I don't much like Spiderman. That's Spiderman the character, as opposed to Spiderman the movie, which gets its own (mostly positive) review below. (And the more observant amongst you can tell what I mean by the fact I italicise the movie name and not the character!).
Like: I like super-hero and fantasy genres...and I loved the recent Avengers arc. But Spiderman aka Peter Parker has always struck me as just two degrees the wrong side of whiney and annoying. OK. Not entirely his fault. He's a kid (16-ish when this movie takes place) making all the, er, schoolboy errors you'd expect of a teen lad given the ability to take on the forces of evil pretty much single-handed.
Gauche, self-pitying: an appalling judge of character; with daddy issues. Because, of course, a recurring theme is not just the loss of Peter's father, but the lengths he will go to to establish a surrogate. Until Avengers Endgame, that was Tony Stark/ Iron Man. Here it is would-be super hero Quentin Beck / Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhall) who has Spidey (Tom Holland) feeling all filial, with less than perfect consequence.
New monsters, other-worldly hero...and a road trip
The set-up is simple. The film opens with Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) investigating the arrival of an “elemental” monster, somewhere in South America. There he encounters new hero, Beck, arrived from an alternate Earth, and learns of an oncoming threat to the planet.
Cut to New York homeliness where we quickly re-establish the Spideyverse. Aunt, May Parker (Marisa Tomei), May's suitor, Happy Hogan (Jeanne Favreau), geeky best mate Ned (Jacob Batalon). Oh: and not forgetting the love interest/ object of Peter's teen desire, MJ (Zendaya).
From here it is off on a school trip around Europe which eventually takes in Venice, Prague and London, and was in every way reminiscent of National Lampoon's European Vacation – a sort of on the road movie allowing film-makers to showcase Eurocultural backdrop with little additional plot justification.
Even the blurb for that film - “The Griswolds win a vacation tour across Europe where the usual havoc ensues” - could so simply be re-purposed by substituting Spiderman for the Griswolds!
And yes, of course. Havoc ensues, as more elementals show up, and Peter balances his desire to be a normal non-heroic teen with sense of duty, need to keep his identity secret and...his bumbling attempts to win MJ's heart. And he establishes new daddy relationship with Beck.
Decent film: a bridge to the new arc
So. Was it worth it? In the end, I decided to go watch after several people whose views on such stuff I respect (including my brother) delivered verdicts that it was quite good and a cut above the usual Spiderman saga. And they were not wrong.
If you can get past the annoying whininess, Spiderman done good! He took on the monsters, fought a major threat to a standstill, and grew up a bit. His relationship to MJ also progressed and – creds to Marvel – in the hands of Zendaya, this role progresses some way beyond the Damsel in Distress trope that has hitherto dogged MJ, into a recognisably teen cool: shades, in fact of Negasonic Teenage Warhead, of Deadpool fame!
Thumbs up, too, to a subversion of a trope much used in previous Spidey films: the bit where he takes MJ up into the air on one of his swingthru's of New York City and, instead of her going “Oh, Peter, how cool!”, she almost throws up and warns him never to do THAT again. Nice one.
Otherwise, this is a bridging movie, starting to clear the decks from the last Avengers Arc, beginning, tentatively, to set the furniture for the next one. There is interesting consideration of the impact of “the snap” which – now described as the blip – involved half the world's population disappearing for five years and then...re-appearing. Is that it, done and dusted? Or – it feels like so much plot potential is there.
Interesting, too, that with Beck comes the idea of the multiverse (fundamental to much of Marvel comics): the existence of parallel Earths and the possibility of travel between. That, if nothing else, feels like a massive plot hint for the future. As, too, the two (yes, two: but you have to wait for the second) post-credit scenes. Both, in their own way, wow!
And despite the teenishness of much of the action, the film shares with Captain America: Winter Soldier (still one of the more under-rated Marvel films) a consideration of contemporary issues. Not least, privacy, doxxing and fake news.
In the end, I guess I liked Spiderman/Peter Parker a bit more. But not by much.
On the other hand, Spiderman: Far From Home is not at all bad. Not my fave Marvel. But well worth a watch.
Three and a half stars.