erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 2019 posts

Thursday September 05, 2019

Movie Review: Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The only interesting thing about “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is its stupidity. That’s what kept me hanging around: How stupid could it get? Answer: Really stupid. Godzilla and Monster Zero may be gigantic, but the stupidity of this movie is even more gigantic. It fills the screen. It’s so vast you can’t see from one end to the next. It roars.

Remember how in the 2014 “Godzilla” movie, Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character kept winding up in the thick of things? Like he was in Japan and the monsters were there, and then he went to Hawaii and the monsters were there. In the desert of the American Southwest? Yep. All the way to San Francisco, where his wife and kid were fighting for survival, and where Godzilla finally defeated the other monsters, the MUTOs, and then disappeared beneath the surf with a hiss. One of my favorite parts—because it’s so stupid—is the news coverage, particularly the most far-sighted chyron in the history of television. It doesn’t read: “Holy shit! Dinosaurs are alive and destroying our cities!” It anticipates the title of the sequel: “King of the Monsters: Savoir of Our City?” It anoints and cheers on a giant, fire-breathing lizard.

Remember all that? Well, Aaron Taylor-Johnson isn’t in this one.

Instead, we get a different family to foreground all the monster battles. Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) is a kind of scientist, or techie, or something, while her husband, Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) ... um ... takes nature photos? And gets really angry at people who are trying to help? The two have a daughter, Madison, played by Millie Bobby Brown, who’s cashing the check she wrote for her good work in “Stranger Things.” Oh, Millie. Surely there were better banks.

Our lizard overlord
“King of the Monsters” opens with the Russell family’s flashbacks to San Francisco 2014, where they lost a son. Five years later, no one’s gotten over it. At one point, Dr. Russell, the angry male version, explains it all to Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins), in one of the thinnest bits of exposition rendered on film:

About three years ago, we went back home to Boston. Tried to put the pieces back together. Emma dealt with it by doubling down on saving the world. And I started drinking.

Ah. So that’s why you were taking nature photos of wolves devouring a deer in Colorado. That’s where alcoholism always leads.

As for that “saving the world” thing mom doubled down on? Apparently she created a small device, dubbed ORCA, that can communicate with and/or control the monsters. We see her beta-test the thing as Mothra emerges from its pupa stage in a military-scientific outpost in Yunnan, China. She doesn’t even set it up beforehand, just barges into the enclosure and turns it on and starts fiddling with dials—while Mothra, who’s already killed several dudes, is like 20 feet away. But it works; Mothra is calmed. Then a paramilitary group barges in and starts killing more dudes. They kidnap Dr. Russell, her daughter, and the ORCA.

That’s when the good guys pick up angry Dr. Russell in a field in Colorado. So he can get on screen and not help.

You see, despite that five-year-old chyron welcoming our lizard overlord, we haven’t agreed on what to do in a world with monsters. Destroy them? Communicate and coexist with them? There are also those who think we’re the problem and the monsters the solution. That paramilitary group? They’re “eco-terrorists,” led by Alan Jonah, played by Charles Dance, who also played Tywin Lannister in “Game of Thrones.” This is their credo:

Our world is changing. The mass extinction we feared has already begun. And we are the cause. We are the infection. But like all living organisms, the earth unleashed a fever to fight this infection: Its original and rightful rulers—the Titans.

A few things. First, isn’t it amazing how so-called liberal Hollywood can talk about global warming without once mentioning global warming? To top it off, they make environmentalists the villains in all this? And the leader of this eco movement is supposedly Tywin Lannister—who would never give a rat's ass about anyone but himself?

He’s not the one making the above speech, by the way. That’s Emma. Yeah, she wasn’t kidnapped. She’s the bad guy—or in league with the bad guys. It’s our early, nonsensical reveal. You’d think a woman who lost her son to monsters wouldn’t think monsters were the solution to anything, let alone not-global warming, but nobody raises this point with her. They raise other, more personal points:

Mark: You are out of your goddamn mind! First, you put our daughter’s life in danger and now you get to decide the fate of the world. That’s rich, Emma!

That’s rich. It’s like they’re arguing about who flirted with whom at a cocktail party.

