Spider Man: Far From Home

In the post Avengers, “Infinity War” world, the superheros are going to be faced with threats that will have to be inventive, compelling and for the moment, short term. I don’t really know how you build a long term storyline without the universal destruction suggested by Thanos and that story is now history. The approach that the caretakers of the Marvel Universe are taking, seems to be the right one. They are taking time building stories around the remaining heroes and allowing them to be at the center of their own tales. Here and there will be connections to the large universe of super heroes, but for the moment they will bask in the spotlight alone. “Spider Man: Far From Home” does exactly this. Peter Parker and his complicated relationships are the main thrust of the story.

The after effects of the “snap” are briefly discussed as the plot unfolds, but there is virtually no impact of the five year gap between the Earth’s non blipped residents and those who blipped back. Two or three visual jokes that also make no sense but are fun anyway, help set a more light hearted tone for the film. Moving the action to Europe helps the movie feel fresher than had it remained in the States and there are some more opportunities for cross cultural humor as well. Even with the shadow of the Infinity War hanging over the planet, life seems to go on. With just a few tips of the hat to Iron Man, Spider Man takes the lead and reluctantly seems to be the lynch pin character for future interwoven multi-universe situations.

The enigmatic “Mysterio”, shows up to battle elemental monsters that have supposedly destroyed the Earth of his dimension and now threaten our own home world. Nick Fury wants Spider Man to step up and lead when it comes to handling new threats and Tony Stark has left a mini version of Ultron, with the acronym E.D.I.T.H., to help out. Once again, Stark’s ingenious is the source of  conflict in the MCU. Peter has to choose what kind of life or leadership role he is going to follow, and of course it will not be an easy choice or one without complications. “Mysterio” is portrayed by the always enjoyable Jake Gyllenhaal, himself a one-time candidate for the Spider Man role. Frankly, you will be aware that a twist is coming from the start of the story, how could you not expect it after so many previous experiences. When it arrives, there is a three minute or so narrative sequence that tries to make sense of it all. There are a dozen dangling strings from other MCU films that are tied together to create the new threat. I think the retcon that happened in “Spider Man: Homecoming” was a lot clearer and made more sense. If you look at this one too closely, it may not hold up as well. Especially since the villain acknowledges that Nick Fury is the most paranoid man on the planet.

The narrative here reminds me of the Happy Potter film “The Half Blood Prince”. So much of the background is taken up by the romantic lives of our protagonists that it may sometimes feel like a different movie. There are however a sufficient number of tie ins to the technology and plot to make those “romance” points still relevant to the main story. MJ and Ned are both at risk down the line and it works to make the threat to them more meaningful when the ominous agenda of the villain reveals itself. I do think that the bifurcated nature of the antagonist is a bit problematic, and the self awareness of his own delusional role in the Stark legacy means that he needs to be a pretty good actor. The film is a little meta when it is disclosed how we are all being fooled. maybe all the technicians who create these movies need to have a bit of glory but this was a weird way of showing us behind the curtain.

That curtain however is still pretty dazzling as the action sequences and special effects continue to show that people are working at the top levels to make these movies as believable as they can.  I also loved the attempt to divert attention from Spider Man by inventing a pseudonym for the character and then referring back to it in several spots, hilarious. The idea of Happy and May makes me giggle a bit and hope for the best for both of them. Happy gets more to do in this film than any of the previous MCU films his character has appeared in, and May, re-imagined as a younger but still mature woman, finally pays off. Good for Jon Favreau and Marissa Tomei. If you stick around for the credit sequences that have become a hallmark of these movies, you will get a long awaited cameo that is a great surprise. There is also a reveal that makes the meta theme of illusion even more meta. I’m not sure it was necessary, but it does tie in to some other MCU plotlines and its is a lot of fun. More than half the audience at out screening had already left when these two bits came up, and I don’t understand how people can do that, knowing that there are some punch lines or gut punches coming.

