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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 

 

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Spider-man--Far From Home, Review: PP, HH, Ray, May, MJ, Ned, E.D.I.T.H., Nick and Beck

Spider-man--Far From Home, Review: PP, HH, Ray, May, MJ, Ned, E.D.I.T.H., Nick and Beck

Can a pulsating teenage romance between a super-hero’s alter ego and a beautiful schoolmate over-ride inherent flaws in a film’s scripting and logic? Is the inability to go “aw..so cute!” every time you see an awkward boy mustering up the courage to approach his love interest, to utter the three magic words, a sign of aging and fossilisation? Is the need to look beyond the obvious, and unpeel the layers in a sugar-coated comic hero caper, a vice or a virtue? Spider-man: Far From Home puts you to the test. And I will end up submitting a minority report.

In Ixtenco, Mexico, Nick Fury and Maria Hill investigate an unnatural storm, and later encounter the Earth Elemental, a giant who destroys everything in its way. A super-powered man, Quentin Beck, also known as Mysterio, arrives out of nowhere, to fight the creature.

In New York City, Peter’s school restarts its academic year, to accommodate the students who were among those resurrected in The Blip, eight months earlier. During the Blip, some died and some aged by up to five years. The school organises a two-week trip to Europe, where Peter Parker, plans to confess his growing feelings for classmate M.J., on top of the Eiffel Tower, and avoid Spider-man heroics altogether. At a fund-raiser for the homeless, co-ordinated by his Aunt May, Parker is forewarned by Happy Hogan that he will be contacted by Nick Fury to work for the Avengers, but Parker chooses to ignore the calls. He does not pack his Spider-man suit, but Aunt May remembers and hands it over to him, just before he leaves for the trip

In Venice, during the trip, Parker and his friends are among those attacked by the Water Elemental, another beast of the Elemental species, which proceeds to wreak havoc on the city. Beck arrives and destroys the creature with laser beams, while Parker, who has left his suit behind at the hotel, nevertheless attempts to help. Luckily, his secret identity is not discovered. Or so he thinks.

Fury arrives in Venice, meets with Parker and gives him Stark's glasses, which, he says, were left for his successor. The glasses are equipped with the artificial intelligence, named E.D.I.T.H., which has access to all databases of Stark Industries, and commands a large orbital weapons supply, including satellites and drones. Parker is not sure Stark, a.k.a. Iron-Man, wanted him to keep them, and thinks about handing them over to a more worthy successor.

Jointly written by the duo Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (Spider-man: Homecoming, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Ant-man and the Wasp), Far From Home is a play upon the title of the previous film, Homecoming. Also, the action takes place in Europe, beginning at least nine hours of flying time away from Peter Parker’s home, in Venice. When Parker is forced to get into his act, without his uniform, one of his classmates cannot help comparing him to Spider-man and says as much. Peter’s best friend Ned, who knows about his secret identity, tells her that the webmaster they are looking at is not Spider-man but his European counterpart, called Night Monkey.

Shortly after the enemy has been thwarted, mainly by Mysterio, with a little help from Spider-man, a local TV channel announces the arrival of a Super-hero called Night Monkey. How did they get that name? And does the name make sense, considering Super-heroes cannot afford to operate only at night. Moreover, who will take a Super-hero who calls himself ‘Night Monkey’ seriously. A section of the audience, nevertheless, found this segment really funny.

Alright, so the monsters and destruction are all Virtual Reality (VR), illusions created by Mysterio, to gain publicity and sympathy. Maybe thousands of unsuspecting crowds get conned into believing that the images are reality. Shouldn’t Nick Fury and Spider-man know better? Even if they don’t, it will be clear as crystal when the show is over, and none of the destruction shows any manifestation. Game over. But no. There are two more monsters to engage Spider-man in battle, so the artifices continue.

Beck claims he hails from an alternative earth and the Elementals killed his family. Are these statements to be taken at face value? Shouldn’t they be investigated before Nick Fury enrolls him into the Avengers? As it is revealed later, both claims turn out to be false. Fury and Spider-man get hoodwinked with such ease! Ray Stark must have been a very poor judge of human character. Firstly, there is a whole bunch of peeved employees and former employees of Stark Industries who unite to get even with him after his death, and secondly, he chooses Spider-man, a teenage schoolboy, who has the least effective super-powers among the Avengers, as his successor. When Parker tells Fury that he is not up to battling giants, and that Fury should assign this task to some other Avenger, Fury asks “who”? Parker names three. Fury dismisses them all, with some disdain.

