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.

#REVIEW: SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

So.

Standard disclaimer, as always.  Y’all have seen movie reviews from me before.  You know what I’m like when I like something.  And Miles Morales has, since almost immediately after he was introduced, been one of my all-time favorite comic book characters.  He’s up there with the Hulk, Iron Man, and Superman.  I have been waiting for a Miles Morales Spider-Man movie for a long time. 

(Now I’m just waiting for a movie with goddamn Ganke in it, but that’s another story.)

So you already knew I liked this movie.  There would have been a shift in the fabric of the universe if I hadn’t liked it and absolutely everyone would have noticed it.  Did you notice a shift in the fabric of the universe last night, around 10:30, as I was walking out of the theater?  No, you did not.  Of course I liked the fucking movie.  It’s Goddamned brilliant.  It’s so good it made me forgive them for what I initially thought was the kind of dodgy decision to make Miles’ movie animated instead of live-action.

(It’s not dodgy.  This movie would have been impossible as live-action.  They made a better movie by making it animated.  It needed to be animated.)

So put that all aside.  I want to talk to the two or three of you who don’t care about superheroes or superhero movies and for some reason come to this blog anyway.  

You need to see this movie because it’s one of the most amazing animated films ever made.  

You need to see it as a cultural artifact, guys, of what cutting-edge technology can do in 2018.  The movie could have been about anything and I’d be recommending it because of how absolutely incredible it looks.  I was talking to one of my oldest friends about it last night– he was lucky enough to see it last week, and told me at the time that words couldn’t do it justice.  Last night, he made the point that the movie is expectations-proof, because there’s nothing that can prepare you for what it’s actually like to see this on the big screen.

And you need to see it on the best, biggest movie screen you can reasonably get to.  This movie needs to win about four thousand awards even before we get to the part where the story is incredible too.  This movie gets Miles, y’all.  It understands this character thoroughly.  It understands Spider-Man thoroughly, in a way that most of the live-action movies maybe haven’t always.  The voice acting and the casting are outstanding.  The character design– this movie’s versions of the Kingpin, the Scorpion, the Green Goblin, and especially Dr. Octopus are fantastic.  The music is superb.  This movie succeeds on every level but one, which is that it’s gonna scare the crap out of my son so I can’t take him to see it.  

Oh, and the stinger at the end and the tribute to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, both of whom passed away this year?  

I am lucky enough to be married to a woman who is not only willing to go to this neverending series of geek movies with me, but who genuinely enjoys them.  She called Into the Spider-Verse her favorite superhero movie last night.  And this was one of those movies, I think, where she was mildly interested but might have skipped the movie were it not for me pushing to see it.  I can’t be trusted; I know that.  She can.  This one’s something really special, y’all.  And it ain’t like you’ve got anything else to do until next week when Aquaman comes out.  Go see it.  

SPIDER-MAN PS4: Final verdict

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I am, in general, very skeptical of “give it a chance, it gets good later on” types of arguments for anything I had to spend $60 to get.  For $60 you need to be fun in five minutes and you need to stay fun for however long your game ends up being, and I’d rather have a lean, entertaining 30-hour game than a 100-hour game filled with … well, filler.

I’m nonetheless very, very glad I stuck this one out– I just beat it half an hour or so ago, although I’ve left a number of the mop-up tasks for later.  I may or may not get back to them.

But: forget the game for a moment.  Spider-Man PS4 is one of the best Spider-Man stories I have ever encountered, in any medium.  Comics, movies, whatever.  And even that, as I said in the piece from earlier today, takes a good long time to get rolling.  But once it does … wow.  I was in tears during the final act.  I’m not gonna bullshit around.  I’m a grown-ass man and a video game just made me cry because the story was that good and they get this character that thoroughly.  Fucking tears.

And then, the three movie-style stingers after the credits?

*kisses fingers*

Can’t wait for the sequel.  And if they put the same people in charge of writing it, I’m not gonna have shit to say about the gameplay.   Because with a story this good, I’ll chase fucking pigeons all day if I have to.

In which I’m still going on about this

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Yeah, I know.  Another Spider-Man post.  Lucky for you, this website’s free.

