Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Review: Spider-Man - Far From Home (second-pass)





Spider-Man: Far From Home (second-pass / 2D / MAJOR SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 129 mins / Dir. Jon Watts / Trailer



Hello, this is your spoiler-break. If you haven't seen Spider-Man: Far From Home, you shouldn't be here. This piece goes into (and underneath) far too much detail of the plot and themes of the film. To the point where it probably won't even make too much sense if you haven't seen the movie, but all the same you can always read my first-pass review to get a general flavour of what's in store (very vague spoilers in there, but nothing too derailing).

It took me far too long to get round to watching Far From Home again, but in the meanwhile I was at least able to marshall my thoughts somewhat. I absolutely love it, that should have been clear last time, and watching a second time allowed me to pick out more specific detail while also having the deeper themes filled in with more texture. I still didn't get quite the buzz that I did from 2017's Homecoming, but this movie is far more than just a flashy ride, as we'll discover.

Anyway, that's enough stalling - proceed with care…

Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD!

Still here? Smashing. Okay, let's look at potentially the biggest revelation in Far From Home before we get into the meaning of the film. Because while they're certainly linked, they're not the same thing. J.Jonah Jameson appears in the mid-credits scene. Big deal, J.Jonah Jameson is a central player in the spider-specific mythos, and he didn't rock up in Homecoming, either reinterpreted or otherwise, so he fits in well here. But J.Jonah Jameson is played by actor J.K. Simmons here. Big deal, Simmons is an absolutely perfect fit for the bullish newspaper editor. In fact, we know he's a perfect fit because we saw J.K. Simmons play J.Jonah Jameson in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy from 2002-07.

Wait, what? Oh yeah.

Now, the one point on which Marvel Studios have been consistent over the course of twenty three movies is that the cinematic universe is sprawling yet self-contained. Characters who have appeared in other movies and media previously are not to be taken as the ones in the MCU content, in terms of the story-canon. Many of them will have broadly similar backstories, but characters, events and even actors outside this timeline are not to be taken as historical in their new iterations. That's why Chris Evans was able to portray The Human Torch in a pair of Fox's Fantastic Four movies, and still become the definitive Captain America. It's why Ben Affleck was Daredevil in the 2003 flick, but in the MCU he's played by Charlie Cox, and different things happen to that character.*1

Anyway, the point is that Marvel Studios aren't beholden to the story arcs and casting choices of any 'sub-contracted' movie series*2. So why, after all these years of retooling and re-imagination, has J.K. Simmons returned in the role of J.Jonah Jameson? They could have dropped many other performers into that role. Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Tommy Lee Jones, Jenny Agutter, the MCU is full of actors who maybe can't do the action stuff any more, but are still great to have in roles of gravitas. But they chose Simmons again. Rest assured, this was no accident. And the answer, somewhat ironically, lies in last year's Into The Spider-Verse. Sony's non-MCU animated extravaganza deals with the collision of various comic and cartoon versions of the web-slinger, when a dimensional-portal mishap draws all these threads together. And just when we thought the MCU was safely walled off from Marvel's uneven earlier cinematic efforts, J.K. Simmons rocks up as J.Jonah Jameson, reminding everyone of those three Tobey Maguire movies*3. And all of a sudden, it seems like characterisations from elsewhere in Marvel's screen history actually could exist in the MCU after all. Different stories, but same faces.

How? That's not explained. Yet. Doctor Strange spoke of seeing different realities at the climax of Infinity War, his 2021 outing is titled Multiverse of Madness, and Disney's recent re-acquisition of the X-Men and Fantastic Four characters via the Fox buy-out could well point to some mass crossover whereby non-MCU properties are at least accounted for (otherwise it's exposition-heavy reboots all round). Far From Home teases the possibility earlier in its run-time when Mysterio states he's from Earth 813, a parallel dimension to the MCU's 'standard' Earth 616. But as everything else Quentin Beck says here is a lie, presumably we can discount that, too? We can certainly scrub his exact version of events, although the seed has been planted all the same. Hell, Beck's got access to a lot of Stark's old files, and it's possible his own team have made some advancements of their own, he's just rounding it out with bullshit.

But the first shoot to break through the soil comes in the mid-credits scene, and it's something which was there all along - we just hadn't been shown it yet.

J.Jonah Jameson exists in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the editor of The Daily Bugle, and he's played by J.K. Simmons. And Jameson's still angry. He's angrier than ever, in fact. Because director Jon Watts hasn't stopped with a callback to an old character. In the MCU, The Daily Bugle and its associated website is an opinionated, authoritarian, right-wing, conspiracy-theory-loving news outlet. 2019 (our version) is a cynical place, and not everyone has that 'gee-whiz' trust in the media any more. The Daily Bugle now shadows the likes of Fox News*4 and even InfoWars; Jameson rants and raves across the digital airwaves, so determined to bring viewers The Truth™ that he's prepared to spread lies to do it. And it could be the most real thing that Marvel Studios have done to date.

Which brings us, as they say, to the crunch. The real message, hiding in plain sight throughout Far From Home. That even in fiction, you can't handle the truth

IT'S EASY TO FOOL PEOPLE
WHEN THEY'RE FOOLING THEMSELVES.


