Movie Review ~ Spider-Man: Far From Home


The Facts
:

Synopsis: After the events of Avengers: Endgame, Peter Parker and his friends go on summer vacation to Europe and there Peter finds himself trying to save his friends against a villain known as Mysterio.

Stars: Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zendaya, Marisa Tomei, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Jacob Batalon, J.B. Smoove,

Director: Jon Watts

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 129 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  In some ways, Spider-Man: Far From Home was always bound to be disappointing.  Being the follow-up to the biggest movie on the planet and arriving barely two months after it’s release is an unenviable position.  Here’s the kicker, though.  If you believe the trade papers then it seems Sony, which still owns the rights to Spider-Man and has loaned him out to Marvel Studios for his work in Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame, actually pushed to have this particular release date so close to the final Avengers film.  It’s a strange strategy because everyone is bound to compare this to the juggernaut last chapter of Iron Man and his team which is still playing in many theaters and is even being re-released with new footage around the same time Spider-Man is swinging into cinemas.

Yet here we are, with another comic book superhero movie and, if you count the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, our fourth big-screen appearance of Spider-Man in a year.  Sony is playing chicken with audiences and betting they aren’t suffering from Spidey fatigue yet and based on the genial but oddly underwhelming Spider-Man: Far From Home I’m guessing they made the right call at express shipping this next chapter into theaters right in time for the July 4th holiday.  Though flawed in the action department and failing to provide a showcase for an A-list actor trying his hand at playing an evil genius villain, the film succeeds best when it focuses on the people and not the effects.

As this site is spoiler-free as much as possible, a caveat that while the plot secrets of Spider-Man: Far From Home will remain hidden there are elements from Avengers: Endgame I’ll have to discuss.

So, if you don’t want the end of Avengers: Endgame spoiled for you then it’s best to turn back now.

You ready?

You sure?

OK.

Seriously.  This is your last chance.

I’m going to spoil something, don’t be mad.

OK…here we go.

Picking up where Avengers: Endgame left off, Peter Parker (Tom Holland, The Impossible) is still mourning the deaths of Captain America, Black Widow, Vision, and his mentor Tony Stark/Iron Man.  With the rest of the Avengers dispersed on their own missions around the world and in other galaxies, Peter is getting back to a routine in school and making the occasional appearance as Spider-Man to help raise funds with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, The Paper) to support the population vaporized in The Snap that were returned in what came to be known as The Blip.  As the school year winds to a close, Peter and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) prepare for their science trip abroad which will take them across Europe.  Ned is looking forward to spending time with his friend as bachelors overseas while Peter is more interested in getting closer to MJ (Zendaya, The Greatest Showman).

The group has barely arrived in Venice when the floating city is attacked by one of four elementals, a creature made of water that goes about destroying everything in its path.  Before Peter can jump into action and save the day, Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal, Prisoners) appears and helps vanquish the threat with some marginal assistance from your friendly traveling neighborhood Spider-Man.  Recruited by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Shaft), Beck teams up with Peter to take on the final elemental who is due to show up in Prague, where Fury reroutes Peter’s class trip (though what his school is doing in Europe is a mystery, it’s never clear why they’ve traveled overseas) so he can believably stay part of the action.  Dubbed Mysterio by the press, Beck quickly (too quickly) becomes a new Stark-ish figure to Peter, establishing a trust that hides a darker agenda.  When Beck’s true nature is revealed it’s up to Peter and his friends (including Jon Favreau, The Wolf of Wall Street, as Tony Stark’s former bodyguard) to eventually save London and its key landmarks from danger.

What may surprise viewers is how long director Jon Watts takes to get to the first round of action in the film.  Aside from a very brief prologue there’s not another major action scene for nearly a half hour and, truthfully, I didn’t mind at all.  The characters established so well in Spider-Man: Homecoming have been brought back fully realized and we’re dropped right back into their mix without much adjustment needed.  When the action does start, in that first battle in Venice, the film gets less interesting almost immediately and it’s because we’re focused less on the people and more on the sturm und drang of it all.  It doesn’t help the action sequences are curiously flat and rarely edge-of-your-seat exciting like previous Marvel (and Sony Spider-Man) films have been.  Even the effects seem off and uneven, like the film wasn’t quite ready by time it had to go to theaters.