Since tentpoles movies are all about the roller-coaster ride, it’s time to zip around the globe some more. First Antarctica, where Emma frees Monster Zero, a giant three-headed dragon encased in ice. Except, oops, it’s not really a Titan. It’s an alien. (From Planet X, yo.) And it kicks Godzilla’s ass. Then Emma awakens Rodan from a volcano in Mexico, and there’s more battles, but the U.S. military uses an oxygen-depriving bomb to stop and/or kill the beasts. It works—on everyone but Monster Zero (he’s an alien), so he’s now the ruler, and awakens all the other Titans to, I guess, take over the world.  Meanwhile, Godzilla nurses his wounds. At this point, in fights with Zero, Godzilla's 0-2. Not exactly “king.”

The final battle is in Boston. That’s where Madison turns on mom (“You’re a monster”) and steals the ORCA, and goes to Fenway Park (of course) to ... what is she doing again? Calming the Titans? Because she winds up attracting them. To Boston. Brilliant.

And all of this awakens in mom the need to finally do the right thing. Like just when Madison can’t run anymore, Mom pulls up in a military vehicle and shouts “Get in!” That idiocy. The movie, directed by Michael Dougherty (“Krampus”), who also wrote a lot of it, wants us to care about the Russells, but how can we? Mom causes the death of probably millions because she thinks giant lizards and moths are wiser than we are. Dad fulminates against any course of action, while Daughter acts too late and then destroys Fenway Park. Those are our heroes.

Ancient Chinese secret
Gotta say: The cast is great but the casting is horrendous. It’s casting as shorthand. Everyone is who you think they are. “West Wing” dude says sardonic shit while drinking coffee, “Silicon Valley” tech dude stammers awkwardly, “Game of Thrones” dude is cuttingly brutal. Ice Cube’s son scowls and stands his ground, as does the bald black chick. They protect us. As does the “Hamilton” dude who stays in the background—as he did in “A Star is Born.” We learn nothing about these characters because there’s nothing to learn. They’re plug-ins.

Ken Watanabe, repping Japan, Godzilla’s original hunting grounds, spends the movie advocating for him. Zhang Ziyi, repping China, Warner Bros.’ box-office hunting grounds, spends the movie ... Yeah, what is her role? And isn’t it roles plural? Yes. She’s both Dr. Ilene Chen and Dr. Ling Chen. At one point she says she, or they, are third-generation Monarch. Meaning her/their parents/grandparents were involved in this international scientific project around the time of, oh, the virulently anti-western, anti-intellectual Cultural Revolution. Thanks for the history lesson. 

I do like it that when Mark talks up slaying dragons, Chen dismisses it as a western concept: “In the East, they are sacred: divine creatures who brought wisdom, strength. Even redemption.” OK, so her dialogue could’ve been better. No Chinese person says “In the east.” It’s fucking 中国. And why not talk up the dragon being the luckiest of the zodiac signs, or dragon dances and boat races, or how Bruce Lee’s Chinese name is 小龍, (Small Dragon), and Jackie Chan’s is 龍, (Dragon)? Have fun with it.

At least that conversation isn’t as soul-crushingly stupid as when Dr. Serizawa imparts his wisdom to Coach Taylor:

Dr. Serizawa: There are some things beyond our understanding, Mark. We must accept them and learn from them. Because these moments of crisis are also potential moments of faith. A time when we either come together or fall apart. Nature always has a way of balancing itself. The only question is: What part will we play?

Mark (impressed): Did you just make that up?

Dr. Serizawa: No. I read it in a fortune cookie once.

[Pause]

Dr. Serizawa: A really long fortune cookie.

The wisdom is bad enough—bland nothingness—but the fortune cookie reference? I can’t even unpack that. Why would his character say it? And why would a modern international movie have him say it? It’s like a line out of a 1970s commercial. “Ancient Chinese secret...” And does the movie not know he’s Japanese rather than Chinese, or does the movie think we don’t know this? Or does he assume Mark doesn't know? I’d love to hear if anyone at Warner Bros. suggested taking out this line. I’d love to hear what argument kept it in. 

This is Warner's second attempt to create a universe in the manner of the hugely successful MCU. The first included the most famous superheroes in the world—Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman—and they fucked it up. They gave the keys to Zack Snyder and he brought back pure idiocy. Now they’re trying to create a “Monsterverse” with King Kong, Godzilla, and the lesser Japanese monsters. They’re fucking this up, too.

