Dir: Jon Watts
Cinematography: Matthew J Lloyd
Prod: Amy Pascal & Kevin Feige
Starring: Tom Holland, Samuel L Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zendaya
Release Date: July 2019
Running time 129 mins
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As the ending of any MCU movie shows with the unspeakable amount of people involved, it is difficult to justify assigning any credit to any departments. So, saying X person deserves credit for anything seems unfair. To that end, with Marvel movies all credit is aimed at the director, it is for them to distribute. So individual accolade will be feudal
Set immediately after the events of Endgame, this new incarnation of the MCU sees Peter Parker take the helm. We learn that the Thanos incident was called "The Blip" and not "The Snap as many fans do. Using careful yet light exposition a la showing amateur footage during a tribute to Tony Stark, and the other fallen Avengers, of a basketball game played during the return of the 4 billion, to humourous ends.
The relatively unknown director, Jon Watts, had something of a mammoth task. He pretty much had to go on after The Beatles just split up live on stage. Was his low-fi profile maybe a tactical decision by Disney to be able to disassociate itself from the glorious success of the MCU up to Avengers: Endgame by giving it an indie roster to pass it down to "cult hit" if required? Not sure, it seems like a strange choice given the well-known players that would have fought for a chance to direct this. Either way, Mr Watts handled it well.
Starting off in the usual setting, a war-torn battle zone, we see Nick Fury and Agent Hill (although agent of what?) in the remnants of what actually turns out to be an "Earthquake with a face" (no one has explained who Nick is now and how he is funded, perhaps it is by Audi, he seems to be advertising them). Greeted by the usually dramatic opening incorporating Marvel's usual spellbinding special effects and some expo-logue (a neologism, figure the meaning) and the drama is settled by Jake Gyllenhaal dressed as the alien leader from Mars Attacks! and shooting Harpic dust from his hands.
Well dealt with is the phenomenon of people ageing five years while those who vanished in "The Blip" didn't. So, especially for younger folk, it was awkward where younger siblings were now older siblings, best friends who were eleven, now had one that was sixteen. An amusing offshoot that is touched upon but not laboured, to the writing team’s credit.
There is a lot of reference to Tony Stark. Verbal and visual, and unspoken. Now some would say this is gratuitous, but it is Iron Man. Remember what he did? What were they going to do, ignore it? He bought trillions back to life. Celebrate Stark, have at it. Embrace your options.
So, we see Peter, Aunt May, and Happy Hogan continuing without Tony. Happy and May have a burgeoning romance of zero plausibility and Peter, ghosting Nick Fury, just wants to go and have fun with his pals, including the always delightful Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon). Off on a trip to Europe with the hilariously uncool teacher played by one of the best deadpan comic actors around, Martin Starr, a clumsy yet clever little pantomime results in Peter NOT getting to sit with MJ but instead love-rival Brad is moved next to her instead. This is a new trope I see in millennial-influenced productions; where the love rival is a nice guy. The obnoxious Flash is peripheral and needs writing out. Now that Peter is not a teen kid anymore, an annoying bully is surplus to entertainment. Yet moreover, one constant is true, Tom Holland is an absolute joy. The perfect Peter Parker.
So engaging is the chemistry of all the players that I forget the whole "Weather had a face" thing and suddenly, it appears, and the action begins. Starts off a little clunky with Peter hopping from one Gondola to another and is not of the usual MCU standards I can wager a computer game will feature it though.. Then it finds its feet and the effects kick into excellent levels. Peter, disguised as Peter wearing a little mask, helps the unnamed weird looking Jake Gyllenhaal fight the gargantuan creatures soon explained as "Elementals". A clever idea that is a kind of living version of the infinity stones.
Back at the hostel, Peter still jonesing for MJ (played by the elegant Zendaya) is blindsided by Nick Fury in a very funny scene that had a lingering thought of "why not close the door?". Anyway, comic relief spent, after another Audi commerical, in a scene that emulates more of a Bond-style 'Q' scene of exposition, Peter joins the inexplicably well-resourced Nick Fury and the outer-space visitor Quentin Beck (yeah) but lately-monikered "Mysterio". A kind and Tony-esque tonic to Nick Fury's aggressively demanding and somewhat mildly insulting persona. We learn Beck's tragic back story, a little unimaginative and strangely enough a character in the film, and someone watching at the same time as I was, asked "Is that not Dr Strange?" This could be pointing to the fact they MCU are running out of ideas. Still running with it, here is a definitely entertaining yarn. Mind you, love-rival Brad is becoming a bit less likeable.
There are further remnants of Tony in his EDITH glasses. A device that will have the fanboys gushing, and I have to say, they are right. It is a grand and exciting concept to have such tech available post Stark Industries. However, as is proven almost immediately, Peter is not ready to have them.
All danger is over. By now, I really hate Brad, and as it is halfway through the film, we know a twist is coming. and it is far from over. A twist that is somewhat obvious but still intriguing to see how it is played out. Sadly, therein lies a few faults. Many questions are raised. The explanations are both complex and inefficient. At this point we see the sides begin to split a la Homecoming on the ferry. This time there is no Iron Man to fly in and save the day...is there?
So, there is much left to play out. Holographic stage plays and images that are clearly distracting in a pleasing way. Anyone who enjoyed Tron will be right at home. Through a frankly fantastic and eerily psychedelic scene traipsing through Peter Parkers fears and insecurities (think back to when Brian took mushrooms in Family Guy in the storm episode) we approach the final act.
It is possible, even simple, to overdo the action. If you agree that this can be the case, you will almost certainly believe it here. Also, something about the overall threat is not so grabbing. How do you create a villain after Thanos, the Elementals are not Thanos. He was simply the villain to end all villains. Back to being on stage after The Beatles again.
The usual comic relief of a Spiderman movie does not escape. There is a very funny scene in Holland, although to that end, the Gondolas in Venice, the Tulips in Holland, the open-top red buses in London and the Tower etc, it does often find itself being a little guilty of clumsy or lazy cultural labelling. Fine for Wayne’s World, this is Marvel. Try harder please. Not to mention Tom Holland flexing his muscles as Happy Hogan is handed a necklace. Caught you out Tom!
Not fair, as Mr Holland is a star. He has none of the smug bedazzlement of Tobey Maguire, or the misplaced athletic handsomeness of the over-charismatic Andrew Garfield. He is quite simply Peter Parker. Long may he reign.
So, in conclusion, while the action can get heavy-handed and the storyline a little forgotten, it is overall a definite winner and deserves the accolade of being part of the MCU. Jon Watts has handled it well and maybe he will return. On that subject, this annoying habit of mid-credit and end-credit scene that is part of the movie and should have been in the main picture is certainly redone here. So, stay till the end. I would give them credit but making paying fans wait is frankly a despicable tactic and a reminder of why the world hates Disney. Mid/Post credit scenes are supposed to be cute little add-ons, not incredibly vital plot points.