Spider-Man: Far From Home review

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME

Director: Jon Watts
Cast : Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Jake Gyllenhaal, Cobie Smulders, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Martin Starr, JB Smoove, Marisa Tomei, Remy Hii, Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice
Genre : Action/Superhero
Run Time : 2 h 10 mins
Opens : 2 July 2019
Rating : PG

            With audiences still reeling from Avengers: Endgame, everyone wants to know where the MCU is going next. Phase 3 officially closes out with Spider-Man: Far From Home, which sees our favourite webhead make his way in a brave new uncertain world.

Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is about to go on a school trip to Europe, where he plans to confess his feelings to MJ (Zendaya). His plans are interrupted when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) comes calling with official superhero business. Monstrous beings known as the Elementals are attacking all over the world, and Peter and his classmates are caught in the path of Hydro-Man in Venice.

Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrives to battle the Elementals. He introduces himself as a soldier from a parallel reality in the multiverse, one that was destroyed by the Elementals. Mysterio and Spider-Man team up to fight the oncoming threats, as Spider-Man is entrusted with the responsibility of being the successor to Tony Stark/Iron Man. Peter must grapple with other-worldly threats and fend off Brad Davis (Remy Hii), his rival for MJ’s affections, in an adventure that further expands the jurisdiction of the “friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man”.

Spider-Man: Homecoming adeptly managed to be both a superhero movie and a high school coming-of-age movie, director Jon Watts pulling off a delicate balance. This continues to be the case in Far From Home, which combines the “let’s go to Europe!” sequel template of many films from the 80s with blockbuster superhero spectacle. This is the first Spider-Man movie to take place primarily outside New York, and that city is a big part of what makes Spider-Man who he is. As such, it is admirable that Far From Home consistently feels like a Spider-Man movie, because of its focus on Peter’s internal struggles, how he confronts his responsibilities, and the weight of his past failures.

In 2018, Ant-Man and the Wasp was released shortly after Infinity War, as sort of a sorbet course. Far From Home is a lighter movie than Endgame, but it’s also far from inconsequential. It is a high school romantic comedy, but it also addresses the realities of a post-Thanos world. Nick Fury proclaims that he used to know everything, and now he doesn’t and that scares him. Far From Home shows us where Spider-Man fits into this world, and how he accepts (or doesn’t) the mantle of Tony Stark’s protégé.

The action sequences in this movie are larger in scale and more ambitious than in Homecoming, involving disaster movie-style destruction of European landmarks. The visual effects work, especially on the Elementals, is convincing. Sequences in which a swarm of machine gun-equipped drones bear down on our heroes are effectively frightening. There’s a lot of spectacle to go around, but Watts ensures the movie never drowns in its own superhero excess. In its own way, the movie comments on the nature of spectacle and of how audiences go to movies like this to get their fill of large-scale destruction that is ultimately empty and hollow. The film also contains some genuinely inventive, trippy sequences of visual trickery and sleight of hand to make audience’s heads spin.

Tom Holland continues to be outstanding in the role, providing both the likeable awkwardness that’s integral to the character and the remarkable physicality he has honed since playing Billy Elliot on the West End. We see how Peter has evolved after the events of Infinity War and Endgame, but how his core remains the same, and how he remains a good person who’s just in a bit over his head. Even after going to space and fighting Thanos, Peter continues to search for normalcy in a world that’s anything but.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Mysterio, who is presented as a heroic figure in all the marketing materials and whom comic book readers immediately suspected of maybe not being super upfront about everything. Without going into any details, this is a role that Gyllenhaal soaks up. There are several times when he looks completely stupid, but it is always refreshing to see someone who has made a career as a ‘serious actor’ be game for some blockbuster silliness – and hey, this is many steps up from Prince of Persia.

Zendaya’s MJ wasn’t really fleshed out in Homecoming and gets a lot more to do in this film. MJ’s aloofness and dark sense of humour are defence mechanisms. She’s afraid to let anyone get too close, but Peter is determined to win her affection. The chemistry between Holland and Zendaya has a high school crush authenticity to it, and she is a watchable presence throughout the movie.

The movie still is a comedy, with Martin Starr and JB Smoove’s harried chaperone characters providing some of the humour. Jacob Batalon’s Ned, Peter’s best friend, becomes amusingly preoccupied with something other than his friendship with Peter in this movie.

Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan gets a subplot in which he develops feelings for Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), but also gets to step into the mentor role previously filled by Tony. Jackson gets second billing but doesn’t have a tremendous amount to do here.

While it gets a lot right, Far From Home does have its flaws. Certain characters are altogether too credulous, and even for a movie in the MCU, the suspension of disbelief demanded here is high. Attempts are made to explain said credulousness away; these are not entirely convincing. The film throws multiple twists at the audience, but it can feel like it’s trying too hard to keep viewers off balance.

