The texture of a superhero is the essence of decision making. The interesting progression of “Spiderman: Far From Home” operates in the realm of naivete. Having done interviews for the original Spiderman films from Sam Raimi but never really watching Andrew Garfield’s version, Tom Holland’s approach is one almost of innocent bewilderment which in turn gives him a sense of awe. One of the most affecting moments in an earlier “Avengers” film is when Holland looks at Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark as he is disappearing with a questioning line. But that establishes such a structure that perhaps earlier Spiderman films didn’t have: a connection to others and a larger world. This is likely what will fuel the Black Widow film with Scarlet Johannson since it will bring that essence of story and time to that film. Here the idiom that perpetrated the entire Sam Raimi film is pushed in the background but still rings clear: “with great power comes great responsibility. In trying not to give too much away, Tony Stark, not Iron Man, looms heavily over decisions here…and even perceptions. It is an interesting approach especially when decisions involve “Edith” and aspects of instinct and conscience.
The basic plot without giving too much away is that Peter Parker just wants to be a regular guy and go on a class trip to Europe to tell MJ (played by Zendaya) that he really likes her. While the banter between him and her and, by extension, his best friend and his perspective girlfriend for the trip works in a comic romantic comedy way, the stakes are not that thick, which is alright. The realization is that “Far From Home” nicely plays much lighter than, of course, the “Avengers” films which within their structure have a very dark core while still playing to mainstream structure. Here the threat is paradoxical in a way but one that is unexpected in one way but not in another. During an interview I did with Jake Gyllenhaal for “Stronger” a couple years back, he referenced that he always found it hard to play a superhero (and it seems he had been offered others) that weren’t real per se. That is why the progression here is an interesting exercise (which is all I can say). Any other discussions of heartbreak, destruction, expectation, subversion or transcendence will give away too much but the film does include all of these without becoming too, in a word, tragic. And that is a good thing. Especially when Jon Favreau can bring some fun comic relief without impacting or altering what the story is truly about.
By Tim Wassberg
The balance of tone is always a necessity in franchises but the passing of the baton is always a tricky proposition or it simply can be the reflection of an idea not being new, but of a different perspective. “Men In Black International” is a perfect acceptable addition to the pantheon of MIB but does not necessarily have a big stakes perspective to overcome. The aspect of a gung-ho new recruit and a seasoned agent fits the bill and in many ways it takes the angle that the end of the first MIB set up well with Linda Fiorentino and Will Smith at the end (though it was never built on). This uses it as the next logical step though Tessa Thompson’s character M is a bit more safe instead of Linda’s wonky morgue attendant. Thompson gives the sense of wonder that propels the idea of her love for the aliens she is seeing.
The tone of the relationship between her and Chris Hemsworth is of course not played up though the basic chemistry is there but not as vicious as it was in “Thor: Ragnarok” but that was a much different world. They play more like brother and sister here which definitely works. But, it comes off less than it should because there is not more electricity between Hemsworth and a select other character who, despite being an actress of note, has an almost two dimensional play on her character. where her previous role in a Paramount franchise was so electric. It is not her fault but something is missing. Again it comes down to stakes. F. Gray Gray as a director is perfectly adept with the material and smart to stay away from big set pieces so the budget seems within check (though that might not turn out to be true).
There are some scenes in the desert though that are balanced oddly between the gamut of “Star Wars” and “Spaceballs”. However in the film there is no real connective moment that transmutes the idea of what MIB is. Even “MIB III” despite how fantastical the set pieces were (especially at the end) they (like Barry Sonnenfeld) knew how to make it connect. The resolution here doesn’t have that since there is never a sense of any real danger. That does not make it any less fun. It just makes it less pertenant at times. Like the previous “Men In Black” trilogy, it is also about the weird aliens, not so much about the design but the comic timing. Whereas the old school chum of gangly aliens that chilled with Smith are still there (albeit very briefly), there is no throwback to the old film. Even an old school wink, like Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in “Maverick”, just would have helped. A photo of Tommy. A dorky snapshot of Will Smith just out of eye sight. Emma Thompson is fine but she is limited in her role.
Liam Neeson’s character will not be discussed too much here but he plays it more straight-laced though some darker comedy would have definitely progressed the story. Again, there is nothing primarily wrong with “MIB International”. Chris Hemsworth is aloof and debonair (though too clean cut). Thompson is wonderfully optimistic yet grounded. But it doesn’t seem enough. What saves the film most times is Kumail Nanjiani as Pawny, a small alien who ends up serving M (Tessa Thompson) because he thinks she is a queen. He has the best lines and elevates the proceedings. “MIB International” is perfectly fun but safe, adventurous but doesn’t paint outside the lines, paced right but without stakes to really up the game.
By Tim Wassberg
The essence of Lisbeth Salander is in her ability to be almost detached from her emotional state. Her effectiveness is based on her coldness. “The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo” operated in this world in an almost uncomfortable way, as is the nature of David Fincher’s approach in many of his films to human behavior. “The Girl In The Spider’s Web” is a much more mainstream approach and, while not as starkly original as the previous entry, is nevertheless very effective in its point. Claire Foy, mostly known recently for her work on “The Crown”, obviously does a 180 pivot but her Salander never feels as lived in as Rooney Mara’s version. She is nonetheless again very specific and effective in the role but in a more mainstream way. The triggers of the script especially in the logistics of certain sequences are quite good. Even though this film was made for a price versus “Dragon Tattoo” including lesser known actors, the script doesn’t betray that. Like the vastly inferior “Snowman”, “Web” does capture Stockholm & Scandinavia quite well. The only idea that has a little bit to move on is the assumption that most of the audience knows some of the story with Mikael Blomquist (played by Daniel Craig in the previous version) which came before.
The focus here is family and a NSA defense mechanism that offers a good amount of power to whoever possesses it. The mechanics of how that is revealed and tested is both sloppy and oddly consistent at the same time. Director Fede Alvarez, who directed the “Evil Dead” remake and “Don’t Breathe” has a steady hand and doesn’t move away from the grotesque but also plays for the most part within the lines which should provide some response from audiences. The stand out simply because she can disappear so well is Sylvia Hoeks who was undeniably luminous in her darkness within “Blade Runner 2049”. Here she plays the sister of Lisbeth: Camilla through which there is undeniable pain and darkness which makes itself known as the story progresses (while also being its framing mechanism). Hoeks will eventually be given her own platform in the next couple years because her character work can be stunning. “The Girl In The Spider’s Web” is effective and offers a more accessible vision into the Lisbeth Salander universe with a paced and detailed story and some good character turns despite some lapses in progression.
By Tim Wassberg