Another stumbling block is, surprisingly, Gyllenhaal as Beck/Mysterio.  I had high hopes for the actor entering this universe and lending some of his trademark intensity to a character.  Usually, Gyllenhaal has an interesting way into inhabiting whatever role he’s taking on but he was either stymied by the studio heads or just opted for the wrong approach because he’s dramatically inert here.  Watch the movie and see if you can spot how many times Gyllenhaal moves throughout – you rarely seem him walking or making any kind of actionable movement, the majority of his performance he’s sitting or standing still.  It’s like he was performing injured or filming his scenes in one soundstage over the course of two days.  What should have been a nice match of actor and fan favorite villain was a whiff and a miss for me, extra disappointing because I am a big fan of the actor.

The movie is saved in no small part due to the performances given by Holland and Zendaya, both of whom were appealing in their first film paired together but now have honest to goodness chemistry that is entirely palpable.  In Holland, we finally have a Spider-Man/Peter Parker that feels like he’s the right age and the actor plays him as more than an angsty teen longing to be more than the sum of his Spidey parts.  He knows the great responsibility he has and understands why Tony chose him, but doesn’t want to continue to miss out on the life that doesn’t include inter-galactic wars and infinity stones.  Zendaya isn’t your cookie-cutter MJ and mores the better.  I like her awkwardness and affinity for the darker side of history.  Like she did with Zac Efron in The Greatest Showman, she plays well off her costar and helps them to shine.

Based on the reactions of the audience at my screening, maybe I’m the one that’s fatigued at the present moment with these films.  Perhaps my attraction to the pieces of Spider-Man: Far From Home that had nothing to do with action or effects say something about were my attention is at this point and time.  I still don’t think Gyllenhaal is doing anywhere near his best work and the previous Spider-Man film was, in my opinion, more focused, unexpected, and heads and tails more entertaining from start to finish.  We’re all trained by this point to stay through the credits but the mid-credit stinger and post-credit scene are absolutely essential.  The final scene actually changes something about the movie entirely – don’t miss it or you’ve missed a huge piece of the story.

Movie Review ~ The Greatest Showman

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman is an original musical that celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya Coleman, Rebecca Ferguson, Keala Settle

Director: Michael Gracey

Rated: PG

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review: The Greatest Showman is a movie with a huge identity crisis. An old fashioned musical in structure and feel populated with modern style pop tunes and performances, it’s a bizarre film to experience firsthand but one I must admit I’ve had swirling around in my head ever since I saw it. Clever (or cunning) marketing has positioned this gigantic piece of cotton candy to be front and center whether you like it or not. Billboards, television advertisements, a live preview performance in the middle of last week’s A Christmas Story Live!, not to mention endless appearances by its stars on talk shows have all made The Greatest Showman impossible to miss. So with all the hub bub and howdoyado, does it wind up being something you want to fit into your busy holiday schedule?

I guess the answer is how far you like your patience to be tested. For me, the movie works in fits and spurts but the time between the material that lands starts to grow wider the longer this circus is in town. I walked out of the screening feeling like I was going to give this one an outright pan but like I mentioned before, I was seeking out specific songs from the soundtrack before the end of that day. Oscar winning songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land) have a way with a hook and more than one song has the potential to become the earworm you won’t be able shake. I’ve even fallen prey; I’ve been humming the lovely power ballad “Never Enough” sung by Loren Allred (and not by actress Rebecca Ferguson who mimes the singing rather well) for days now.

As mentioned above, the film wants to have its cake and eat it too and that greed starts with the opening credits. The old 20th Century Fox logo appears but then is quickly replaced by the new one as Pasek and Paul’s opening number begins. Why the two logos? If director Michael Gracey wanted to give us a throwback musical, why not start with a bit of retro-ness and juxtapose that with his Moulin Rouge-esque filmmaking style? Or just go modern from the get-go and hit the ground running?

