Movies

Spider-Man: Far From Home Pits Spidey Against Fake News

The latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is fun, frivolous, and forgettable.

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Of all the possible villains from all the possible comic books that a big-screen Spider-Man could end up fighting, never did I imagine that he'd end up battling…fake news. (Warning, minor spoilers ahead.

I am mostly kidding, but only mostly. In the web-slinger's latest feature length outing, Far From Home, he travels to Europe on a school trip, teams up with the interdimensional weirdo Mysterio, irritates Nick Fury, and tries to get the girl, all while battling the forces of misdirection. This isn't exactly a movie built around trenchant social criticism, but every once in a while you almost get a sense—rare in a Marvel movie—that it might have something to say. 

"I control the truth!" the villain shouts during a moment that might best be headlined, "The Villain's Motivations, Explained." One of the teenage heroes quotes George Orwell warning that the "very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world." The movie opens with an intentionally cheesy segment of high school morning news produced by students. Later, one of the young heroes suggests that the news media isn't always trustworthy. And in the end, one of Spider-Man's old quasi-nemeses returns in the guise of an Alex Jones-like YouTube barker, spreading a mix of decontextualized truth and strategic disinformation. At times I had to remind myself that I was watching a Spider-Man movie, not paging through the new issue of the Columbia Journalism Review

But ultimately this is a superhero picture—fun, frivolous, and forgettable—not a lecture on media ethics. That's probably for the best, at least for those who don't really know what the word "ombudsman" means, though it still made me wonder if Marvel, the studio behind this and the many other interlinked superhero films that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), could ever make a movie that dared to offer an argument about the real world, the one totally outside its imaginary bounds. It's not an accident that the high school news segment that opens the film is not really about high school, but about superheroes. In the MCU, super-news is all that matters.  

Far From Home never lets you forget that it's a follow-up to Avengers: Endgame, the biggest superhero movie—which is to say, the biggest movie—of the year. The events of Endgame loom large over the proceedings; the first 15 minutes or so serve as a recap of the last two Avengers movies, in which half of everyone died, then returned, even as several major heroes expired (or at least their contracts did). The Marvel universe, it seems, has sufficiently recovered from the apocalyptic death and strange reappearance of trillions of sentient beings that it is ready to return to the comfort and normalcy of a bright and cheery romantic comedy about vacationing teenagers. It's like a superhero coda to The Leftovers, as directed by John Hughes. 

The romantic pair at the movie's heart are Spider-Man's alter ego Peter Parker, the nerdy kid from Queens played by Tom Holland, and M.J., who is played by former Disney star Zendaya. Holland remains a charming and relatable presence, a kid who, perhaps like some movie goers, is simply exhausted by endless superhero world-saving. 

But it's Zendaya who, once again, is the movie's standout performer: M.J.'s gently frazzled, low-key cool is not only a perfect contrast to Parker's uptight, activity-kid anxiety, it's a kind of superpower of its own. I am not sure I have ever seen a human being be more casual and laid-back, about anything, in my life. Her nonchalance is practically transcendent. 

The movie's obligatory new super-person, Mysterio, is played by a bearded, twitchy Jake Gyllenhaal, whose, ah, deceptively simple performance grounds many of the movie's bigger moments. He wears a cape, a suit of gleaming green armor, and a computer-generated fishbowl of a helmet that somehow never breaks in battle or needs to be Windexed. 

Mysterio's powers are initially somewhat unclear, though they appear to involve BGE, or Big Green Energy, which helps him defeat various elemental monsters as they pummel various European cities, all of which Parker, and thus Spider-Man, happens to be in. His summer trip itinerary thus becomes a tour of vast and monstrous urban destruction, often in historic districts that will probably require complex zoning board approval to rebuild. These monsters destroy bridges and town squares and churches, where the people in the pews are surely praying that a superhero never again vacations in their hometown. 

