FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological, sociological*
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
FAR FROM HOME is something of an improvement on HOMECOMING, which juggled too many disparate plotlines for its own good. For one thing, FAR refreshingly concentrates on just one villain, the Lee-Kirby classic Spider-foe Mysterio. For another, the various tropes that keep reminding us that this Spidey is "Iron Man Writ Small" are far less intrusive, in spite of the fact that the MCU world is still reacting to the death of Tony Stark and the effects of "the Snap" as depicted in AVENGERS: ENDGAME. If anything, FAR plays down the paternal effects of Stark's presence in Peter Parker's life. However,there's still a lesser "Good Father" who takes an avuncular role in Peter's life: Stark's factotum Happy Hogan. Happy, though not as constant a presence in the IRON MAN films as he was in the comics, is well situated to stand in for Stark, not least by having a "will-they-won't-they" relationship with Peter's sexy Aunt May.
But there's a Bad Father in the offing, too, and even viewers knowing nothing of Mysterio's reputation in the comics ought to be suspicious when this character, supposedly a hero from another dimension, presents himself to Peter as yet another guiding light to the world of mature super-herodom. Though no one in any previous films suggested that Spidey ought to become "the new Iron Man," Peter nevertheless gets the idea that a lot of people expect him to somehow take over for the late hero, which gives him no end of adolescent performance anxiety. In line with the original comics-version, Peter seriously considers throwing in the towel on the superhero game, though in the comics this had a lot more resonance after he'd been a hero for several exploits, rather than just three documented adventures. He's also become intensely focused upon his somewhat snarky classmate M.J., the latest iteration on classic girlfriend Mary Jane, and when he gets the chance to join his class in a European tour, he's far more interested in finding some way to win M.J.'s heart than in tinkering with any of Stark's automated Spidey-suits.
Agent Nick Fury, however, has returned from the oblivion of "the Snap" with a clarion call to enlist Spider-Man, supposedly an Avenger (when?), as part of a new initiative against the forces of evil. A new menace, gigantic Elementals, appears to be just such an Avengers-level menace. This forces Peter to step up his game-- though to be sure, fighting Godzilla-sized adversaries isn't one of his strengths-- and this call to adventure is efficiently juxtaposed against Peter's attempt to be an ordinary teenager. Mysterio proves to be yet another "Tony Stark Writ Small" in his way, and though the original character wasn't all that complex to begin with, at least his story wasn't yet another MCU Homage to the Armored Avenger. (For good measure, a lot of this Mysterio's combat-visuals recall another Lee-Ditko creation, Doctor Strange.) The film's best scene is one in which Mysterio uses his technology to weave a web of illusion around Spider-Man; then, and only then, did I feel that Mysterio had his own villainous identity. However, by the end of the film the super-crook is reduced to combating the hero with dozens of identical drone-robots, which brought to my mind something I wrote about the final IRON MAN film:
IRON MAN 3 is the first film in which the hero perfects a new and showy ability to have parts of his armor automatically fit themselves upon his body from afar. Call me old-fashioned, but I like a hero who presents a somewhat stable appearance and set of powers when he takes arm against a sea of troubles. As if to mirror this disintegration of the iconic status of Iron Man, Tony Stark has yet another twitchy mental breakdown. He also whips up a small army of robotic Iron Men and in a pinch causes his flying armor-sections to engirdle fiancee Pepper for purposes of protection, rather than following the tried-and-true "heroic rescue."
I suspect that the MCU's love for videogame-style multiple opponents-- seen also in the first two AVENGERS films-- is at the root of having Mysterio use a horde of identical drones to attack Spider-Man. Because of this penchant, the fight-choreography, while accomplished, is also monotonous. Similarly, Peter's assorted schticks with his merry band of classmates get a little wearisome at times, though the writers manage to milk a fair number of laughs out of the juvenile hijinks.
Finally, since I complained about the absence of J. Jonah Jameson from the MCU's Spider-Verse, I suppose I should acknowledge that they finally manage to work him into a credit-coda-- though EVEN THIS is turned into yet another fricking homage to the IRON MAN mythos.
Okay, Kevin Feighe, we get it. IRON MAN made your fortune. But could you spread some of the self-congratulation around in other MCU films, and leave the Spider-franchise alone for JUST ONE FILM?
Indeed, the best thing about SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE is that there were no mentions of Iron Man, or if there were, I happily missed them. However, SPIDER-VERSE makes the same mistake as a lot of previous live-action Spider-films: that of oversaturation. Not only does it present the viewer with five Spider-heroes from various dimensions, it also works in four major villains: Green Goblin, Kingpin, Prowler, and Doctor Octopus-- most of whom are also anomalous versions of the original comics-characters.
Miles Morales, famed in comics as the "black-and-Latino" version of Spider-Man, is a character I never followed, so I can't say whether or not the animated movie captures him adequately. I would certainly hope that there's more to Miles in the comics, for I find this particular denizen of diversity to be fearsomely dull. The film's first hour deals with the perennial Spider-Man question, "whether 'tis nobler to take arms against a sea of super-villains or to try to skulk away from trouble and live a normal life." Miles goes through loads of adolescent angst trying to answer that question for the first hour of SPIDER-VERSE, and he gets only questionable help from an older extradimensional spider-hero. Most of this first hour is played for slapstick comedy.
The second hour picks up interest when the other Spider-variations are introduced, and the animated coordination of the various heroes works reasonably well. In most "dimensional doppelganger" stories, I tend to regard the "copies" as guest-heroes, but here, since Miles Morales is himself something of a one-off, I would consider the whole team of Spider-Friends to be an ensemble of centric heroes.