Spider-Man: Far From Home
Edwin Arnaudin: We’re only two films into the “Third Time’s the Charm” web-slinger saga, but after Spider-Man: Far from Home, I’m ready to anoint Jon Watts’ pair of films as the MCU’s second best series — for individual Avengers, that is. The Guardians of the Galaxy movies have an unfair advantage in sporting a rag-tag crew with numerous appealing players, so when it comes to focusing on one central person, the entertaining adventures of Tom Holland's Peter Parker now rank just below those of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor. Where do they land on your prestigious list?
Bruce Steele: Holland is definitely the most entertaining Spider-Man, and his bond with Tony Stark was a highlight of the past couple of years of MCU films. I'll take a wait-and-see stance on how his solo adventures measure up, though, since Far From Home has a bit of a John Wick: Chapter 2 or Cars 2 feel to it: Don't know what to do with your characters? Take them to world capitals! It's a kind of Spider-Man Lampoon: European Vacation.
Edwin: Whatever ploys are necessary to keep the series’ energy elevated are OK with me. Far from Home is pure popcorn entertainment of the variety that moviegoers used to get most July 4 weekends. As with Homecoming, it’s as if Watts asked himself and his collaborators, “How much fun can we have with this character?,” set a lofty goal, then went out and achieved it — and yet there’s again some potent commentary on modern society, this time involving manipulation of public opinion through technology.
Bruce: I credit the filmmakers for both roller-coaster-level thrills and smart but not overbearing commentary on media manipulation. Far From Home is a largely enjoyable movie. And I'll readily admit that my reservations are largely rooted in my own personal notion of what a Spider-Man movie should be. But until the second, end-of-credits tag scene, I was not buying that Nick Fury wanted to send Spider-Man to Europe to fight two Elemental monsters — giant, super-powerful creatures, one deriving its powers from water, one from fire. What's a web slinger got to offer in such a fight? After Homecoming's perfect match of middle-class boy and working-stiff villain on both guys' home turf, all the jacked up action in Far From Home couldn't make me shake the sense that Peter Parker had shown up for someone else's movie.
Edwin: For me, his inappropriate casting (as it were) adds to the film’s overall mysteries, which are centered on Quentin Beck, an inter-dimensional warrior tasked with battling the Elementals, who destroyed his Earth. As portrayed by in-house favorite Jake Gyllenhaal with an appealing mix of the humble heroes and the exaggerated characters he’s played in Netflix films Okja and Velvet Buzzsaw, it’s evident that something’s not quite on the level with Beck — but the answer is not among the theories my mind concocted in the first act. Were you excited to see Gyllenhaal in the MCU and are you pleased with the results?
Bruce: Beck, who takes on the superhero name "Mysterio," makes a fine foil for Peter. Beck's coil of overconfidence and bravado contrasts nicely with Peter's self-doubt and, um, elemental goodness. I kept thinking about Gyllenhaal's Parker-like teen role in October Sky and thinking, "This is the dark future self Peter could too easily slide into." And Gyllenhaal's casting is crucial for another reason: Mysterio is one of the least credible characters I think the MCU has ever introduced. What he conjures looks amazing, especially in 3D, but I had a hard time buying the explanations offered. I'm good with magic, Tony Stark tech and impossible physical skills, but Mysterio crossed the WTF line too often for my tastes.
Edwin: I had no trouble going along with his storyline — ironic considering that this Spider-Man is essentially an Iron Man spin-off and I repeatedly tripped over the ludicrous “human with advanced armor” narratives of the misery-inducing Stark sequels. The sequence in which Peter is caught in a seemingly bottomless magical world is one of the most nightmarish ones the MCU has conjured and it balances nicely with the high comedy on display elsewhere. From looping in top comedians J.B. Smoove (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Martin Starr (Silicon Valley) as Peter’s bumbling teachers to the return of Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Angourie Rice, and Tony Revolori as his funny classmates, Far from Home has no shortage of gifted jokers.
Bruce: It was great to see more of Peter's classmates, all of whom apparently (and conveniently) were "blipped" out by Thanos and returned five years later at the same age. Phew! Zendaya is quite charming and just tough enough as M.J., and Batalon happily gets his own story arc, so the adolescent themes established in Homecoming get some attention in Far From Home. And let's not forget MVP and busiest man in Hollywood Jon Favreau, who took time out from directing the new Lion King and producing the upcoming Mandalorian Star Wars TV series to portray the hapless Happy Hogan. Pairing him up with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) was delightful. Did Happy make you happy too?
Edwin: It’s by far the character’s most developed and appealing turn thus far in the MCU, and Favreau capitalizes on each extra minute of screen time with his throwback charm, namely a memorable reaction to Peter’s comedic misidentification of AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” But if it’s not yet evident, the whole damn movie makes me happy — and it’s a delight to place it just below Toy Story 4 in the ongoing ranks of mainstream summer entertainment. I give it an enthusiastic A-minus.
Bruce: Well, Spider-Man makes me happy, but the movie also irked me, as you can tell. There’s much to enjoy here — cast, characters, comedy, 3D effects — and both end-credits tag scenes hint at more to come, but I think it was too soon to pull Peter Parker out of his element for this James Bond style location tour. Even the Fast & Furious franchise waited until the fifth installment to leave the country. Of course, the movie has a rejoinder ready for my complaint: “Bitch, please, you’ve been to space!” Nick Fury reminds Peter at one point when he expresses misgivings about his international assignment. Point taken. I’ll give it a B.
Overall grade: B-plus. Rated PG-13. Playing at the AMC River Hills, Carolina Cinemark and Regal Biltmore Grande.
(Photos: Sony Pictures Entertainment)