The action and the twists are all rather predictable and formulaic, especially if you've seen other Marvel movies. It's not quite as light on its feet as Spider-Man's last solo outing, Homecoming, nor as fantastically inventive as last year's animated Spidey feature, Into the Spider-Verse. There are times, especially during the first hour, when Far From Home feels like it's merely going through the motions, juggling jokes and spectacle and don't-you-feel-clever comic-book references according to the dictates of some joyless studio template. For a movie titled Far From Home, it stays in rather familiar territory. 

Still, like most Marvel movies, it's handled with competence and humor.  

And, like most Marvel movies, it does double duty an extended advertisement for what the MCU brings next. 

Studio boss Kevin Feige has been so far vague about the franchise's long-range plans, but whatever is to come, it's sure to revolve heavily around Spider-Man. The movie positions Spidey as the next Iron Man, the central figure who shall inherit the mantle—and, hopefully, the blockbuster billions—of his predecessor. Early in the film, Spider-Man answers questions at a press conference; the reporters will only ask whether he's become the head Avenger, taking over for Tony Stark. Are the assumptions behind these questions fake news? Probably not. 

It's a lot of pressure for a 16-year-old kid. But as the old adage goes, with great box office returns come great responsibility, or at least a lot of sequels. In the end, that's Marvel's biggest idea.

NEXT: Brickbat: Artsy Fartsy

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  2. But it’s Zendaya who, once again, is the movie’s standout performer..I am not sure I have ever seen a human being be more casual and laid-back, about anything, in my life. Her nonchalance is practically transcendent.

    Really? She was practically a non-entity in the first movie and her character’s only standout qualities were her SJW lines and being a weirdo creeper.

    I remember this kid getting pimped hard by the mass media when Homecoming came out as some kind of transcendent performer. I didn’t really see anything about her that was all that compelling, but maybe she can do better with material that isn’t tied to superhero or Disney stuff in general.

    1. I agree, the MJ character is an annoying, whiny bitch. Like a dumber but real life version of Daria from Bevis and Butt-head.

      1. The Daria comparison is hilariously appropriate. Maybe she’s a precursor to 90s-era ironic detachment and passive-aggressive behavior coming back into fashion.

        1. From personal experience, feminist fall into two camps, mad against nature itself, or they try to emulate cynical detachment that just comes off as condescending.

    2. Agreed.

      She’s celebrated as s character, and Zendaya as an actress, in Homecoming based solely on her wokeness. Without that, and no one thinks of her twice. In fact the insistence of the writers to make her role so insipidly woke in Homecoming almost singlehandedly pushed it to the bottom of the list for me in the Marvel Universe. It wasn’t wholly ruined, but it was pushed a good way toward ruin by SJW nonsense.

    3. That was code for “She is really, really pretty and I like it when she is on screen, even if she just stands there doing nothing”.

    4. Really? She was practically a non-entity in the first movie and her character’s only standout qualities were her SJW lines and being a weirdo creeper.

      It’s Suderman. Of course he loves shitty, progressive, mixed-race Mary Jane. The upside down kiss between Toby McGuire and Kirsten Dunst is, more than 15 yrs. later, still seared into the brains of everyone who saw it. But rest assured Zendaya, who most didn’t even know was already a “star”, is/was a standout performer in the Spiderman with Michael Keaton.

      I found the Washington Monument (being built by slaves) scene amusing and she was the least amusing part of it. Her nonchalance is *practically transcendent*, meaning she’s just prissy enough to not be funny or creepy or cool. Less of a character *and* actor than Bokeem Woodbine.

      1. A mixed-race person in a move? Heaven save us all! Where is Trump when you need him? At least Miles was a cartoon, this is live action Spider-Man! I mean, do any New York schools even have mixed-race people attending them? My suspension of disbelief is not suspended!

        Rage! Rage!