I’ve quit playing this game forever at least three times now.  There are still a number of things about it that are enormously goddamned annoying, most of them related to the endless number of side tasks they put all over Manhattan for you to do.  Yes, I know I can ignore these things, but they’ve actually done a really good job of incentivizing hitting every stupid little glowy mark on the map and I’m enough of a completist that I have trouble ignoring shit like this even in games without good incentive systems.  I’ve got this game firmly slotted in Witcher 3 territory, another game I quit playing a whole bunch of times, where the shit that annoys me is just never going to stop being annoying and I need to focus on the stuff I like.

… which, holy shit, when this game is firing on all cylinders it is ridiculous.  And I got to a point last night where something happened that I absolutely wasn’t expecting to happen at all: the game surprised me.  Like, a lot.  At about the 70% mark.

That’s not a thing that happens very often.

It’s difficult to balance an open-world game properly, right?  These things must be utter hell to code.  You want your game to have some sort of main storyline, usually expressed with some sort of discrete mission structure, but you also want your players to explore, so you sprinkle a few dozen enemy bases and a few dozen side missions and a bunch of  things that you’ve scattered 40 of around the map for people to find and stuff like that.  This game has a mission where, no shit, you’re supposed to find and recapture a dozen pigeons for some random guy.  These pigeons fly at the speed of a military jet for some reason.  You gotta catch ’em all.

But the thing is, your “main story” missions have to be compelling enough that they get done, but not so compelling that players ignore all the other stuff that you want them to do.  You want them to be able to take a couple of hours and go hunt for backpacks or glowy orbs or whatever it is that you’ve scattered fifty of all over the place.  This will break immersion if your main missions have a ton of immediacy to them.

And up until the beginning of Act 3, I’d say Spider-Man wasn’t doing a bad job of straddling that line.  Do a mission, go find some backpacks, do a mission, clear out a couple of bad guy hideouts, do a mission, find some pigeons, take some pictures of New York landmarks, move on.

And then Act 3 hits, and the criminals at Riker’s Island all break out, and the criminals at the Raft, the nearby superpowered prison, all break out, and all the sudden Electro, Mr. Negative, the Rhino, the Vulture, the Scorpion and Doctor Octopus are all beating the shit out of you at the same time– not that it actually affects gameplay, but Spider-Man mentions fourteen broken bones the morning after escaping the beating– the whole fucking city is on fire and Doc Ock releases a massively contagious bioengineered virus that you quickly find out has already infected half a million people by the time the first mission properly ends.

Also, two of the six supervillains up there spend a big chunk of the game being mentors to Peter Parker, so there’s all kinds of personal angst wrapped up in suddenly discovering they’re evil.

Shit gets really darkreally quick, is what I’m saying, and all the sudden the idea that you’d stop doing missions to catch pigeons stops feeling like a fun diversion and more like criminal negligence.

I had to force myself to quit playing and go to bed last night, and I went several missions in a row back-to-back-to-back just because the conditions the game set up made it impossible for me to believe doing anything else was remotely reasonable.  Like, I hope shit goes back to normal soon, because there’s still a couple of pigeons out there that need catching.

(I hate catching pigeons.  But I’m going to do it anyway.)

Also, while I’d prefer to have a powered Miles Morales in the game, every single scene between him and Peter has been absolute gold.  This game gets Miles really, really well.  I want the sequel to star the kid.


Red Dead Redemption 2 came out on Friday.  The first RDR is one of my favorite games ever.  Reading between the lines of some of the early press, I’m worried that the sequel isn’t going to work for me. Part of the reason I’ve been playing Spider-Man so much this week is that I want it off my plate so I can play RDR2.  It would be deeply upsetting if I didn’t like this game, especially if I’m following my usual “I don’t like playing this game, and the whole rest of the world loves it” thing that I’ve been so good at for the past few years.

I will, of course, keep y’all posted, since it’s not like I talk about anything other than my PlayStation around here anymore.

Two quick #reviews and an update

UnknownREVIEW THE FIRST:  Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis.  This is going to be one of those reviews that is mostly complaining but then I tell you to read the book anyway, so just be prepared for that– it’s just that the weird stuff is more interesting.  Doomsday Book tells a story of a time traveler sent from 2048 to 1320.  In this future, time travel is part of how historians do their jobs, for the most part, although certain periods are considered too dangerous to send people back, and the machines they use to do the time travel are calibrated in such a way as to deny people travel if sending them back will cause paradoxes.

