The Jakarta Post
At this point in Marvel Studios’ reign, you must have already made up your mind about whether their brand of massive superhero spectacles is up your alley.
Looking at the record-breaking box office success of Avengers: Endgame – the gargantuan conclusion to the third phase of the film company’s long-form storytelling experiment – smart money says you have at least a degree of fondness for this seemingly endless mega-franchise.
If so, then you’d be delighted to learn that Spider-Man: Far From Home is exactly what a devoted fan has come to expect from a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) entry. Per the MCU tradition, Far From Home is designed from the ground-up to appeal to those who have developed considerable emotional investment in the humongous franchise as a whole.
Those of you still reeling from the events of Endgame need not worry. The filmmakers have intended Far From Home as a feel-good therapy session of sorts, ensuring you that everything will remain as safe and comfy as it was in the olden days of the franchise’s first couple of phases, despite the lasting repercussions of the last film’s universe-altering exploits. Rest assured, it will be money well-spent for you.
That said, there is a disturbing aspect to the franchise’s adherence to narrative safety that begins to surface in its 23rd entry. For every lip-service to finality, the MCU somehow always finds a new excuse to fall back on an established formula that keeps the franchise going in perpetuity. The MCU, once the scrappy poster boy of a novel business model, is now starting to run on fumes.
Far From Home picks up where Endgame left off, five years after Thanos’ intergalactic genocide – an event known as The Blip among teenagers. Peter Parker (Tom Holland), Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man himself, has returned from the abyss of death in the previous film to finish high school. Before you know it, it’s business as usual – he hangs out with his chum Ned (Jacob Batalon) and busies himself with after-school superheroics. Of course, his crush on MJ (Zendaya) remains as true as ever.
The class goes on a field trip to Europe, something that these teenagers sorely need to distract themselves from the lasting trauma of The Blip. However, the sudden appearances of destructive creatures, known as The Elementals, and the enigmatic Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Italy force the class to re-think their itinerary.
Aided by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of S.H.I.E.L.D., Spider-Man is thrust into a battle against mysterious forces as he struggles to strike a balance between his superhero career and his mundane teenage life.
Far From Home takes several cues from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, mainly the latter’s themes of growing up and taking on responsibilities. Like Tobey Maguire before him, Holland’s Peter Parker also tries his best to reconcile what he truly wants (being with MJ) with what the world expects of him (being a selfless Avenger). Such internal conflict provides the film with superficially engaging dramatic beats, as Peter realizes that he must learn skills other than punching bad guys to a pulp. In today’s parlance, he has to master the art of adulting.
However, this hint of character growth is immediately offset by Peter’s already botched character arc over the last three MCU entries – Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. His journey throughout the film turns out to be one giant false note as the audience learns that virtually nothing in the film is of consequence.
In Homecoming, Peter decided to abandon his dreams of becoming an Avenger because he realized there would’ve been no one left to protect Brooklyn had he joined Iron Man and Captain American on globe-trotting missions. Then came along Avengers: Infinity War, whose plot required Peter to leave his earthbound neighborhood and be knighted as an Avenger to fight Thanos on an alien planet. Endgame further tested the suspension of disbelief as it quite literally resurrected Peter, who died in the previous film.
It is obvious at this point that the MCU capitalizes on narrative reversals. Almost every bold creative decision that the franchise has taken up until this point has been revealed as a fraud. Even something as final as death can always be undone somehow through sophomoric plot contrivances. Only expired contracts guarantee certain death.
In Far From Home, the MCU once again teases topical ideas, like the very nature of cinematic illusions and the current trend of hoaxes. However, in true MCU fashion, the film immediately chickens out, opting instead to maintain the established status quo.
More than anything, Far From Home is Marvel Studios’ most blatant statement of power. It asserts that it is able to effortlessly woo the audience as long as it casts charming actors and re-heats its decade-old formula. It posits that it, too, understands criticism from casual fans and fools them into thinking that it’s laughing at itself too.
When we criticized the film company for its lack of cast diversity, it went on to produce Black Panther. When we asked the studio for a female-led superhero film, it went on to produce Captain Marvel. And finally, when the company heard about superhero fatigue and what it means to the future of its brand, it went on to create Spider-Man: Far From Home — a cynical corporate spectacle about how cynical corporate spectacles are inherently insidious.
Through Far From Home, the MCU aggressively tries to seize control of the pop cultural discourse surrounding itself. In this regard, it is more Mysterio than Spider-Man. (kes)
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