“Spider-Man: Far from Home”

Following “Avengers: Endgame,” the MCU needs someone new at its head. Iron Man and Captain America will not be returning, Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy are off in space somewhere, Ant-Man and Captain Marvel just had movies in the past year, and Black Panther has a country to run. But Peter Parker aka Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is still around, the character has a great track record at the box office, and no doubt some of his mentor Tony Stark’s leadership qualities rubbed off on him. Pinning the MCU on him going forward makes a lot of sense on paper, but judging by “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” it might not be such a hot idea in practice.

The film opens smartly by explaining what happened to the people who were lost for five years between Thanos’s finger snap in “Infinity War” and the undoing of the snap in “Endgame,” which apparently include all the main characters in this film. It’s been an adjustment: grades have to be repeated and apartments have been sold, but things are slowly getting back on track. Peter’s class is going on a field trip to Europe, and he wants to confess his love to MJ (Zendaya), he just needs Spider-Man to not be needed for a while. But wouldn’t you know it, Earth is under attack from element-based monsters (Fire, Water, etc.) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) needs Spider-Man to step in and save the day. Can Peter heed his hero’s calling and still get the most out of his vacation?

At least he’s not alone in battling the Elementals. Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a superhero from a parallel universe where the Elementals have destroyed the planet. He claims to need Peter’s help in ridding this version of Earth from the monsters, but he seems perfectly capable of handling them by himself. Maybe he’s the new top-dog superhero the MCU needs. Followers of Spider-Man lore know that Mysterio is a pretty high-profile member of his rogues gallery, but then again Batman got through a whole movie in 1989 without Harvey Dent turning into Two-Face, so maybe Mysterio won’t be a bad guy here.

The eventual central villain is problematic. For starters, the character reveals their true colors in a big speech to a roomful of henchmen, giving the scene a strong tinge of “As you know…” redundancy. Also, the scene comes at a time when the film is conspicuously lacking a charismatic villain, because the film practically goes out of its way to make it clear that the Elementals aren’t cutting it. Perhaps worst of all is that the character is yet another MCU villain whose motivation is that they’re mad at Tony Stark for not giving them their due. How many of these chapters could have been avoided by Tony just writing a check?

With all its “American teenagers in Europe” antics, “Spider-Man: Far from Home” wants to be one of those “fun” MCU movies, like “Ant-Man” or the “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Thor: Ragnarok.” That’s fine if the movie can pull it off, but for me, this movie doesn’t. It’s by no means terrible, but I’ve seen other, better movies about teenagers with superpowers (including last year’s far superior “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”) and there’s a whiff of staleness that this movie never manages to shake. The film is getting excellent reviews, so feel free to see it for yourself and say I’m wrong, but after the grand finale of sorts that was “Avengers: Endgame,” this movie doesn’t make me confident that the future of the MCU is in the best hands.

Grade: C

NOTE: Stay tuned all the way through the credits on this one. A mid-credit sequence features one of the most laudable casting decisions of the whole MCU and a bonus at the very end recontextualizes a number of events throughout the film.

“Spider-Man: Far from Home” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments. Its running time is 129 minutes.


“Crawl”

“Crawl” is a horror movie with a simple enough premise: Haley (Kaya Scodelario) has to rescue her father (Barry Pepper) from the basement of their Florida home during a hurricane. Obstacles include steadily rising flood waters, the impending threat of a surge of water if a levee breaks, the father’s injury from an alligator attack, and of course the alligators themselves. It’s mostly about the gators, with the hurricane not helping.

This is definitely a “creature feature,” where the villain is an animal or group of animals that wants to chow down on our heroes. The king is the genre is “Jaws,” which like this movie primarily takes place in water. Humans may rule the land, but predatory animals rule the two-thirds of the planet that is covered in water, so who’s really in charge? The shark in “Jaws” can be easily avoided as long as people stay out of the water (“but it’s tourist season and that’s not an option!”), but the hurricane in this movie helpfully brings the water to our heroes, and the setting becomes less and less their domain as the movie progresses.

As creature feature antagonists go, the alligators in this movie are… average, maybe a notch or two below. The CGI isn’t terribly convincing, these particular gators are dumb and clumsy (grown-woman Haley and her father are safe behind a pipe that the gators can’t circumvent), and just on a personal level, alligators don’t scare me that much. I figure they can be fought off with a good stomp or two, though this movie wisely traps its heroes in the title type of space where they have to maneuver using the title type of motion, restricting their movements and putting them in prime position for alligator attacks, which makes my skin do the title action.

The movie needs to establish that the gators are deadly, but the main cast is just two people (and a dog whose chances are not what I would call “great”). The solution is to throw in three people looting a gas station across from the house and a pair of cops who have to go looking for Haley and her father after she violates a roadblock. I felt bad for the cops, as they arguably never should have been put in danger, but I’m fine with rooting for the gators against the looters. The film’s preferred method of killing is to have people dragged under the water, followed by blood bubbling to the surface. The exception is one poor chap who very clearly gets torn limb from limb, with “from limb” being needed about six more times.

Weirdly, this movie seems like it only decided at the last minute that it wanted an R rating. It could have gotten a PG-13 relatively easily by dialing back the red food coloring and cutting some gratuitous swearing out of a single scene. As it is, it’s more deserving of an R than “Annabelle Comes Home” (where the most violent thing is a second-long look at a car crash victim), but I have to wonder if appealing to adults who want a more visceral experience is worth sacrificing the teen audience that could have turned out in larger numbers.

“Crawl” is successful in playing into fears about claustrophobia, pressure, failure, murky waters, slimy surfaces, and maybe alligators if that flips your trigger. It doesn’t pack too much of a punch, but I can at least say that it’s the best horror movie in theaters right now. “Annabelle Comes Home” is just the “Conjuring” franchise’s bland leftovers, and don’t buy into the hype surrounding the well-shot but undaunting “Midsommar.” But there’s no reason to go out of your way to see this movie unless you need to fill the gap between obligatory viewings of “Spider-Man: Far from Home” last week and “The Lion King” next week.

Grade: C

“Crawl” is rated R for bloody creature violence, and brief language. Its running time is 87 minutes.


Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.


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