheless, gives the whole story dimension, resonance, and a high degree of relatability.  If you’re here to see this type of movie at its basest, good-guys-hit-bad-guys level, you can pay as much or as little attention to these bigger themes as you want, but if you’re here and especially if you’ve been here all along with the MCU, there’s so much payoff in the movie’s smaller moments that the whole thing is elevated far beyond just what it has to be.  There’s even some meta-commentary on the state of superhero movies and their effect on the industry that could fly right over your head or hit you straight in your frontal lobe depending on how much or little you want to read into things.

So should I see it?

I started out this review complaining about Spider-Man movies of the past, and while it I don’t want this review to be about complaints, I think it’s important to acknowledge just how much further ahead a movie like Spider-Man:  Far From Home than its predecessors.  Because I love this movie.  I love its characters, heroes and villains, I love its story and how much it benefits from being a part of a larger, living, breathing universe, I love that it manages to mean something that we can all relate to, and I absolutely love the way the movie’s mid and post-credit scenes completely screw with everything we’ve just seen and with Spider-Man’s world going forward.spider-man-far-from-home-mysterio.png

What I think Far From Home shows us, even beyond all of the smaller details it gets right and all of the emotional depths it plumbs and all of the little storytelling kicks to the nuts it lands, is how important it is to have a Spider-Man that isn’t terrible.  How important it is to have heroes to follow and to look up to that don’t suck.  Spider-Man:  Far From Home is a movie that burdens its character with responsibilities but it’s not a movie telling the story of a burdened character.  There’s a joy at the centre of its story, a sense of wonder and optimism that remains even when its derailed and thrown off course by its problems, some of them Earth-shattering but most of them far more personal.

And yes, I have some minor quibbles with a few of the movie’s events, I thought they could have dug in a little deeper into the relationship that Mysterio manages to build with Mysterio-Spider-Man, I would have liked to see a bit more Flash Thompson, and I sometimes wish that the dark stealth suit Spidey wears in Europe to further hide his identity Spider-Man’s stealth suit looked more like his classic black costume, but then that wouldn’t totally work because we’ve already seen Venom (so I guess what I really wish is that there had never been any Venom movies at all, but that’s a different discussion altogether).

What sticks with me most with Spider-Man:  Far From Home, though, is just how much it feels right.  It’s fun and funny, it ebbs and flows with precision, it has the right ideas, and it makes you care and love these characters, but its greatest asset is that it successfully sells its ideas so well that I walked out feeling far more satisfied with it than I had expected.  And I’ve never really even liked Spider-Man all that much, he’s never been the hero I followed most intently or felt closest to.  But with Far From Home (and last year’s Into the Spider-Verse), we have a near perfect rendition of the selflessness and heroism that this character represents, one that I honestly think, at its greatest, has the potential to change people for the better.  I think that’s something that’s often lost in our more cynical discussions of superhero movies, that they’re, at their core, about doing the right thing and leaving the world a better place.  That’s why I think that these types of movies, when done right, still matter.  And that’s what makes Spider-Man:  Far From Home a movie so worth seeing.

Thom’s Spider-Man:  Far From Home final score

4.5

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On the Edge

  • BFP initials on the luggage! Really hope they’re building to something good with that.
  • This movie has probably the most consequential post-credit scenes of any Marvel movie.
    • And that’s a pretty sharp contrast too if you’re one of those who stayed all the way through to the end of Homecoming.
  • It’s always exciting to see Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stand again, especially with how he’s used here (even if it is just a flashback of reused material).

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