Fury needs him so badly that he keeps protesting about Peter not taking his calls, and manipulates the school trip itinerary, so as to go to the sites where the Elementals are set to appear, thereby facilitating Parker’s presence there without any eyebrows being raised. Is he really down to one super-hero? Fact is that Spider-man’s webbing is no match for the Elemental, though he does help save possible victims and architecture through his rope tricks.

While Parker is looking for an opportune moment to speak his heart, Happy Hogan, Stark’s man Friday, is busy dating Parker’s Aunt May, but both are unable to let in Peter on this ‘secret’. Yes, two more than grown-ups behaving like teenagers is awkwardly funny, but haven’t we seen it done better in over a 100 movies? Yet, the track that had audiences gushing and blushing. All this is poor writing. Some better writing is on display in the shape of a character called Brad, Peter and M.J.’s classmate, who has aged five years during the blip, and who vies for M.J.’s attention, much to the chagrin of Peter. M.J. herself is well delineated.

Jon Watts is 38 year-old American director who made films like Clown, Cop car and the predecessor to Far From Home, Spider-man: Homecoming. He has greater success filming the romantic tracks of both Peter-M.J. and May-Happy than the action sequences. Being 38 should have helped. The latter are repetitive, with Mysterio flying and throwing laser darts at the Elementals, while Spiderman keeps jumping, swinging and dangling across great heights, with the help of his webs and meshes.

The revelation that the monsters were nothing but images does not come as any major surprise because even in 3D, they look like objects without bodies, mere outlines, shoving and pushing. However, the elaborate scientific apparatus that goes into this game of illusions is impressive. Watts hold it back for the climax, wherein Spider-man is badly injured. Happy Hogan’s arrival with a plane a machine that manufactures custom-made costumes, one of which Peter desperately needs, is interestingly done. Ray’s satellites and drones attacking Brad at Peter’s command, because he is about to show a video to M.J., which might be misconstrued, is a sequence that goes a bit over the top. Later, in a much more exciting episode, you find these same drones being summoned to attack Peter, and his moments of glory in over-riding them, literally.

Watch out for a mid-credits scene and another at the end of the credits. The second one, for me, audaciously knocks the bottom out of the whole film, perhaps in an effort to prepare us for the sequel. What are they going to call it? Homesick? Home run? Home sweet home?

Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man refuses a drink offered by Mysterio because he is underage, laments the fact that he cannot declare his love atop the Eiffel Tower because Paris is no longer on the tour itinerary and is terrified of his secret identity being found out. Well cast and a good job. Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury is beginning to ham, though he commands screen presence, and in no way looks 71. Zendaya as Michelle ‘M.J.’, Parker's classmate, friend, and love interest, has a latent strength of personality and is also sure of herself. Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, a former high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who works closely with Nick Fury, has little to do, except travel around in cars.

Jon Favreau as Harold ‘Happy’ Hogan, the head of security for Stark Industries and former driver and bodyguard of Tony Stark, gets some footage and comes across as a likable uncle to Peter. J. B. Smoove as Julius Dell, Parker's teacher and a chaperone on his school trip to Europe, tries to be funny, without success. Jacob Batalon as Edward ‘Ned’ Leeds: Parker's best friend, has a meatier than usual role and his angle with a new girl-friend, Betty Brant, is amusing. Martin Starr as Roger Harrington, Parker's academic decathlon teacher and a chaperone on his school trip to Europe, does just that: chaperoning. Nobody bothers to explain why do the teachers agree to accept changed itineraries without batting an eyelid. Marisa Tomei as May Parker, Parker's aunt who is aware of his secret identity and wants him to be Spider-Man more, so he can help with charitable causes, has a charming, cocksure presence. Remy Hii is good as Brad, and Angourie Rice makes a funny Betty Brant.

Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain, Prisoners, Nightcrawler) as Quentin Beck/Mysterio, the villain, is an unlikely but great piece of casting. He is nothing like Thanos, who looks a bit like an alien and whose forté is his brute strength. Gyllenhaal is all mind games. Other in the cast are Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice, Hemky Madera, Peter Billingsley, Jeff Bridges, Robert Downey, Jr. (archival footage), Numan Acar, Zach Barack, J. K. Simmons, Ben Mendelsohn and Sharon Blynn.

Amid reports that the latest from the Marvel Comics Universe is raking in more and more millions by the day, I am sticking my neck out so say that its popularity might be derived more from perception rather than knowledgeable appreciation.

Rating: ** ½

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYYtuKyMtY8

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

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