        1. Think about WHEN a multi-cultural cast occurs, and when it doesn’t, and that might help you understand the why.

          Asgard: Heimdall, in mythology the watchman of the Norse gods, called the shining god and whitest skinned of all them. Portrayed by a black actor. Not to mention all the Asians other races and such in Disney Marvel’s Asgard.

          Wakanda: Not a non-black actor in sight.

          Now, individual casting choices vary, like Jackson as Nick Fury, but again, think of the when, and you’ll know the why.

          1. At least Jackson’s Nick Fury was a direct call-back to his Ultimate Marvel version. Casting Idris Elba as Heimdall was just self-indulgent, and I’m one of the people who thought he’d be great as James Bond.

            1. I love Elba as an actor too, and Jackson is a pretty good Fury when you think of what he was in the comics.

      2. She’s not Mary Jane.

        She’s Michelle

        1. “My friends call me MJ”

          ::Earlier in the film::
          “I don’t have friends.”

  3. Winter Soldier had something to say about the real world, and I’d argue Civil War did, too. Not all Marvel movies are dumb fun, though I don’t mind it when they are.

    1. Agreed. In fact the whole Captain America vs Iron Man theme for several movies were about two competing virtues. Friendship vs Justice.

      1. The Iron Man arc was about corporate responsibility… Stark owns a weapons company and after his ordeal with terrorists he announces that his company will no longer sell weapons. (except Iron Man type suits, apparently) Instead he is going to give away a free energy machine to the world.

        This somehow makes him the richest guy in the history of ever.

        1. To be fair, a patent on a micro-arc reactor that could power a high-tech suit would have some pretty significant civilian applications for bringing in megabux.

      2. I thought the Cap vs. Stark theme was about doing the right things vs. following the rules.

  4. I don’t know if this was the case in Spiderman, since I have not seen it, but hollywood is embracing the anti-Trump ethos full-bore.

    I was at a relative’s house the other day and they had on some show about a black-owned law firm (this is apparently important because the characters said that phrase at least 3 times). some sort of Law and Order type show.

    anyway, the plot of the show was that some writer for a TV show stole an episode and put it on line and the law firm was taking his case because they wanted to stand up to Trump. Somebody has to! Because, you see, the episode was critical of Trump. But the media companies are afraid to be critical of Trump, so they wouldn’t air the episode.

    That’s why the writer stole it and posted it.

    In the end, Trump sent out a tweet critical of the show right before the judge was about to rule against the firm, and the tweet was proof that the government was censoring Hollywood against saying anything opposing the president.

    This is what they actually believe…

    In a world where well over 90% of coverage of the president is negative, they are running with the narrative that Trump is a dictator who intimidates the media into silence.

    It was a horribly written and sophomoric show that had the feel of something created by a couple of college writing students who think they are being edgy. But that aside, the notion that the US government is stifling dissent because of Trump’s tendency to tweet is just plain stupid. (and yes, it is just as stupid when Reason’s writers moan about it. A politician complaining about his coverage isn’t news. They all do that. Trump isn’t unique in this. )

    1. Because, you see, the episode was critical of Trump. But the media companies are afraid to be critical of Trump, so they wouldn’t air the episode.

      That they’d air that without any sense of self-awareness is The Current Year in its most distilled form.

      1. So brave of you to post that.

        1. Stunning and brave.

    2. I don’t know if this was the case in Spiderman, since I have not seen it, but hollywood is embracing the anti-Trump ethos full-bore.

      Get real, Trump is merely the current wampeter the members of this granfalloon to direct their foma. The majority of these shit heels were just as batshit crazy when Obama was in office.

    3. Hollywood makes films and shows that are ‘woke’ and the vast majority of the people react with a huge upsurge of apathy. They make a film like DUNKIRK and the audiences try to drown them in money. This has been going on, by my count, for three decades, and they STILL publicly wonder why they are in financial trouble.

  5. Spiderman is one of the superheroes in the cinema that I used to like ..

  6. It is a film and I liked the film

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