YEAR MOVIE ROTTEN TOMATOES US BOX OFFICE WORLDWIDE BOX OFFICE
2014 Godzilla 75% $200.6 $529.1
2017 Kong: Skull Island 75% $168.0 $566.7
2019 Godzilla: King of the Monsters 41% $110.5 $385.9

The only improvement with any of it was the slight uptick in “Kong”’s worldwide numbers. Otherwise, it's down down down. We’re getting less interested as the movies are getting worse. Hey, maybe there’s a correlation.

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Posted at 07:26 AM on Sep 05, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  
Friday August 30, 2019

Movie Review: Booksmart (2019)

WARNING: SPOILERS 

Most everyone has already pointed out the “Superbad” similarities. A heavy bossy high schooler (Beanie Feldstein, the sister of Jonah Hill), and her thin shy friend (Kaitlyn Dever, apparently unrelated to Michael Cera), try to find the party on the night before high school graduation. Along the way, they get into and out of trouble, lose and find love, get drunk, fight, make-up, and say good-bye. It’s raunchy, funny and surprisingly sweet.

It also made me feel old. Like: way, way old.

So they have unisex bathrooms in high school now? Or is that just in So Cal? Or is that just in So Cal in the movies? And why is the teacher, Ms. Fine (Jessica Williams, late of “The Daily Show”), hanging around the edges of the party? She’s not going to party with them, is she? Wait, she’s not going to sleep with that student, is she? With no repercussions? In the #MeToo age? Wow. Reverse the genders and see how well that bit plays.

I was also wary of how close the camera got to some of those young bodies. Maybe that’s just the female gaze of first-time director Olivia Wilde. Or maybe I’m old. Like: way, way old.

A brassy Tracy Flick
I like this aspect of “Booksmart”: You think the problem will be ostracism but it turns out to be something much more universal: heartbreak.

In the beginning, the filmmakers—Wilde, and screenwriters Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins (“Trophy Wife”)—set it up so there’s jocks here, skateboarders there, techies and burnouts, along with our two heroes, Molly and Amy (Feldstein and Deaver), as the brainiacs who, ssshh, got into Ivy League schools. Except it turns out the other kids did, too. Like all of them. Again, is this specific to So Cal? Or does Lori Laughlin have that many kids?

But this knowledge—that her laser focus on her studies didn’t take her any further than the doofuses that partied all the time—is like an epiphany for Molly, senior class president, and she turns that laser focus into making sure they get in their share of partying before graduation the next day. She’s like a brassy Tracy Flick cramming for a final—but with partying.

The party to go to is Nick’s (Mason Gooding), the cutest of the jocks, and VEEP to Molly’s class president, but they don’t know his address. Trying to find it is the driving force for much of the movie. They wind up: 1) at the empty boat party of rich kid Jared (Skyler Gisondo); 2) at a murder mystery party hosted by gay, theatrical classmates George and Alan (Noah Galvin, Austin Crute, standouts); 3) tripping and hallucinating after drug-laced strawberries kick in; and finally 4) hijacking the pizza-delivery dude for Nick’s address. Then they call Ms. Fine to drive them there.

I assumed once there they wouldn’t exactly be welcomed by the various cliques, but they are. By everyone. It’s nice. But it makes you wonder what the conflict will be.

Turns out: heartbreak.

Amy has a thing for skateboarding girl Ryan (skateboarder Victoria Ruesga), who digs her, too, and makes her sing at the karaoke portion of the party; but then Ryan winds up snogging in the shallow end of the pool with Nick, Molly’s 11th-hour crush. Amy is crushed, but when she tries to leave the party, Molly stops her. And rather than explain what happened, Amy suddenly brings up everything that’s been bubbling below the surface of their probably lifelong relationship: How Molly is so controlling, and how Amy needs to get away from her, and no, she’s not just going to Botswana for the summer but for a year, because she needs to breathe; then she runs, distraught, into the bathroom.

At this point, “Booksmart” becomes a bit conventional. What happens in the movies when you don’t get the one you want? Someone else, generally shockingly good-looking, turns up. See: Minka Kelly as Autumn in “(500) Days of Summer” or Lea Seydoux as Gabrielle in “Midnight in Paris.” Here, Amy is surprised in the bathroom by the ultracool and aptly named Hope (Diana Silvers), who looks like a model. In fact, she’s played by a model. She’s played by a woman whose upper lip puts most lower lips to shame. And Amy winds up mashing on that upper lip. Such is the way: If Summer is gone, Autumn shows up; if you’re feeling hopeless, here’s Hope. 

Such is the way of Hollywood anyway. The rest of us pay full price.

You are all a video-taking generation
I like that Molly and Amy don’t reunite that night. Everyone is separated, and Amy gets arrested, and Molly has a moment with a girl (Molly Gordon), nicknamed Triple A, who’s known for giving handjobs/blowjobs in cars. Thus the nickname. And With Triple A, Molly learns an important lesson. No, not that the rumors aren’t true. They are. Triple A likes giving handjobs/blowjobs in cars. She just doesn’t like the nickname.

The reunion occurs the next morning when Molly bails Amy out of jail, and they race to make the graduation ceremony, where Molly, as class prez, has to give a speech; and the speech she’s written isn’t the speech she gives, of course, because she’s learned so much the previous evening about blah blah blah. Yeah, that speech is actually a disappointing part of the movie. So are the so-called 1% (Jared and Gigi, played by Billie Lourd), who were just too over-the-top for me. I didn’t buy them, or care about them.

But I laughed. A lot. And I like the movie’s by-the-way inclusiveness—like it weren’t no big thing. As I was watching, it even made me feel good about this generation. They were putting divisiveness behind us and forging a newer, better, cleaner path. Good for them.

Then we got the big Molly-Amy breakup scene. They’re yelling at each other in the middle of the party, and in front of all the other kids, who stop what they’re doing and listen. You wonder if anyone is going to try to break it up. Nope. In the background, somewhat blurry, you see one light, then another, and then another.

Me: Are the other kids ... filming this?

A second later: Yes. Yes, they are.

Pause.

Yeah, OK, you guys are fucked up, too.  

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Posted at 07:36 AM on Aug 30, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  
Wednesday July 31, 2019

Movie Review: The Farewell (2019)

the farewell movie review

WARNING: SPOILERS

The Chinese title is more direct (《别告诉他》or “Don’t Tell Her”), which is a little ironic since the point of the movie is a particularly Chinese lack of directness; of keeping an unpleasant truth from a beloved family member.

I’ve encountered this before, by the way. Not just in Taiwan when I lived there (1988-90) but in film. There’s a 1989 Jackie Chan movie called “Mr. Canton and Lady Rose,” in which several friendly gangsters get involved in an elaborate scheme to pass off a poor flower lady as a rich Cantonese woman for the benefit of her daughter's rich, prospective in-laws. I kept waiting for the in-laws to find out, and for everyone to find out how it didn’t matter since we’re all the same, blah blah blah, as it would be in a Hollywood movie. Except the in-laws never find out; the subterfuge is never revealed. Because in China, Face is more important than Truth.

The attempt to keep the truth hidden in Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell” is more personal. 

三个月?
Early on, Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen), the grandmother of a large, extended brood, is talking on the phone to her granddaughter Billi (Awkwafina), who lives in New York, while Nai Nai is visiting her doctor in Changchun in northern China. She’s having tests to see if the spots on her lungs are what the doctors fear. And they are: She has cancer. But the doctors don’t tell her; they tell her younger sister, (Lu Hong), who tells everyone else in the family. That’s the Chinese way. They keep it hidden; they don’t want Nai Nai to know she only has months to live. 

Instead, the family moves up the wedding of grandson Haohao (Chen Han) to his Japanese girlfriend, Aiko (Aoi Mizuhara), so they all have an excuse to descend on Changchun and say their last goodbyes without actually saying goodbye.

What I love? In that moment before the CAT scan, both Billi and Nai Nai are doing exactly what the family will do for the rest of the movie. Nai Nai pretends she’s at home rather than the hospital, since, one assumes, she doesn’t want to worry Billi. At the same time, she tells Billi to wear a cap in New York (because it’s cold) and no earrings (because they’ll steal them right off you, necessitating surgery), and Billi says she’s wearing a cap (when he isn’t), and isn’t wearing earrings (when she is).