Saying that “Spider Man: Far From Home ” is not top self MCU in no way is meant to diminish the entertainment value of the film. You should enjoy yourself immensely. It is simply a fact that with so many variations of these characters and the number of movies they have appeared in, we inevitably will make comparisons. Tom Holland continues to work as a youthful Peter Parker even as he grows older playing the character, maybe he was in a real blip event. The other high school kids provide some humorous diversions, and I thought the teachers were quite funny but I can see some slap stick that may put others off. The first half of the film feels like it is exactly what it turns out to be, but the second half makes that pay off.

The Jungle Book (2016)

There are many in the film community who will deride the idea of remakes, live action or otherwise. It seems to suggest a shortage of creativity somewhere in the script department. I understand that feeling and I myself often hesitate to venture into a new version of an old film. You don’t want to be disappointed or have your fond memory of the original besmirched. At the same time, if the movie touched you in some way the first time, there may be something to the subject that can affect you again, and why someone would not want that is hard for me to fathom. Of course it is also a money issue, but every movie is a money issue and remakes and sequels do not always guarantee results despite the hopes of producers everywhere. The new version of “The Jungle Book” is a live action remake of the last film that Disney himself oversaw. The animated version is a different take on Rudyard Kipling’s stories from the 1942 version. So we have been here before. I was encouraged to go by word of mouth and several sources insisted that the 3D version is the one I wanted to see, so I used up all my accumulated AMC Stubbs points and pulled the trigger on a 3D IMAX (FAUXMAX) screening this morning.

It was a delightful experience and lived up to most of my hopes and it included a couple of surprises as well. The story closely follows the tale as it was told in the animated version, and here is the surprise, they even included a couple of songs. Admittedly the animals in this version are as animated as they were in 1967, but since they are photo-real, it was still a little bit of a shock that they spoke and sang. One of the best things that the film has going for it is the voice casting. Bill Murray as Baloo just about perfect. He is not a singer and the presentation of “The Bare Necessities” is not a show stopping moment but rather a casual way of telling us who the character is supposed to be. Similarly,  Christopher Walken as King Louie is no Louie Prima but he gives an engaging almost rap like delivery of his signature song. The film has humorous moments but it does not have the comic visuals that would go along with this sequence. Probably a good choice.

The most valuable addition to the story here is the integration of the wolf pack into the story. There is a code that they live by which becomes a turning point for the animals in the story, and the family development makes Mowgli much more a part of the pack. That also makes what happens in the climax of the film more satisfying and exciting. We got a little bit more about Mowgli’s background and a clearer sense of what it is that drives the villain of the piece, Shere Khan. Idris Elba does a menacing voice that has authority, but it lacks the snarly sophistication that George Sanders brought to the role. Bagheera is voiced by Ben Kingsley and he is wise and loyal without the fussiness that Sebastian Cabot added. The changes are subtle ones and they seem to be designed to make this more “real” version of the story work for the universe that is created here.

Obviously, the real stars of the movie are the technicians who have brought the jungle to life. They make all the animals real, in spite of the size perspectives and physical details that have to be worked out. It is a complicated job and if you look at the credits for the film, you will see hundreds of names, most of whom I’m sure Director Jon Favreau never met, much less spoke to on a daily basis. There was an interesting location id in the final credits saying the film was shot entirely in the City of Los Angeles. Guns and Roses may think of it as the jungle, but the closest it comes in looks are some bad neighborhoods, there are no cliffs, rivers, or lush Savannah anywhere around here, this was all created in the computer.

Young Neel Seethi is the star of the film. He is credible in the action sequences but a little stiff in the dramatic scenes. Child actors are tough, they have great presence sometimes but they may have limited range at their young age and I think that this is the case here. The action scene at the end is pretty spectacular, although there are several scenes where the visuals impress, including a mudslide/stampede sequence. The fire effects and the the trees in the last action scene are rendered in a way that makes the #D investment worth the price, but there were dozens of shots like that throughout the film, so I will add my voice to those who say go 3D. Stick around for the credits and you get Scarlett Johanson’s version of “Trust in Me”, which did not make the film but does play and remind us of the character and the earlier movie, without having it’s specter hanging over this film the whole time.