          Spider-Man: Far From Home is mostly up to the task of defining where the MCU is headed post-Endgame, while also being a film that’s squarely focused on Spider-Man and on Peter Parker’s personal struggles. The mid-credits scene probably has the highest stakes of any mid-credits scene yet, and the movie isn’t done with the twists until the final post-credits stinger. The MCU has big plans for Spider-Man and we’re looking forward to seeing where further adventures take him.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

For F*** Magazine

JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK

Director : Edward Zwick
Cast : Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Austin Hebert, Patrick Heusinger, Aldis Hodge, Robert Knepper, Holt McCallany
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 58min
Opens : 20 October 2016
Rating : NC-16 (Violence)

jack-reacher-never-go-back-posterEnigmatic loner Jack Reacher (Cruise) is drifting back into theatres in this sequel to the 2012 action thriller. Reacher has been in contact with Major Susan Turner (Smulders), the commanding officer of his former Military Police unit. Turner has been assisting Reacher with cases across the country, and they’re finally about to meet face-to-face. When Reacher arrives in Washington, D.C., he discovers that Turner has been framed for espionage, after two of her men die in Afghanistan under mysterious circumstances. In the meantime, Reacher learns that a 15-year-old girl named Samantha (Yarosh) may or may not be his long-lost daughter. Reacher, Turner and Samantha go on the run, pursued by Captain Espin (Hodge) of the Military Police and a deadly mercenary known only as ‘the Hunter’(Heusinger). The Hunter reports to former general James Harkness (Knepper), who runs the private military firm Para Source, and who will stop at nothing to prevent the firm’s illegal activities from being exposed.

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Never Go Back is based on the 18th book in Lee Childs’ Jack Reacher series. Fans of the novels cried foul over Cruise’s casting: was there no one more suited to playing the gruff, blonde, 240 lb, 6’5” bruiser? Anyone who was dead set against Cruise as Reacher the first time will likely be unconvinced this time around. Replacing Christopher McQuarrie, the first film’s director, is Edward Zwick, who previously directed Cruise in The Last Samurai. This is solid, meat-and-potatoes action thriller stuff, layered with military procedure that’s mildly compelling at best. We do get some satisfyingly crunchy hand-to-hand fights and a tense foot chase set against a Halloween parade in New Orleans, but nobody’s intent on reinventing the wheel here. Things keep moving at a nice clip, but when the villains’ scheme is finally revealed, it’s rather underwhelming.

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While the action thriller beats are mostly generic, the character dynamics in Never Go Back shake things up a little. Reacher, Turner and Samantha are thrown together as an ad-hoc family unit: the strong silent type, the woman in charge and the moody teenager. Zwick finds just the right pitch such that the film has its intense, violent moments, but there’s also room for humour. The result is a movie that isn’t as downbeat and self-serious as it could’ve been, this lighter approach helping to offset the humdrum predictability of the main plot. There’s also a bit of a light shone on the plight of veterans who end up homeless or drug addicts after returning from combat abroad. Not an in-depth exploration of that serious topic by any means, but a glimpse of sobering reality in a largely inconsequential genre piece.

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There’s not too much to say about Cruise’s portrayal of Reacher because he never really becomes the character, he’s just Tom Cruise: action star. That’s not entirely a bad thing, because Tom Cruise the action star brings with him the charisma, confidence and physicality we’ve come to expect. At 54, he seems to be sprinting as fast as ever. It’s just that as portrayed in this and the previous Jack Reacher film, our hero is altogether too close to Ethan Hunt, Cruise’s character from the Mission: Impossible film series, when Reacher as described in the books should arguably be a little older and more wizened.

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If there’s one revelation out of this film, it’s that Smulders should totally be headlining more action flicks. In Never Go Back, she gets to kick significantly more ass than she has as Maria Hill in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. Turner uses a meat mallet and a garden hose as combat implements; Smulders acquitting herself well in the action scenes. She’s a performer with an innate likeability, and because Smulders isn’t as unyielding and severe as the stereotypical image of military woman is, it helps make Turner more of a well-rounded character. There’s a bit of a screwball back-and-forth between Turner and Reacher, and at no point does Turner come off as the designated love interest. This is something that we should be seeing more often in action thrillers.

Yarosh’s Samantha is the annoying tagalong kid through and through, but the character’s rough upbringing does earn her a bit of slack. It’s a role that would’ve been played by Kristen Stewart ten or so years ago. Hodge’s Espin, the guy whose job it is to pursue our protagonists but is just following orders, could’ve been plenty boring, but Hodge does bring the right amount of liveliness to the part.

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Never Go Back does suffer in the villain department: private military contractor bad guys are, by now, pretty old hat. Heusinger’s Terminator-esque assassin, sporting scary black gloves, is occasionally frightening but lacks truly formidable presence. Harkness, the general-turned-PMC boss, is a typical Robert Knepper character, which is to say, slimy and shady. Alas, he’s far from a match for Werner Herzog, who made quite the impact as The Zec in the first film in spite of his limited screen time.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is unambitious but never unwatchable. While Cruise’s talents were certainly put to better use in last year’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, it’s great seeing Smulders in action heroine mode, more than holding her own opposite a star of Cruise’s wattage.

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Summary: You’ve seen the military procedural stuff done better on TV, but a good number of action sequences and the somewhat unconventional action hero pairing of Tom Cruise and Cobie Smulders make this worthwhile.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong