Archive for July, 2019

Jul 17 2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home Review (1 star out of 5)

Published by under Writing Articles

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

1. This version of Spider-Man is a useless toolbox who actively avoids doing interesting things, and what he does attempt is usually wimpy and/or incompetent.

2. Unlike most main characters, his choices don’t matter much. For example, he chooses to leave his supersuit at home (but his aunt sneaks it in anyway) and he tries to choose his school trip over superheroics (itself a red flag) but Nick Fury railroads him into coming to Prague anyway. He has an unusual lack of agency over his story. Relatedly, he’s pushed into following in Tony Stark’s footsteps, but he doesn’t have any of the initiative, charm, or intelligence to make that feel believable, nor does he pursue an alternative which is interesting in any way. (He mentions a few times that he would just rather be a neighborhood Spider-Man, but he’s not proactive enough to actually do anything about it).

3. If your superhero would rather be on a school trip than a superhero, don’t make a superhero movie about him, it’ll probably suck.

3.1. Surrounding a superhero with faceless classmates and teachers is not a great setup. Even if they had good lines (which they definitely didn’t), these school characters besides Ned and *maybe* MJ are bystanders to the central plot. They don’t know what’s going on and don’t create particularly interesting social obstacles either. Here’s an alternate concept: instead of a scene distracting the world’s most oblivious teacher from a ****ing missile strike, maybe Spider-Man has to hide something from Nick Fury or another character involved in the superhero plot?

3.2. The first movie in the Marvel cinematic universe after ~50% of humanity getting erased for 5 years is a high school road trip.

4. If any characters causes viewers to ask “Should you even be on this team?”, it’d be very helpful if viewers see there’s some reason to have him on the team . In this case, Spider-Man’s main role is being grossly inadequate and he doesn’t even want to be there. There are probably like 100 cop movies where a cop protagonist screws up a case and the captain kicks him off the case (or the force) — if you’re auditioning for cop captain roles I’m guessing that one of the lines they make you do is “gimme your badge (pause) and your gun.” This movie’s twist is that the main character is relentlessly incapable and is begging his boss to take him off the case but the boss has to coerce him into saving the world.

5. Incompetent clownery: have we hit rock bottom yet?

  • Peter accidentally calls a drone strike on his own bus within seconds of being given the drone system.
  • Peter has two fights with elementals without realizing that they are holograms.
  • Peter could have stayed home from the water elemental fight and the outcome would have been largely the same. A more competent hero might have picked up some information which could have been useful later on and/or been more successful at whatever he attempted.
  • “Peter tingle”
  • Every conversation Peter has with Mr. Harrington or Aunt May.
  • Peter getting fooled by illusions of Nick Fury twice. Even on first viewing, Peter clearly has to be severely concussed or otherwise mentally damaged not to suspect anything when “Nick Fury” asks Peter who he told about Mysterio’s fraud. (Arguably this is worse for a character that loves movie references. If you’ve seen a movie ever, if someone asks you “who have you told about this criminal activity?” it means they’re about to try murdering you and the witnesses. If I were trying to make Spider-Man sound non-dumbass here, I’d suggest a rephrase like “We need an ironclad case. Do you have any collaborating witnesses or other evidence?”)
  • Jake Gyllenhaal calls him awkward.
  • In a good movie, a protagonist should be able to speak with a love interest and make it interesting. In this movie, Peter concocts a half-assed plan where his friend pretends that he has an allergy in a scheme to get her to sit next to Peter. Having his friend deliver these lines somehow makes Peter look even more pathetic.
  • Arrested by the Dutch.
  • “Even Dead I’m The Hero”. Even dead, Tony Stark has more of a pulse than Spider-Man.
  • “I love Led Zeppelin!” during an AC/DC song. He’s designated himself as the pop culture guy, that’s his thing (pathetic as it is), and he can’t even do that right. Having a character fail ineptly at something he’s supposed to be really good at… I generally wouldn’t recommend this for superhero movies. (The only positive example that comes to mind outside of superheroes is Michael Scott in The Office — I think he’s comedically effective largely because he’s a chaotic mix of brilliant boss, complete mental case, and rolling HR disaster. He also gets great lines and great acting, neither of which Spider-Man has).
  • Talos/Nick Fury thinks Peter isn’t even worthy to bring up Captain Marvel (“don’t invoke her name”). That’s rock bottom, isn’t it? Is it possible to be more inadequate?
  • I’ll give a pass for an alien shapeshifter not knowing that opera is not the best way to keep teens occupied. A shapeshifter soldier surviving a genocidal war getting fooled by Mysterio pretending to be a fighter surviving a genocidal war? Oh, God. That’s like Dr. Strange getting fooled by an alien pretending to be a human surgeon that has never before met either a surgeon or a human. I would REALLY hope the writers give Strange a better explanation than “wow, his costume was amazing.”

6. Out of all of the common concepts for a sequel, “Same characters as last time, but now they’re in Europe” is probably the one of the least promising. No surprises here, taking bland characters and taking them on a European road trip is actually worse than leaving them at home – doing tourist stuff does not generally make for very interesting material, and the setting is probably going to take time/space that otherwise could have been used more effectively. (In fairness to set-in-Europe sequels, “let’s refilm an animated movie in live action” and “let’s refilm a movie but with a younger cast” are probably worse).

6.1. In a good sequel, you might see dramatic themes expanded upon, interesting character arcs built upon, etc. E.g. looking back to the 2000s Spider-Man movies, I think Spider-Man 2 did a great job building on Peter’s conflict between maintaining a normal life vs. being a superhero. In Far From Home, the only theme brought back from Homecoming is “Peter Parker is still completely a joke at being a superhero, and if he got hit by an asteroid the audience would be better for it.” I’ve never seen a movie as committed to a theme as this one.

7. One bright spot: in the post-credits scene a villain took Spider-Man’s secret identity public. Hopefully this will reduce the amount of scenes where other characters have to be mentally damaged to protect the secret identity.

8. Other bright spots: the action is surprisingly competent, definitely better executed than other drone battles in Avengers 2, Iron-Man 2 and Venom. The hallucination powers are creative. The villain (pre-reveal) is notably more engaging than Spider-Man. Weirdly, he’s more believable as a fake hero than he is as a live villain given how thin his motive/plan is.

9. The fake hero setup creates interesting opportunities for hero-villain interaction. Hey, not EVERY supervillain has a daughter you can date.

10. The editing in this movie was notably weak. There were a lot of moments that stood out here, but I have to call out the villainous reveal scene as some of the worst exposition I can remember. E.g. “They called me unstable” sounds like a B-film about a mad scientist. More generally, there was a lot of wasted time:

  • Most of what happens before the water elemental fight (e.g. the fundraiser, most of Venice, and maybe the airplane scene).
  • Every Flash Thompson line
  • Aunt May’s side-romance with Happy.
  • The Netherlands scene was funny but Peter Parker desperately needed time/space to be competent. (Also, if we’re pretending that his secret identity is interesting at all, having a character get arrested and demasked without any followup is probably bad plotting).

10.1. The editing is sloppy enough that consistency issues were noticeable during a first viewing. E.g. Mysterio gets prompted for safety concerns after launching a drone strike in his own area but Peter somehow didn’t get this safety alert when he called in a drone strike on his own bus.

10.2. If Tony Stark builds a drone strike system that doesn’t have any safeguards against assassinating a busful of kids, maybe it’d help to give it to someone less dumbass than Peter Parker. Peter Parker is not just a raging storm of stupidity, he infects the people around him. Other victims include Talos, the real Nick Fury, the love interest, classmates and teachers, and whoever signed off on making this movie.

11. The plot hinges on Mysterio setting up fake crimes to pump up his own status by beating up holograms. He carefully choreographs everything and pre-tapes footage about how the fight will look before it happens. Spider-Man making an unscripted appearance against the water elemental should have been a bigger deal. This would have been a good opportunity for Mysterio to improvise something to keep Spider-Man from figuring out that the fight was a sham. This would probably have a more satisfying outcome than “Maybe Spider-Man will spend the entire fight trying to keep a tower from collapsing but not even accomplish that.”

12. Peter and MJ figure out that Mysterio is a fraud by stumbling upon one of the hologram generators he used. It’d probably be more satisfying (and help develop their competence) if they worked harder for it. For example, thinking back to the first Avengers movie, there’s a scene where Captain America realizes that he’s being deceived when he’s introduced to an “Army nurse” pretending it’s still the 1940s. CA picks up on subtle clues that things are off (e.g. she’s wearing a man’s tie, her haircut doesn’t meet 1940s regulations, and she’s got a modern bra on). How lame would it have been if Captain America had realized the WWII setup was a sham because the nurse accidentally dropped a modern newspaper?

12.1. What might a competent hero might have been able to pick up on to suggest that something is up with Mysterio? I have a lot of ideas on this, but to start with, Peter should have an interest in Mysterio’s equipment. It’s noticeably more effective against the elementals than anything else they’ve tried, and any super-engineer should be trying to figure out how to build more of it. Peter might offer help on routine repair/maintenance (and get shut down), and maybe wonder about how exactly Mysterio is keeping a futuristic suit repaired by himself. Secondarily, Mysterio’s visual style is very flashy/Hollywood (e.g. flying around with a cape), and that’s a really odd move from an engineer who claims to be one of the survivors of a failed war against elemental invaders.

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