The story of creative entrepreneur and eventual circus ringmaster P.T. Barnum has been turned into a musical already (1980’s rarely produced but quite lovely Barnum) and at 105 minutes the movie is a sanitized Cliff Notes version of Barnum’s humble upbringing and gradual rise to legendary stardom. In fact, the second number of the movie covers several decades of his life as Barnum (Hugh Jackman, Logan) goes from being the poor boy in love with a rich girl all the way through their eventual marriage. You won’t be finished with your popcorn before Barnum and his wife (Michelle Williams, Wonderstruck) have had two kids and are struggling to make ends meet.

Through some quick thinking and creative deception, Barnum manages to secure a loan to buy a museum of stuffed oddities he eventually turns into a theater brimming with side show acts. A bearded lady, the world’s smallest man, a pink wigged trapeze artist (the lovely Zendaya, Spider-Man: Homecoming), and more are all part of the show…and they can sing to the rafters too (so can Jackman and, to a lesser extent, Williams). Barnum’s circus draws huge crowds but doesn’t help gain him access to the cultured upper crust he so desperately wants to be a part of. Even becoming partners with a society darling (Zac Efron, The Lucky One) gets him an audience with the Queen but not the respect of his fellow New Yorkers.

While in London, Barnum becomes enamored with Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind (Ferguson, The Snowman) who agrees to come to the states for a Barnum produced tour. Barnum sees it as his chance to go legit and distances himself from his original entertainers, betraying their trust along the way. Hints of desired infidelity can only go so far in a PG-rated family film but Lind doesn’t seem to have sailed across the sea just to sing her song and cash a check. By the time Barnum is arriving by elephant to his daughters ballet recital I was ready for it all to be over…and then it pretty much was.

Working with a by the numbers script from Jenny Bicks (Rio 2) and Bill Condon (Beauty and the Beast), director Gracey never lets his camera (or editor) rest for too long. It’s imitation Baz Lurhman through and through but there’s something oddly watchable about the whole endeavor. Jackman and Efron are fine song and dance men and their number is a percussive highlight, as is Keala Settle’s knockout “This is Me” which sees Pasek and Paul going for Oscar number two. Sure, overall the music largely sounds the same and a few numbers are indistinguishable from the other (I barely remember the song Williams lilts through) but there are a few winners. It’s a strange choice not to have Ferguson do any of her own singing and I think it robs the movie of some sincerity…though to be fair it’s already strange that a world famous opera singer is singing a rafter raiser in her chest voice belt mix in the first place.

So what to do about this weird blend of current sound and throwback moviemaking? It’s far from the worst thing I’ve seen this year and I find myself growing more affectionate for it even as I write this review. It’s desperation to please initially rubbed me the wrong way but the film has its heart in the right place. Would I see The Greatest Showman again? Probably. I wouldn’t run away with this circus but I wouldn’t run from it either.

Movie Review ~ Spider-Man: Homecoming


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Several months after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker tries to balance his life as an ordinary high school student in New York City while fighting crime as his superhero alter ego Spider-Man.

Stars: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Zendaya Coleman, Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Robert Downey Jr., Jon Favreau, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly

Director: Jon Watts

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 133 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: Another Spider-Man restage?  Really?  A big collective groan was heard from fanboys and girls around the world when Sony decided to reboot their prized web-slinger back in 2012 with The Amazing Spider-Man.  That film and its 2014 sequel (The Amazing Spider-Man 2), while solidifying the rising popularity of stars Andrew Garfield and Emma stone, never fully justified its back to the drawing board feel.  So when Marvel Studios came to Sony with an offer to join creative forces and bring Spidey into the Marvel universe where he belonged, it was an offer they really had no right to refuse.  Still, with a new superhero movie seemingly released every other week, did the world need to get to know Spider-Man all over again?