Or, as a much wiser man once said, "your eyes can deceive you, don't trust them". That thing you just saw, there. Did you really see it? Really? Okay, but did you also believe it? In 2019? More fool you. And its coming to something when the largest entertainment company on Earth - the one that's been capturing hearts through fiction for just shy of a hundred years - feels the need to dole out that lesson.

The Daily Bugle's paranoid propaganda machine is the final raised-eyebrow, tongue-in-cheek hammerblow in a movie which has spent two hours telling its audience to question everything. From Quentin Beck's fabricated backstory, to the hologram generators he uses to create his attacks, to the con he pulls on Peter to get the E.D.I.T.H. glasses, to the visual nightmare he summons around Spider-Man to paralyse him, to his coup de grace contingency-plan of faking a video then doxxing Parker as revenge from beyond the grave: question everything.

From the double-life that Parker still leads as he tries to complete his education and not assume the full mantle of hero, to pretending he doesn't know why his school tour is being diverted around Europe into the path of attacking Elementals, to the clumsy excuses he makes to MJ as he tries to avoid the subject of his absence without flat-out lying to the girl he's falling for: question everything.

From Happy Hogan and Aunt May lying to Peter about the relationship they're having, to Happy Hogan and Aunt May lying to each other about the relationship they're having, to Happy sending clumsily coded messages to Nick Fury about Mysterio's whereabouts, to Nick Fury pretending he didn't pick those up, to Nick Fury lying to Happy and Peter Parker because Nick Fury is actually Talos because the real Nick Fury is halfway across the galaxy helping the Skrull refugees, to Talos then attempting to play down the absolute shit-show he's created on Earth in the meanwhile: question everything.

PEOPLE NEED SOMETHING TO BELIEVE;
THESE DAYS, PEOPLE WILL BELIEVE ANYTHING.


Throughout all of this, Spider-Man: Far From Home is a film about belief. It's about Peter Parker learning how much Tony Stark believed in him, and Parker learning to believe in himself, too. Not so much the cocky, self-assuredness of an athletic teenager with access to a billionaire's vault of technology and the free-rein to use it, but believing - knowing - that he's doing this for the right reasons. That being the hero is just the right thing to do, because not everyone can help themselves. Because being the hero is a privilege.

It's a film about confidence, about trust, about choosing friends you can rely on and about accepting that sometimes you'll make mistakes. It's about accepting that you won't always know what to do - whether you're 15, 35 or 85. And ultimately it's a film about truth. About how damaging the truth can be as well as how liberating. About how we'll often deny the truth in comfort rather than confront it to make things genuinely better, and how when it's taken out of our hands that can cause even more problems.

At the end of Far From Home, the city of New York (and by extension the world) knows that Spider-Man is a kid named Peter Parker. That shouldn't affect him too adversely, Tony Stark outed himself as Iron Man at the end of the first movie, after all. In fact, Spider-Man is one of the few heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe who actually has a 'secret identity'. But that disguise wasn't there to help the web-slinger - it was there to help the kid who wears the suit. The kid who knows he still has to finish his education if he's to become the best version of himself. Well, I'm sure the Stark Foundation can stretch to some private tuition because now Parker is in the big-leagues. They're probably going to have to stretch to some protection for May, Ned and MJ too, but that's another story.

Parker will do well, though. He'll grow, he'll adapt.
He'll become the hero he was meant to be.

I believe in him.



So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Spider-Man: Homecoming.


Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It is.


Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It is.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It certainly deserves to be near the top of the CV of everyone involved.


Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
I suppose we might.


Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There ain't.


Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Pre Vizsla is in this.
Also, Peter Parker's got a 3¾" scale TIE Bomber in his bedroom, which is exactly the level of in-universe homage I'm after. The Lego Death Star from last time was a bit much, mate.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 It's also kind of why Evan Peters is the mutant-Quicksilver in 2014's X-Men: Days Of Future Past, but Aaron Taylor-Johnson is the "enhanced" Quicksilver in 2015's Avengers: Age Of Ultron. That one is more complicated, in fact - same character, completely different backstory for self-defeating contractual reasons - and I'll be honest I'm regretting bringing it up now. But here we are. Blame Marvel. [ BACK ]

*2 Andrew Garfield did a fantastic job in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Marvel still recast the role to Tom Holland in the MCU. Holland is also fantastic, but that's not my point. [ BACK ]

*3 In fact, Simmons also voiced Jameson in the Ultimate Spider-Man animated TV series, although that's less likely to be in the minds of the casual cinema-going audience. [ BACK ]

*4 While they've kept the newspaper's branding in-universe for obvious reasons, this is a particularly delicious tonal twist as Disney (owners of Marvel) have recently bought the entertainment arm of Fox Corp, leaving its broadcast network and news outlets to fend for themselves financially - ie without being under the larger umbrella that also earns income from licensed Marvel characters such as X-Men. They can basically take the piss out of Fox's shouty bullshit paranoia full-belt now, knowing they're not inadvertently funding it. [ BACK ]


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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