In which I finally saw SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME

Spider-Man: Far From Home holds the dubious distinction of being the Marvel movie that it took me the longest to get around to seeing. I’ve seen nearly all of them on opening weekend, excepting only this, maybe one of the Thor movies, and Avengers: Endgame, which was derailed for a few weeks by the Ongoing Medical Calamity beginning on the day it was released. This one not only came out during the Calamity but also released on a weekend when I was at a convention and thus out of town. As we don’t really have family-based babysitters available at the moment, we just … never got around to it, until I abruptly remembered it existed and rented it from iTunes last night.

And … meh? Let’s go with meh.

That’s not entirely fair, as basically everything I liked about the first movie was also something I liked about the second, in particular Tom Holland and Zendaya’s performances. Holland is indisputably my favorite onscreen Spider-Man by an impressive margin, and Zendaya does a great job shifting as needed between a sort of forbidding cool and unwilling teenage awkwardness. Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan also probably has his best turn on-screen, and listening to him and Peter talk about Tony is one of the film’s highlights, especially the scene on the plane toward the end of the movie. No, it’s the story that falls down here, and about half of what I didn’t like about the movie is actually Avengers: Endgame’s fault.

To keep it brief, because this isn’t a review of Endgame, a post I never actually wrote: the basic plot of this movie makes no goddamned sense at all, because literally every second of time where Tony Stark knows Spider-Man is alive is on screen in that movie, and then Tony dies, and there is no time at all for him to set up even a single second of the machinations that this film depends on for its plot. My wife made the argument that he set everything up in advance believing that they would be successful and undo the effects of what this movie calls the Blip, and I suppose that’s an argument you can make but I can’t buy it. That’s not a Tony Stark thing, that’s Batman-level planning, and frankly “let me pin a lot of the future of my tech on this dead person coming back to life right before I die” is probably a planning stretch even for Batman.

(Frankly, I feel like the Blip is probably the worst possible way they could have solved the immense story problem that Avengers: Infinity War set up, but that’s a whole other post, and I never wrote it. I think the idea is heinously dumb, and Endgame had a ton of great moments but overall the movie was a clusterfuck.)

The other problem is that I either don’t understand how Mysterio’s powers work in this setting, at all, or I do understand how they work and they’re dumb as hell. So unlike the traditional comic book Mysterio, who actually is able to trigger hallucinations, all of Movie Mysterio’s abilities are linked to these Stark drones that are creating holograms, right? Real holograms, that have no physical presence and aren’t, like, made of hard light or some other fanwank type of stuff? And all of the destruction that the holograms cause in the movies is actually caused by the drones, which, I dunno, blew up the giant column that the hologram just supposedly punched, only without leaving any physical evidence (like, say, bullets) behind? I mean, at no point during the movie is it implied that these drone-things are battering rams. The hologram, which is pre-programmed except where it isn’t, punches something and it looks like it got punched to death, only what actually happened is that the robots shot it or hit it with a rocket or something, and doesn’t the fire monster melt a whole lot of shit? Was that shit actually melted or are we just not supposed to think about that? How much water during the water-monster’s attack was holographic? Did no one wonder where that water went?

(Also: Spider-Man’s powers are kind of fundamentally useless against giant monsters made of water or fire, which is why in both of those battles he doesn’t actually fight the monster, he just jumps around tossing (useless) rocks or trying his best to keep giant things from falling over. The final fight against the drones is awesome, but these were bad giant monster choices for a Spider-Man movie. And part of the reason they had to set it up this way– were the rocks he threw real, by the way? Where did they actually land, since they didn’t hit the monster?– was because if he had ever tried to punch the thing he would have realized it wasn’t real, because Mysterio’s powers in this movie are real real dumb.)

(Did no one notice the giant fire monster wasn’t hot?)

Anyway: they literally show Mysterio rehearsing one of the fights, for crying out loud. So this is all set up in advance. The holograms at times involve Peter’s clothing. And they make a big deal about how Peter uses his “Peter tingle” (I don’t think these films have ever used the phrase “spider-sense,” and I thought “Peter tingle” was hilarious) to fight the last batch of drones, only there should never have been a moment in the movie where the holograms activated his spider-sense and he should have noticed that. All of which could have been avoided if Mysterio’s abilities had been a combination of hard-light, actually physical manifestations of something or another and hallucinogenic gases like the comic book character’s are, which could have plausibly interfered with the, uh … Peter-tingle.

I dunno, maybe this is inside baseball comic-book geek stuff, but that’s what I am, and this film fell down in a bunch of ways that I’m not used to seeing from Marvel movies. I am, for the first time, not hugely psyched about a decent-sized swath of the upcoming MCU product, although there’s certainly a lot that I am, and, well, I set up my Disney+ subscription yesterday, so they’ve got my money. But this is definitely a lower-tier Marvel movie for me despite my affection for the cast. And you’ve already seen it, so chances are I’m not talking anybody out of it, right? We’ll see how long it takes me to get into the theater for Black Widow when that finally comes out.

EDIT, A FEW HOURS LATER: I’m apparently still thinking about this, and this is absolutely one of those movies that keeps falling apart more the longer you think about it. And what the hell is Mysterio’s long-term plan here? Because he keeps making noises about being a big giant (fake) hero like some sort of low-rent Syndrome from The Incredibles, only Syndrome’s gadgets gave him actual abilities and his plan to sell them to everybody made sense, and Mysterio just has his fake holograms, which he apparently wants to continue to use to be Earth’s Mightiest (fake) Hero and not, like, make a giant pile of money or something like that, which seems like a better use for the technology? Dude literally needs a scriptwriter because he can’t think on his feet fast enough, and the one time he has to ad-lib he blows the whole thing and Nick Fury figures out he’s a fake. Are we supposed to notice he’s an idiot? Was that the idea?

What’s this dumbass gonna do when Galactus shows up? Did Earth acquire no new heroes during the Blip? Is his plan to continue to just fake being a superhero, like, forever? How is this not the biggest Underpants Gnome plan of all time?

Bah.

Also, and this will probably be dealt with in future films, and is more a Hmm That’s Interesting than a plot problem, but how long have those two Skrulls from Captain Marvel been running around pretending to be Nick Fury and Maria Hill? Was that actually Fury and Hill who got dusted during the Snappening, or the Skrulls? Because that would actually be kind of cool if the Skrulls have been letting Hill and Fury do double-duty all this time and Fury’s actually been chilling in orbit. My wife pointed out that Real Fury probably doesn’t let Skrull Fury have Captain Marvel’s beeper, which is a legit point, but it’s still fun to think about.

On future nerd shit

You, uh, may have heard that Marvel Studios’ SDCC panel was yesterday. I have some thoughts.

I haven’t actually seen Spider-Man: Far from Home yet, due to a vile combination of Ongoing Medical Calamity and raw timing making it difficult to get out to movies. I think this is the farthest out from release weekend it’s ever taken me to get to one of these movies. Hopefully sometime this week. But! I was on Twitter and io9’s live blog last night during their panel (why why why wasn’t it being streamed?) and … well, here we go:

EXCITEMENT LEVEL: MEDIUM-LOW. Not terribly psyched about this except insofar as it’s going to be a return for the MCU to lower-tech spy films in the vein of Winter Soldier except even more, which ought to be awesome, and it looks like Taskmaster is the villain, which is double awesome. High hopes, but I’m not jumping up and down over it.

EXCITEMENT LEVEL: MINIMAL. I have been reading Marvel comic books since I was nine. I have never heard of a single character in this movie. I can tell you nothing. I’ll see it, because I don’t miss Marvel movies, but only to see how they tie it in with everything else. The cast looks great, but other than that if you’ve just heard about this movie reading about it just now you know as much about it as I do.

EXCITEMENT LEVEL: MODERATE-HIGH. I don’t have any particular fondness for Shang-Chi as a character, but the notion of the real Mandarin making his way into the MCU has me salivating. I just wish it was in an Iron Man movie like it was supposed to be. That said, they’ve been talking about the Ten Rings since the first Iron Man, so there’s a lot to do here. Also, while I’d never heard of Simu Liu, who will be playing Shang-Chi, before yesterday, his Twitter feed has rapidly turned him into one of my favorite Internet people.

EXCITEMENT LEVEL: EXTRAORDINARY. I’m not the biggest fan of Doctor Strange as a character, and I’m not the biggest fan of the first Doctor Strange movies– in fact, if I was forced to rank the Marvel films, it would be close to the bottom. But the notion that they’re selling this as a horror film, and the phrase “Multiverse of Madness,” and the fact that the Scarlet Witch is going to play a large role in it? Take my fucking money. All in.

EXCITEMENT LEVEL: QUITE HIGH. It would be higher if I didn’t know that the Jane Foster Thor would be played by Natalie Portman, who I loved almost at an indecent level as a younger man and have grown increasingly bored with as the years have gone on. The fact that they’ve got her back for the movie after having to cut around Jane in Endgame probably speaks volumes about the quality of the script, or at least the quality of the check, but yeah, I’m looking forward to this one quite a lot.

EXCITEMENT LEVEL: TAKE MY FUCKING MONEY. Literally the only thing I know about this– as far as I know, they didn’t even announce the release date– is that Mahershalalhashbaz Ali is playing Blade.

Mahershala Ali is playing Blade. Okay, technically this is double-casting, because he was Cottonmouth in the first season of Luke Cage, but there is nothing I will not watch Mahershala Ali in. Nothing. I am all over this.

EXCITEMENT LEVEL: VARIOUS. It remains to be seen if the Disney+ streaming series will be tied into the MCU any more thoroughly than the Netflix shows were, which is to say, not at all, and the fact that they recast Mahershala Ali shows how little respect they have for those shows. But they’re putting movie actors into these shows, and talking about them at the MCU panel, so they’re probably gonna be tied in pretty close. That said, this is probably going to sell me a (reluctant, annoyed) Disney+ subscription, because:

Fuuuuuuuuuhuhuhuck the fuck yes Monica Rambeau confirmed as an adult in the MCU. EXCITEMENT LEVEL: IN NEED OF TIME TRAVEL GIVE IT TO ME NOW. I don’t know that the name Spectrum or any of her other superheroic identities were actually confirmed at the panel (she’s my Captain Marvel and she always will be) so it may be that she doesn’t have powers at first, but her presence in the ridiculously named Wanda Vision means that I have to see it, which means I may as well watch all four. And, I guess, The Mandalorian while I’m at it.

Interestingly, while they said “they’re coming” about sequels to Black Panther, Captain Marvel and Guardians of the Galaxy and left with a vague allusion to “mutants” and an actual Goddamn Marvel Fantastic Four movie, no dates for any of them. So Phase Four is going to be mostly dedicated to expanding the MCU again, which I’m all good with.

Other, non-MCU stuff: I’m really looking forward to the Dark Crystal Netflix series and while I want to be excited about Picard I haven’t managed to watch the trailer yet, which … yeah. If there’s anything else I should know about it hasn’t penetrated the fog yet, so tell me about it in comments and I’ll react.

In which I’m only saying this one time, damn it

TRIGGER WARNING: HEAVY GEEK CONTENT.

Let’s talk about Nick Fury’s beeper.

And by “let’s talk,” what I really mean is “I’m going to talk, and you’re going to listen,” because while I probably should not stoop to taking the bait here, the manbabies have gotten on my nerves again, and this time they’re taking people who don’t particularly pay attention to Marvel movies with them, and the result is a whole lot of dumb for what is actually a perfectly goddamned rational decision and I am tired of it and this is my blog and it’s this or telling you to send money to Pete Buttigieg again so siddown and read goddammit.

Nick Fury’s pet project for all of Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was to get the Avengers Initiative up and running. We see at the end of Captain Marvel that she is the literal inspiration for the Avengers. That she named the goddamn Avengers, in fact. Nick Fury is not present for the finale of any of the Phase One MCU films, and most of them, frankly, have minor stakes. The one with the highest stakes is Captain America: the First Avenger, but Fury doesn’t have a big role in that film because it’s set in 1945.

Why does he not call Captain Marvel at the end of Avengers, when aliens are invading Earth? Because the goddamn Avengers are there. That’s his whole damn deal. The Avengers can protect Earth from threats that conventional military can’t. He blatantly uses Agent Coulson’s death to manipulate the team into pulling together, remember? There’s no way he calls Captain Marvel down to rescue his team on their first major mission together unless they blow it, and they don’t.

The Phase Two movies are Iron Man 3, which does not feature a world-ending emergency, Thor: The Dark World, which does not take place on Earth, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which features SHIELD crumbling into tiny little bits and isn’t really a thing that Captain Marvel could have helped with much, Guardians of the Galaxy, which also doesn’t take place on Earth, and Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, where, again, Fury has the Avengers, who have shit well in hand and Captain Marvel’s “for emergencies only” beeper is not necessary. After Age of Ultron but before Phase 3 we have Ant-Man, which he doesn’t appear in, and Captain Marvel is not required to beat up Yellowjacket at the end of the film.

Phase 3 is much of the same. Three films (Guardians 2, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther) take place in either outer space or a part of Earth that Fury has no way to reach. Captain America: Civil War, despite being a tremendously important character movie, has such low stakes that I bet you can’t name the villain. Fury doesn’t appear in Doctor Strange or Spider-Man: Homecoming, and wouldn’t have used the pager if he had.

And then he uses the pager in Infinity War. Why? Because the Avengers are no longer a thing, because they make sure to have Maria Hill point out that Tony Stark is missing right away, and because there has already been an alien invasion in New York and wherever in Germany (right?) the Vision and Scarlet Witch were, and by the time they hear about the battle in Wakanda they know that it’s “ten times” the size of the initial NYC invasion …

… and then Maria Hill dies right in front of him. And it’s abundantly clear that some serious shit is going on, and the helicopter crashes, and at that point he practically knocks somebody over to get to the backseat of the SUV they’re driving to get to the beeper and summon Captain Marvel immediately, because now we have a fucking emergency, y’all. Because we very clearly need somebody, and the movie has made sure to set things up to make it equally clear that they have nobody. Remember: he doesn’t even know Thor and Hulk are on Earth. He doesn’t know where Cap is. He’s got nobody, so he calls Captain Marvel.

Because, yes, this really is the first “emergency” we’ve seen since he got handed the beeper.

Now shut up.

The end.

#REVIEW: CAPTAIN MARVEL

Traditional Facebook Blurb Spoiler-Free Bluster Zone: The one very very minor spoiler that I wanted to make sure I knew before going into Captain Marvel was whether Stan Lee had a cameo in it or not. I wasn’t sure how the filming schedule timed out with his passing last year, and I know they tend to film his cameos in bunches, so it wasn’t immediately clear. I discovered two things: one, there was “a tribute” to him immediately, and two, yes, there was a cameo, and there will be one more, for a film that hasn’t been named yet but, c’mon, it’s Avengers: Endgame, because of course it is.

Well, for quite possibly the first time in human history the goddamn production company’s five-second logo video made half the audience cry. Like, I’m struggling right now writing about it. It was perfect. And his cameo is perfect, too– apparently they reshot Larson’s reaction to him after he passed away, and that little smile on her face when she sees him is a deliberate change to acknowledge that he was gone– even if it introduces a hilariously complicated rat’s nest of continuity craziness if you start thinking about it.

Okay, that’s probably long enough. Spoilers ho, y’all. Everything. And, really, this movie does have a nice twist or two, especially if you were already a comic book person going in. If you aren’t, less so.


I’ll put the tl;dr in the first paragraph: While I love the character, and this movie’s high points are tremendous, overall this is a high second-tier Marvel film for me; that first tier being in no particular order Iron Man, Avengers, Infinity War, Winter Soldier, Civil War and Black Panther. This movie has an awful lot of fucking work to do, and in a lot of ways that ends up dragging the overall experience down a bit.

Positives:

  • Brie Larson. I was neutral on her casting at first– my preferred actress would have been Katee Sackhoff, and I wasn’t familiar with Larson at all, but she’s great in the role. Just great.
  • Lashana Lynch and Akira Akbar, who play Maria and Monica Rambeau, respectively. Their relationship is great, their relationship to Carol Danvers is great, and as someone who has been clamoring to see my Captain Marvel on screen for over a decade, I was literally jumping up and down when I found out Monica was actually in the movie. I presume that we’ll see her, unfortunately portrayed by an older actress, in Endgame or another future film, but Akira Akbar is amazing, guys. Loved every second these two were on screen.
  • Goose the cat, and actually getting to hear the line “That’s not a cat, that’s a flerken!” uttered by one of the characters on-screen.
  • The twist with the Skrulls was great; I had commented to my wife on the drive to the theater that I was a little bit worried because in general as a storytelling device I find the Skrulls kind of tiring because every single fucking thing always boils down to “Is he a Skrull? Is she a Skrull? How long has he been a Skrull? How long has she been a Skrull?” and there’s a little bit of that but they actually manage to come up with a way to use them that was fresh and genuinely unexpected.
  • Despite my reservations on the whole memory-loss thing, I found Captain Marvel’s overall arc in the story to be pretty damn good, and by the end of the movie she is absolutely the hero I wanted her to be. I just wish the trailers hadn’t spoiled the “getting up” sequence from the end of the film, because it ends up being pretty damn pivotal and I’d have preferred to be seeing it for the first time on screen.
  • Similarly, having Annette Benning be Mar-Vell and not Jude Law like everyone assumed was a nice touch.
  • Did I mention there’s a flerken in this movie? Because that’s a flerken. My wife has been so confused with my insistence on yelling “FLERKEN!” every time any trace of cat shows up in any of the promo stuff for this movie. She gets it now, and she wants an orange cat.
  • Flerken.
  • If God loves me, there will be at least a brief sequence between Rocket and Goose in Endgame.
  • I really like the relationship between CM and Nick Fury, and I like the subtle way that Sam Jackson plays Fury as younger, less burdened, and a much looser character. If anything I feel like this part of the movie could have used a few more minutes.
  • Nice touch, releasing the film on International Women’s Day.

Stuff that I maybe didn’t like quite as much:

  • As I said, this movie’s got a lot of work to do, and has a lot of elements piled on top of it: HEY LOOK! IT’S THE NINETIES! HEY LOOK! SAM JACKSON AND CLARK GREGG ARE WAY YOUNGER! HEY LOOK! NICK FURY DOESN’T HAVE HIS EYEPATCH! I WONDER WHEN HE’S GONNA LOSE HIS EYE? HEY LOOK! ORIGIN STORY! HEY LOOK! IT’S THE TESSERACT, AND YOU’RE EVENTUALLY GONNA FIGURE OUT THAT THE TIMELINE IS CONSISTENT BUT IT’S GONNA TAKE A MINUTE! HEY LOOK! SHAPESHIFTING ALIENS! HEY LOOK! MEMORY LOSS STORY! And a lot of these things are kind of distracting, and ultimately the weight of all this extra shit just kinda drags the film down in a way that weirdly I don’t want to blame on the movie itself, but I should, because it’s not like Marvel didn’t decide to put all this stuff in there, and they could have made different storytelling decisions, up to and including not waiting over ten years and 20 movies to introduce Captain fucking Marvel to the MCU.
  • Look at how long that sentence is. Jesus.
  • Because of all this, the movie needed some more space to breathe at a couple of points that it didn’t get. It moves fast, and while I did like the relationship between Danvers and Fury they just flat trust each other too goddamn fast because they have to to keep the story moving. Similarly, I would actually like to have seen some more of Carol’s time as an Air Force cadet, but I understand why it’s not in there (and the single line “you know why it’s called a cockpit, right?” does a lot of work.)
  • And it puts some weird pressures on Endgame, too, right? Like, part of me kind of expects Endgame to be, if not Captain Marvel 2, at least Captain Marvel 1.5. I love that they included Monica Rambeau as a ten-year-old in this movie but if they didn’t put Monica Rambeau as a grown-ass woman with awesome powers into Endgame I’m gonna be pissed. And the whole Rocket/Goose thing. And I know Endgame is already three hours long and I’m pretty sure it still doesn’t have time to tie up loose ends from Captain Marvel.
  • WHERE THE FUCK IS KAMALA KHAN okay she hasn’t actually been born yet STILL DAMMIT
  • (A way around this: I’ve talked about how I want to see Riri Williams in the stingers for Endgame. If Endgame has, like, six stingers, each doing a brief intro for a new MCU character picking up the reins after Captain America and Iron Man die heroically, I will be a very happy man who is crying like a tiny baby.)
  • Captain Marvel being the actual first Avenger, and not Captain America, is both kinda goofy and kinda hilarious, because the manbabies were already mad about this movie and this is gonna make it so much worse.
  • Not a huge deal, but why are all the Kree blue except for the actors who have enough clout to not want to be slathered in blue makeup? I’m good with them having a variety of skin shades, but it’s kinda strange that ALL of them are blue except for the two white ones and the one black one.
  • So, are all the other Stans Lee that have shown up in all the other movies Skrulls? Because Stan Lee was playing Stan Lee in this movie, on his way to audition for a movie role where he plays himself. So are there Marvel Comics about the Marvel Comic characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, since we have actual Stan Lee, who is important enough to still be in Mallrats SHUT UP BRAIN

I feel like I’m forgetting to talk about something important, so I reserve the right to add to this as the day goes on. Don’t get me wrong, guys; this is a good, solid Marvel movie, I’m just not doing backflips over it like I have several of the recent ones, and in this particular case the things that were odd or a little off are more personally interesting to talk about. And every dollar Captain Marvel earns makes a manbaby cry! That, in and of itself, is reason for all good Americans to go see this six times. So. Begone, and then come back and talk to me about it.

In which I watch commercials for movies and talk about them

So this came out yesterday, luckily just in time for me to catch it during my last-minute Twitter readthrough on my phone before going into work Friday morning.  

This is a thing I do, by the way.  My son has to be at school quite a bit before I do.  Every morning I take him to school, go to McDonald’s, get a Sausage McMuffin with cheese and a large coffee with five cream and five sugar, then drive to work and sit in the parking lot and surf my phone and eat my McMuffin.  I am weirdly invested in the idea that I don’t just get out of my car and go to work just because I’ve arrived at work.  I decide that it’s time to go into work.  It’s an active choice.  It’s a weirdly empowering thing.

Anyway, I watched this twice on my phone and then went inside, somewhat surprised that I wasn’t as buzzed as I thought I’d be.  I mean, part of it is the tone; it’s hard to get super excited about a trailer that is so clearly deliberately designed to be a downer.  But in some ways this is the only trailer they can actually make right now– this has got to be the hardest movie to do early promotion for ever, because so damn much about it counts as a spoiler, and even just showing most of the characters on screen is going to reveal substantial things about the movie that the filmmakers clearly don’t want us to know.  

I note a couple of things that intrigue me:

  • Clearly there’s a timeskip.  If Civil War was “years” ago, there was a timeskip.   I know we all suspect time travel is going to be a part of this movie, but I love the idea that we’re going to even temporarily see what the world is like after the Snappening.
  • Thanos is limping and missing most of his pinky finger.  
  • I want to see Shuri as the Black Panther.
  • There’s some griping online about the subtitle?  I dunno why.  It’s fine.
  • So, do you think that Pepper Potts is going to be suiting up as Rescue and collecting Tony, or is this where they introduce Captain Marvel?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m still hugely excited about this movie.  There’s little that’s going to change that.  I’m just not bouncing off the walls about the trailer like I thought I would.

Meanwhile …

Now now now now now NOW NOW NOW GODDAMMIT NOW

*cough*

So, yeah.  I’ve clearly got some enthusiasm left in me somewhere.