The answer, dear friendly neighborhood readers, was a resounding yes.  Spider-Man: Homecoming is just the reenergizing kick in the pants Marvel was needing after a string of well received but oddly bland sequels (Avengers: Age of Ultron) and iffy first outings (Doctor Strange, Ant-Man).  Best of all, it’s so tonally different than the original trilogy and recent two entries that it should keep fans of that canon at bay.  Even better news, it’s not an origin story!

If you missed either The Avengers, its sequel, or Captain America: Civil War like my movie mate did, you may be a little lost in the first moments of this new Spidey adventure.  The brief prologue recaps Spider-Man’s introduction to The Avengers in Civil War from his wide-eyed teenage perspective and quickly brings you up to speed while setting the whiz-bang pace at the same time.  It also lays the groundwork for why it’s main bad guy went so rogue.

After his brief foray into the superhero big leagues, Peter Parker (Tom Holland, The Impossible) gets grounded by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., The Judge, looking guiltier than ever at continuing to collect a paycheck) and put under the watchful eye of Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, Entourage) who quickly loses interest in the teen.  Not one to let his new heroic muscles go unstretched, Peter sets about “saving” residents of his Queens borough neighborhood, whether they like it or not.  Often causing more trouble than preventing it, Peter stumbles upon a group of thugs led by Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton, Need for Speed), all of whom are clearly up to no good.

A disgruntled former blue-collar union man, Toomes has used his skills and a few alien power sources he’s scrounged together to fashion a set of wings (complimented by a bad ass bomber jacket) that take him sky high.  As Peter gets closer to finding out the truth behind Toomes/The Vulture, he comes up against not only his most powerful villain yet but runs afoul of his ally Stark in the process.

At 133 minutes, there’s a lot to cram in and thankfully the large handful of credited screenwriters have decided to forgo retelling how Peter got his powers and waste little time with introductions.  This being a summer tentpole film for Sony and Marvel and in the wake of the critical and financial success of DC Comics stellar Wonder Woman, a lot was riding on this entry.  Those studio exces can breathe a sigh of relief because from the nicely drawn characters to several impressive action sequences, this is a film that constantly and consistently delivers the goods.

Director Jon Watts (Clown) joins a curious list of “out of the box” choices to direct a movie of this size.  Known for his work in independent films, it’s obvious from the small details Watts adds into the film (like including a bit of Japanese war history on the wall of an otherwise innocuous school official, giving even a minor character a backstory) that he was the right choice for the job.  It’s a fast, funny film that felt unpredictable even though it’s part of the most predictable genre being produced today.

Nailing down the perfect star to play Peter Parker was no small task but Sony struck gold with Holland who, though 21, feels like the first actor to successfully play a believable 15-year-old.  With Holland’s dance training (he was Billy Elliot in the London stage show) and his well-documented tremendous athleticism, he’s able to bring the character forward rather than get lost within the costume and pristine visual effects.  Sharing the screen with scenery chewers like Downey Jr. and Keaton isn’t for the faint of heart but Holland more than holds his own.

Speaking of Keaton, it’s such fun to see him play a bad guy. With his devilish grin and arched eyebrows, he gives Toomes a pulse along with ample brainwaves.  I always respond to villains that aren’t out to take over the world but to reclaim what they think was taken from them and Toomes joins a long list of Spider-Man foes that have personal reasons for going bad. Zendaya Coleman, Marisa Tomei (Love the Coopers), Jacob Batalon, and Laura Harrier round out the cast and all (but especially Batalon) make for a strong support system for Peter and the film.

With a few unexpected twists (there’s at least two reveals I didn’t see coming) and edge of your seat thrills that are sure to inspire furious popcorn munching, Spider-Man: Homecoming is worth your time and your attention.  If your Spidey senses aren’t tingling from the opening logos played over the old-school title tune, they will be once Holland and company get down to business.  This being a Marvel movie, you gotta stay until the very end for one of the more meta post credit sequences to date.