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Spider-Man: Far From Home •••

Starring: Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Jake Gyllenhaal
Director: Jon Watts
Screenplay: Chris McKenna, Stan Lee
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 129 minutes
Release Date: July 2, 2019


(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, is reviewing this movie a far, far, better thing to do than we have ever done?

Well, I didn’t have to travel far from home to see this latest Marvel blockbuster. Let’s recap:

In Mexico, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) investigates an attack from a huge creature, Earth Elemental. Back in New York, Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) high school is accommodating students who reappeared after “The Blip” which wiped out half of humanity. The school will send students to vacation in Europe, and Peter is thrilled that MJ (Zendaya), whom he has a crush on, will be joining him.

While there, Nick Fury drafts Peter to help other-universe superhero Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) defeat the on-coming threat from the Fire Elemental. Peter is reluctant because he just wants to date MJ and not take on the responsibility for being an Avenger. But when push comes to shove, Peter takes on the challenge and together he and Mysterio defeat the Fire Elemental – but the danger hasn’t passed and Peter has some deep soul-searching to do.

Greg, this latest incarnation of Spider-Man surprised me, and in a good way. Audiences are suffering from superhero movie fatigue and this movie is exactly the right prescription. Marvel Studios decided wisely that to fight the fatigue, less is more and simple is better. The refreshing result is a slower-paced film that focuses on the playful vicissitudes of teenage love, and balances this love story with a simple yet classic battle between good and evil. The austerity and pacing are all very much welcome, especially after the recent avalanche of superhero movies that are frenetic high-octane action films from start to finish.

Another appealing feature of this film is its emphasis on the hero’s transformation. Peter Parker is a 16-year-old who is trying to grow up and trying to save the world at the same time. It isn’t easy. All coming-of-age stories are, by definition, packed full of transformative events for the hero. Parker has to learn some painful lessons the hard way, such as the lesson of not trusting everyone you meet. Quenton Beck plays Parker for a fool, and Peter acquires wisdom as a result. Parker also has to navigate his romantic interest in MJ in all the awkward ways that teenagers do. By film’s end, Parker is older and wiser and has transformed a bit into a man.

There are several solid messages in Spider-Man: Far From Home. One message is to be your true self. Parker tries hard to remain a mere high school student but to win MJs heart – and to save the world – he has to reveal his secret identity to her. Another message involves trust. We don’t necessarily learn to “trust no one” but we must be careful whom we hand the future of humanity over to. Another message centers on the importance of meeting one’s obligations. Tony Stark appointed Parker to be his successor and Parker (and the world) almost paid dearly for Parker shirking this obligation. Our hero learned to trust Stark’s judgment and become the Avenger he was meant to be.

I wasn’t as enchanted with this film as you were, Scott. True, this is Avengers Lite. But in a bad way. In almost every sense, this film seemed aimed at a pre-teen audience. The teen relationships were flimsy and stilted. The villain was boring and underplayed. The danger presented by the elementals was simplistic. This was the least superheroic movie I’ve ever seen.

In fact, in many ways, it resembled an episode of Scooby-Doo. The masked avenger was a past employee of Tony Stark and when his invention didn’t get all the aplomb he thought it should, Beck took on the form of Mysterio, and using a secret camera, scared the local villagers into believing they were being attacked by scary creatures. But Peter and his gang of teen friends figured it out and foiled Beck’s evil plans. And he would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids.

I really like Tom Holland as Peter Parker. He has an innocence and naivete that translates well to the screen. And Jake Gyllenhall never disappoints. But this watered-down story clearly wasn’t for an adult audience. And I’m wondering if all the Spider-Man movies will be aimed at pre-teens. The earlier Spider-Man: Into the Multiverse was a highly-stylized cartoon that also appealed to the younger set.

Spider-Man: Far From Home delivers exactly what superhero-fatigued audiences need. Yes, I admit it tells a Scooby-Doo-ish story, but when done well Scooby-Doo offers up some fab light-hearted entertainment. This Spider-Man is a simple coming-of-age story done with humor, charm, and just enough action and drama to satisfy us. Tom Holland really is perfect in the role of Peter Parker, giving us a strength, sweetness, and humility that is the antithesis of Tony Stark. This drives home the irony of Stark choosing Parker to succeed him on the Avengers. This film is a world wide web of fun and deserves 4 Reels out of 5.

With an emphasis on the stress and distractions of transitioning from teenager to adult, the hero’s journey is fully evident in the film. Parker has to make some tough decisions about whether to save the world or to honor his own priorities of his life, family, and school. He gets some help along the way, as all good heroes do, and he makes the right choice while growing in awareness and wisdom. I give Parker 4 Hero points out of 5.

I’ve already summarized my sense of the messages in this rendition of Spider-Man. The idea of being true to oneself and true to one’s calling is very common in classic hero stories, and this film reinforces this important theme in a terrific way. Being careful whom we trust is also a pivotal lesson in growing up. Somehow Spider-Man: Far From Home is able to convey these messages in a slick, entertaining manner. The film earns 3 Message points out of 5.

Movie: Message: Heroes:

Spider-Man: Far From Home is a simplistic, childish superhero movie perfect for the Saturday Morning Cartoon crowd (do they still have Saturday Morning Cartoons?). Everything about this movie was immature. I might recommend it for the 8-year olds in the audience. It was almost Disney-esque in its squeaky cleanliness. And, by the way, the logic about the Blip and having 21-year olds having to go to high school was completely confusing. I couldn’t make any sense out of who was left behind and who was Blipped – or who was 21 or who was 16. I give this film 2 out of 5 Reels.

Peter Parker as played by Tom Holland deals with some very adult existential challenges as well as some typical teen-aged angst. It’s hard not to like Parker when Holland plays him with such earnestness. Peter Parker undergoes a strong transformation from the reluctant hero to a fully engaged Avenger. I give him 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Finally, the messages are weak as this is not a message film, but an action film. “Be true to yourself,” and “don’t trust anyone over 30” come to mind. With all the illogic and plot holes in this film, I might take Scott’s advice and just turn my brain off. I give this film 2 out of 5 Message points.

Movie: Message: Heroes:

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