Tag Archives: Marvel

Spider-Man: Far From Home puts the story back in Marvel superhero films

Spider-Man spun his web around movie theaters this weekend, and in all likelihood it’s going to be another blockbuster. Despite “superhero fatigue,” this installment of the franchise featuring Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) alter ego is likely to thrive. That’s primarily because it’s a good movie.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is a refreshing follow up to the weak plots and superhero cameo-heavy Avengers movies Infinity War and End Game. Spider-Man’s focus on a teenage superhero gives the screenwriters room to breath, and they use it effectively to propel the plot and build tension. 

The best part of Spider-Man is the character arc of Peter Parker. Wanting to be a superhero would seem to be a no-brainer — everyone aspires to save the world. At least according to Avengers and their supporters like Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). But Peter knows all too well the sacrifices that come with his role. He’s still a teenager who wants to do teenager things, like muster up the courage to tell the girl of his dreams (MJ, played by Disney star and singer Zendaya) how much he likes her. A high-school trip to Europe is the perfect opportunity.

Set in the aftermath of “the Blip,” when half the world’s population disappeared and then reappeared (see Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: End Game), the world is trying to get back to a new normal. Peter is still reeling from the loss of Tony Stark and other Avengers. The movie, however, doesn’t dip too much into the trauma of Stark’s death, except to dwell a bit on the personal loss of a friend and mentor. Stark’s passing, however, does more to push Peter toward being a normal teenager than confronting the loss of someone very close to him. 

The Earth, however, is faced with a new threat from another dimension, and Nick Fury summons Peter back into the Avengers fold. This time, he is assisting Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) in trying to stop the existential threat of what they all the Elementals. These monsters feed off the energy of the Earth’s core, only to destroy it. 

Spider-Man: Far From Home is solid action, but misses a few beats. It’s unclear during most of the movie, for example, how Spider-Man’s heroics really assist Mysterio in wrestling these new threats to the ground. To some extent, this superhero impotence is a subtext for the larger question Peter needs to face about his future as a superhero. 

To the movie’s credit, the graphics never get in the way of the action, plot, or the character development. The CGI is all used for specific reasons and purposes, and this helps hold the movie together. This is actually pretty important for the narrative in this movie. 

Spider-Man fans are likely to enjoy the movie. But Spider-Man: Far From Home also holds a lot of entertainment value for general audiences, too.

Dark Phoenix character-driven story swamped by superhero fatigue

Dark Phoenix limped into the box offices over its first weekend and seems destined to be a big-ticket flop. I have to wonder, however, if part of the movie’s under performance is due to superhero movie fatigue. Dark Phoenix brings a lot more onto the screen than previous movies, particularly in terms of story and well-defined characters.

This Marvel movie installment puts Jean Grey, aka Phoenix (Sophie Turner) at the center of the plot. Jean is brought to Charles Xavier’s (Charles McAvoy) school for mutants as an eight year old in the wake of a horrific car accident. She knows she is the cause of the accident that orphans her, and the resultant insecurity over her ability to control her mutant powers becomes central to Dark Phoenix. Intellectually, Jean knows, and wants, to use her powers to do good. But she is also torn by the confusion wrought by her natural-born tendencies to use her powers to destroy and dominate. When an alien race led by Vuk (Jessica Chastain) discovers a preternatural force occupies Jean and magnifies her mutant powers, Jean finds the dark side all too tempting.

Dark Phoenix is a character-driven movie with layers. While Jean Grey’s journey toward self-discovery provides the backbone to the movie, the screenwriters have paid attention to critical supporting characters as well. Xavier’s character in particular must grapple with the consequences of his decisions to shield Jean from the truth about her family and her past. Solid performances by Tye Sheridan (Cyclops), Jennifer Lawrence (Raven), and Nicholas Hoult (Beast) hold Xavier accountable for a superhero version of helicopter parenting that leaves Grey poorly prepared to deal with life as an adult.

Dark Phoenix slips into cgi excess with over the top urban destruction, but the plot nevertheless remains surprisingly focused. Overall, however, I found Dark Phoenix to have strong story lines that connect with real-world struggles of overcoming feelings of inadequacy, acceptance of natural abilities, and the challenges of conforming mainstream expectations. The movie’s strong thematic warning to parents who, despite their best intentions, allow their protective instincts to create a bubble that fails to equip their children with healthy coping skills also strengthens the story in substantive ways.