Growing up in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, I dreamed of one day moving to the great New York City.
There, I thought, I could be any one I wanted to be. A tough guy living in the Bronx, a hipster artist in Brooklyn, a wall street bro in Manhattan, a…uh…whatever Staten Island is known for, and of course a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man in Queens.
Okay so my obsession with the Big Apple started, and possible endured, because of Peter Parker and company. How could it not? I’ve watched, read, and even played along as Spider-Man web slings through the towering skyscrapers of the city, as he’s rested at the top of famous landmarks, and as he fought the bad guys and dodged the NYPD.
The city felt like a real character, a place as alive as any living thing. It was rough and filled with people with bad intentions. But it was also filled with friendly neighborhood Spider-Men and helpful citizens. The beauty of the city in the comics, movies, and video games is that it’s a part of Peter Parker’s DNA because it’s real and not hiding behind aliases like Gotham or Metropolis. It always felt so real and yet…oddly unobtainable.
Fast forward to this past 4th of July weekend and, in what you could call either an incredible coincidence or proof that the universe loves telling great stories, I found myself sitting in a theater in Queens, New York to watch the aptly named Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Yes I had just moved to the Big Apple a day prior and who else was there to welcome me? None other than Queens’ own Peter Parker and, yes I have to say it, we were both far from home.
(To be clear, I did not move to NYC because of a comic book character. I follow an odd path in my life but not THAT odd. I am, however, thrilled to be in a city filled to the brim with film history and I would like to take time to show my appreciation. Meaning, over the next few weeks I plan on posting reviews of classic New York films. I have an outrageous amount of choices but, if you do have any recommendations, please post them in the comments.)
And what better film to review first than the freshest, newest, latest movie set in NYC? That’s right, you might have guessed by now, Spider-Man: Far From Home, the only Spider-Man movie to NOT be based in New York City! Wait a minute…dammit. What are the odds?
Okay so besides the obvious lack of New York scenery (hey I saw Penn Station in the last scene so it counts OKAY?) Peter Parker is a New York icon and this film follows our favorite kid from Queens as he journeys outside of the city for a school trip overseas. And yes, to any New Yorkers reading this, you live in the greatest city but there are parts of the world worth visiting outside of it. Shocking, I know.
Not only does this film take New York away from Spider-Man, Peter Parker doesn’t even want to be Spider-Man in this movie about Spider-Man! He wants a vacation or something, like those whiny millennials who want work-life balance. Who knew Gen-Z would be even more annoying? “I don’t want to save the world with my once-in-a-generation super powers…blah blah blah…I just came back to life after being dead for five years…yadda yadda yadda”, kids these days am I right?
I joke, Peter has a lot going on in his life. Far From Home follows him as he is picking up the pieces after the traumatic events of Avengers: Endgame that left his sugar daddy, Tony Stark, dead. But like dead for real this time because it’s not like the Avengers could time travel again, haha that would be absurd, for reasons.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the life/death spectrum, Peter is alive again, after being dead for five years. (Or dust? Is dust dead? Did everyone who dusted in Infinity War get vacuumed up? DID PEOPLE REAPPEAR IN TRASH CANS AFTER THE REVERSE SNAP?)
Anyway, Peter is trying to take a well-earned vacation with his school buddies to Europe. All he wants to do is travel, have fun, and seduce/domesticate the one-of-a-kind and proudly independent MJ. Is that too much to ask?
“Yes”, says a mysterious (and handsome) man, “it is too much to ask to be a normal teenager.” This, ahem, mysterio (and good-looking) man shows up out of nowhere to save the day after a huge water monster (not a water monster like Blastoise, but like if Blastoise’s hydro pump attack had a face kind-of-water-monster) attacks Venice, Italy.
Eventually the mysterious character forces Peter back into action. And eventually Peter gets some tech upgrades from the grave of Tony Stark (enter eye-roll emoji), and eventually Peter saves the day. Meaning, eventually, this movie takes many turns to the familiar which eventually feels like a big missed opportunity.
Which is unfortunate. This movie’s unique place in the MCU meant there was a huge opportunity to focus solely on Peter as he recovers from unimaginable heart-breaking events. However Marvel also has to sell tickets and merchandise, so this film doesn’t entirely focus on those heart wrenching aspects. Or, at least, doesn’t focus on them enough. Sadness doesn’t sell, at least not well enough to compete in today’s box office.
This is a shame because after so many versions of the same character over the last decade, I was actually excited to see Peter Parker striped of his beloved city and I was excited to watch Peter Parker coming to terms with the post-Endgame world. How does one jump back into a normal life after aliens attacked, took away five years of one’s life, and took away the closest thing to a father figure one had? Of course there’s going to be angst, and confusion, and lack of motivation. And it’s not like the movie completely ignored these aspects but I feel like they sure missed a huge opportunity to take the film in a nontraditional direction.
Perhaps this is the “curse” of the superhero golden age, where I can look at a perfectly good action movie starring my favorite hero of all time, and shrug, and nitpick, and text Jesse nonsensical complaints. But I don’t think that’s the case because just last year I was over the moon about the instant classic Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. A film that took great advantage of its limitations and did what the MCU doesn’t do here, took risks.
And while the film does take minor risks with the likes of Mysterio, a classic Spider-Man villain, and turns him into one of the MCU’s better bad guys, it doesn’t feel like enough. Peter has always wanted to win MJs affection. Peter has always wanted some sort of a break to be a normal kid. But this version of Peter has survived greater ordeals than Peters in the past and I wish we could have explored those nuances in new, imaginative ways.
I will agree I am, well I should say, we are, greedy consumers of entertainment. We have endless, high-quality options. And while I enjoyed this film because of my love for the source material (and crush on Jake Gyllenhaal) I found myself not dying to watch it again. This is in great contrast with my feelings about Into the Spider-Verse which I have re-watched countless times.
We are far from home the days of simple, straight-forward superhero stories. Especially for a character like Spider-Man who has six of those stories in the last 17 years. We are in a world where movies can spawn 18 sequels that add hundreds of new compelling characters and stories. Movies are now just long TV shows and TV shows are just short movies. Everything is blending together in a way that is a boon for creatives, writers, and audiences alike. In this new world I think it’s fair and, paradoxically, safe to take risks. And maybe it’s not fair for me to judge a movie entirely on how different it isn’t but as someone who just took the biggest risk of his life, maybe I am just looking for my superheroes to do the same thing.
Next up: 1976’s Taxi Driver and how it mirrors our modern day world.