Oh, and the Guggenheim that Billi, a would-be writer, is up for? She doesn’t get it but pretends it’s still pending.

The tension for most of the movie is whether Billi, who’s lived in New York since she was 6 and is more Westernized than the rest of the family, will be the one to drop the bomb. Her parents are so worried about this they don’t invite her along. She shows up on her own—as the family is sitting down to dinner.

Much of the movie revolves around food and conversation and cultural differences. Billi’s mom, Jian (Diana Lin), gets into it with a Chinese in-law, who, though she’s sending her son to America to study, brags about how easy it is to become a millionaire in China. The family visits Nai Nai’s husband’s grave, bringing him food, and participating in the ritual burning of paper items in the shape of, for example, smart phones and TV sets, which he will then get to use in the afterlife. (I used to see such burnings all the time in Taipei.) Nai Nai argues over whether lobster or crab will be served at the wedding. She argues that three months is too short a courtship for Haohao and Aiko, and might start tongues wagging. Why don’t they tell everyone six months? How about a year?  

Awkwafina is the big name here, as well as Tzi Ma who plays her father (he’s been in everything from “Rush Hour” to “The Arrival” to “VEEP”), but it’s first-timer Zhao as Nai Nai who steals the show. She’s feisty (doing her morning taichi exercises with loud hais to dispel evil spirits) and a little mean (calling Aoki stupid because the girl doesn’t speak Chinese) but she never seems mean. She just seems set in her ways and protective of her clan. Something about her feels so authentic.

Probably because she is. “The Farwell” is based on a true story, or, as the movie tells us, “an actual lie.” Writer-director LuLu Wang went through the same experience with her own Nai Nai a few years ago. The twist, which we find out in the end, is that her real Nai Nai is still alive. It’s six years later, and we get footage of her doing tai chi. Even better, she never found out about the cancer. She still doesn’t know. One wonders if the Chinese don’t have something with this “not knowing you’re going to die” thing. It’s like Wile E. Coyote staying in midair as along as he doesn’t know he’s in midair; it’s the knowledge that makes him fall.

再见
Thoughts on the birds? A bird lands in Billi’s apartment in New York, and then in her hotel room in Changchun; she stares in silence at both. Then at the end, weighed down with the knowledge of Nai Nai’s impending death—Awkwafina is slouched like a teenager for half the movie—she suddenly takes up Nai Nai’s spirit-dispensing shout on the streets of New York and the birds goes flying into the air.

So are the birds the evil spirits? Or are they the trapped thing inside Billi? For that matter, does the fictional Nai Nai live simply because the real one did/does? One assumes, but we never really find out. 

Bigger point: go. 去看看巴。This is a small gem of a movie that is funny, heartfelt, poignant. The cultural absurdities are specifically Chinese but the family absurdities are wholly universal. I love the final scene in China: Billi in the cab with her parents being taken to the airport, and watching her Nai Nai through the rear window waving and getting smaller and smaller. That’s all of us, eventually.

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Posted at 08:38 AM on Jul 31, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  
Thursday July 18, 2019

Movie Review: Stuber (2019)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Chekhov was right: A guy talking about jumping in front of a bullet in the first act will jump in front of a bullet in the third.

And he’ll do this even if, in that first act, the mere idea of it is dismissed by a veteran cop. “You know how fast a bullet travels?” Vic Manning (Dave Bautista) asks his Uber driver, Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), who’s broached the subject out of nowhere. “I guess I didn’t really think that through,” Stu replies in that halting, “Gee, I guess I’m not that smart after all” tone Nanjiani has perfected. Great scene. I laughed.

Then they have to get all Chekhov on us. Stu jumps in front of a bullet to save Vic’s superhot daughter, Nicole (Natalie Morales), and ... we can see where this is going. You see, Stu is also coming to realize that the woman he’s had a crush on for years, Becca (Betty Gilpin of “GLOW”), isn't worth it. And a man breaking up with the wrong girl in the first act will find the right girl in the third. That's a Hollywood rather than a Chekhovian principle.

Everyone’s a douche
I laughed a lot during “Stuber” and don’t recommend it. The idea is fine—a cop who’d just had lasik eye surgery relying on his Uber driver to get him from place to place in LA to take down the bad guys—and the casting is fantastic. Nanjiani is my man, while Bautista, who plays Drax in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies, is that rare musclebound WWE guy with good comic timing.