So Kivrin, one of the main protagonists, gets sent back to 1320, and then all sorts of shit goes wrong, including an epidemic in the “now” timeline (causing a massive quarantine) that may have been caused by sending her back.  Which is impossible, which kind of complicates things.

This book was published in 1992, but reads like it was written in the fifties or sixties, in that  other than time travel and some weirdly inconsistent advances in medicine the author appears to have anticipated exactly zero societal changes that were actually brought on by advanced technology.  Like, the internet existed in 1992, even if it was mostly AOL and local BBSes at the time, and most houses had a computer.  Willis appears to have believed that computers were a fad that were going to go away.  So her notion of future is kind of weird and charmingly retro, but her notion of past is excellent– the bits of the book set in the fourteenth century are phenomenally interesting, enough to make it much easier to ignore the weirdnesses of what is supposed to be 2048 where they seem to still be using rotary phones.  Which never work.   At times it almost seems like they’re going through operators to connect phone calls.

It’s also enormously and charmingly British, so be prepared for that.  The book won all sorts of awards, and it’s a great read, but be prepared to chuckle condescendingly at it in a couple of places.

51SX5APRP1L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_The second book of John Scalzi’s Interdependency series, The Consuming Fire, is out and I finished it today.  I liked the first one a hell of a lot– no surprise, as Scalzi has been a favorite for years– but didn’t write about it here.   The Consuming Fire suffers from a slightly meandering first third and takes a bit to get its legs underneath it but once it does it’s off to the races.  I like the basic premise of this series a lot– the Interdependency is an intergalactic human civilization (no aliens in this universe) headed by an Emperox, who is both a political leader and the leader of the church, and the different smaller human societies are joined by what are called Flow streams, which (more or less) are wormholes that connect one chunk of space to another and allow a properly-equipped ship to move substantially faster than light.  This has allowed the Interdependency to exist, as many of their civilizations can’t fully provide for themselves and so trade is absolutely necessary for their society to exist.

In the first book, the Flow streams started collapsing.  This is Bad.  In this book, it becomes clear that what first started out as a couple of lone scientists screaming about the slow-moving ecological and societal catastrophe (sound familiar?) has now become a real and present danger to human civilization.  The good thing is that the Emperox is on the side of the scientists.  The bad thing is that virtually no one else is, and the political machinations going on throughout the book are complicated and (ultimately) really satisfying.  Scalzi’s humor is on point throughout, although he’s kept a trend from the first book of giving spaceships really weirdly anachronistic names– there is a ship called The Princess is in Another Castle, for example, and I feel like there was one in the first book named after a Beatles song.

Still.  S’good.  Read it.

spiderman_negativeUPDATE:  I keep almost abandoning Spider-Man PS4, to the point where I’ve declared myself done with it at least twice and I keep going back to it.  It’s one of those frustrating games that keeps having bits that are entertaining and fun as hell and then four seconds later you’re screaming at the screen because of the absolute bugfuck stupidity of whatever Goddamned dumb thing the game is insisting you do next.  The research missions, in particular, so far are damn near unforgivable– they can be ignored, but I’m bad at ignoring shit in games like this and so far each research mission has found a new and different way to be absolutely insanely annoying in some way or another.  I’ll be perfectly happy to make it through the rest of the game without another fucking car chase, too, which are never not terrible.

Also: I think I mentioned this in my previous piece about this game, but guys?  Spider-Man doesn’t kill people.  Ever.  The only character more fanatical about not killing people than Spider-Man is Batman, and even that is only true for properly understood versions of the character.

This game has a reward for knocking 100 people off of buildings.  Like, there are occasional big fights on top of skyscrapers (in itself, kinda dumb) and the easiest way to be successful is to use moves that knock the bad guys back a lot because most of the time they’ll go sailing off the edge of the building and they’re dead.

No.

I will probably end up finishing this, but much like The Witcher 3, another game that I hated initially and only completed out of spite, I’m going to hate it about half the time I’m playing it.  But Read Dead Redemption 2 comes out in a few days and I need this one done and dusted by then.  So I need to beat it this week.