Despite this, the movie keeps failing. And flailing. I’d watch scenes and think, “Yeesh, this is not working at all.” They’d go on too long, the timing would be off, the dialogue or language or violence would be too over-the-top. Sometimes over-the-top works, sometimes it just feels desperate. Here, it mostly felt desperate.

With a plot this contrived, you really need to make it make sense. Why does Stu stick around besides passivity and politeness? Why does Vic keep putting Stu and others in danger besides blind dedication to the job? The filmmakers make it too complicated—something we have to revisit every 10 minutes. Stu says he’s finally leaving (to go schtup the wrong girl); Vic says no, or makes a threat. Often the threat involves giving Stu a one-star rating. This works until it doesn’t. And of course, in the third act, when he’s finally allowed to go, he spots the clue that necessitates a return to save the day. 

All the clichés are here:

  • The diabolical and seemingly indestructible villain (Iko Uwais)
  • The sympathetic police chief who’s really a diabolical mole for the bad guys (Mira Sorvino)
  • The dad who doesn’t have time for his daughter

Everyone’s a douche. Stu works days at a sporting goods store managed by the douchebag son of the owner (Jimmy Tatro), and he’s the one who gives Stu his nickname and the movie its title: Stu + Uber = Stuber. Ha ha, yeah no. He’s stupid, it’s stupid, and yet they made it the title of the movie. The movie’s a douche, too.

One star
Who do we blame for this hot mess? It was written by Tripper Clancy, whose credits are few and unreleased (“Four Against the Bank," “Hot Dog”), and it was directed by Michael Dowse, who’s mostly done Canada-related comedies: “Fubar,” “Goon,” “Fubar: Balls to the Wall.” Not a winning combo. 

The editing didn’t help. Afterwards, I assumed it was two hours and told my wife, “They really should’ve edited it down to like 90 minutes.” It’s 93 minutes.

Kumail, choose better next time. One star.

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Posted at 09:10 AM on Jul 18, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  
Tuesday July 16, 2019

Movie Review: Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Marvel Studios isn’t wasting time, is it? Two months ago, “Avengers: Endgame” ended the saga that began with “Iron Man” in 2008, and now they’re already positioning the new Iron Man, the spectacular Spider-Man, (Tom Holland), while suggesting the beginning of a new saga. Time is money, after all, and poor Marvel/Disney only has all of it.

Not only is much of “Spider-Man: Far from Home” about the dilemma of replacing Tony Stark on the world or cinematic stage, but the mid-credits sequence is a callback to the ending of the original “Iron Man,” with its shocking rock ‘n’ roll line: “I am Iron Man.” This one ends with, whoa!, the return of J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, now bald, and broadcasting to the world that “Spider-Man is .... [static] ... [more static] .... Peter Parker!”

Yes, a little different. Instead of tooting his own horn, which is the Tony Stark way, Peter is shamefully outed, which is the Peter Parker way. But the effect on us is the same. Just as we’re winding down, the movie gooses us. Wow! What happens NEXT? We suddenly anticipate the sequel. We may even watch this one again to sate ourselves in the meantime. Which is entirely the point.

As for the end-credits sequence? Not a fan.

Not smart?
Overall, I liked “Far from Home” well enough. Not as much as “Homecoming” but enough.

OK, it could’ve been better.

It’s the opposite of “Homecoming.” There, Peter did everything he could to prove himself worthy of being an Avenger. Here, he runs from the role. There, he wanted to be Spider-Man; here, he just wants to be Peter. I guess being dead five years might do that to a soul.

Hey, I just realized it’s also a little similar to Tobey’s second Spidey. Pete runs from being Spider-Man in order to enjoy life as Peter Parker with friends and MJ (Zendaya); then he has to return to being Spider-Man in order to protect his friends and MJ; then MJ discovers who he is. The details are different; but if you pull back, it’s similar.

JJJ aside, the world probably would’ve found out sooner or later that Pete was Spidey simply because he’s not doing a very good job of hiding it. I get “face time” for actors but good god he’s unmasked a lot here: on the rooftops of Venice, in a tavern in Prague, on a bridge in London—which all eyes and cameras in the world are on because of the destruction Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) has caused. Not to mention at the beginning of the film, backstage at a fundraising gig hosted by ... who? Oh, right, Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Really, Pete? No distance there? Plus right before the JJJ reveal, he takes MJ for a spin around NYC as Spidey. What happened to keeping loved ones at a distance because Spidey will always have enemies? Not smart.

That’s actually a question the movie unintentionally raises: Is Peter Parker ... not smart? Constantly unmasking is just part of it. He also trusts Mysterio with the most powerful weapon mankind has created—Tony Stark’s glasses—which Tony, RIP, entrusted to him. First, yeah, stupid move, Tony. Second, Pete, buddy, I get that you want to give MJ the dahlia pendant on the top of the Eiffel Tower, and don’t have time to save the world, which includes you, MJ, the dahlia pendant and the Eiffel Tower. But to just give it up to a guy you met like the day before? Give it to Happy (Jon Favreau). Give it to Nick (Samuel L. Jackson). It’s even more infuriating for Spidey fans because we know Mysterio is the villain. And yet there you are, like a doofus, unmasked in front of him and all customers in this pub in Prague, and handing him the one thing your mentor and idol left you after he saved half the universe.

That pub scene may have bugged me the most. After Mysterio and Spidey (as Night Monkey, but obviously Spidey) “defeat” the fire monster, they have a drink together in a Prague tavern—sans masks. And no one stops to congratulate them? Slap them on the back? Buy them a beer? 

Pete: I’m 16, I’m not allowed to drink.
Prague dude: Maybe in America. But here all 16-year-olds drink, particularly ones who save our city!
Everyone: Yay!

Plus there’s a dude in like lederhoesen or some shit? I thought that whole scene seemed off before it was revealed to be a Mysterio illusion. And Spidey senses none of it? Not even with his Spidey sense? For something he finally uses to defeat Mysterio—and jokingly referred to as the “Peter tingle” here—it’s on vacation for most of the movie. It’s always a little frustrating dealing with a superhero who doesn’t want to be a superhero until it’s almost too late. Cf., “Superman II,” “Spider-Man 2,” Superman in “Batman v. Superman.” It’s a theme of second movies. Look for Spidey to “turn evil” in the next one.

Mysterio is handled well. I don’t remember the raison d’etre of the original, or if he had one, but here, the 2.0 version, he’s a Stark underling who felt he never got the credit he deserved; so he uses some combo of tech and drones to create elemental disasters he “saves” people from. Essentially Marvel Studios turns him into a kind of Silicon Valley CEO, barking orders at tech underlings to keep the illusion going. By the end, you despise him. You also understand his power. Illusion is a tough thing to overcome. Just look at all the fools listening to JJJ/FOX News.

Power/responsbility/Etc.
In the end, Spidey gets it all back—glasses, respect, etc.. He also gets MJ, who knows Pete is Spidey but likes him for being Pete. Awww. That said, I don’t sense much chemistry between the two actors—Zendaya and Holland—who supposedly like each other in non-camera life. Maybe it’s a generational thing. This MJ has too hard a shell for me. Love is about vulnerability, and between the two Pete has 95% of it.

Gyllenhaal is excellent—at first, charming, then super annoying—while Martin Starr (“Silicon Valley”) has fun as a hapless teacher buffetted by events.

But the end-credits reveal left me cold. Both Nick Fury and Maria Hill (Colbie Smulders) are Skrulls? Let me ask the Ira Gershwin question: How long has this been going on? We see him hanging on a simulated beach on a Skrull spaceship, then reluctantly going back to work. One theory has Fury being played by a Skrull before even “Avengers: Infinity War,” which means he was dipping toes while Thanos snapped out half the universe? Nice work ethic, asshole. And, hey, where’s the real Maria Hill anyway? We just see the real Nick. If we’re talking face time, good god, give me Smulders.

Anyway, not a fan of all that, but I am excited for the return of JJJ and his fake news. The MCU could make it a great commentary on Fox and Rush and Sinclair and all that bullshit. With its billions, Disney certainly has the power to do it. It probably won’t, which is a shame. I read somewhere that with great power comes great responsibility; but that was written a long time ago, in a Marvel far, far away.

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Posted at 07:45 AM on Jul 16, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  
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