What I thought of Spider-Man: Far From Home

Spider-Man: Far From Home acts as a coda to Avengers: Endgame and the first decade of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole while throwing out seeds for the next phase of the MCU. It is also a film that  messes with the characters of Spider-Man and Peter Parker, and not for the best either.

From here on in lie SPOILERS. You’ve been warned.

The film takes place shortly after Endgame where the world is still reacting to the death of Tony Stark (less so the Black Widow) and the return of half the life in the universe after five years.  The problem lies with the return of people who’ve been essentially dead for half a decade suddenly returned to life to deal with the people who survived. A Spidey film could have been the perfect place to deal with the angst of this through Peter Parker; a comic character who is angst himself but instead we get a few gags as Peter and his pals (who all happened to be main or secondary cast members who died during the Snap) go on a jolly to Europe.

I get the idea to give Peter and co a break as a plot tool to show how the world (well, Europe) has changed but while on holiday Peter is contacted by Nick Fury who has hooked up with Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhall having enormous fun), a self-proclaimed hero from another reality who snuck through chasing four elementals after the Snap. At this point Peter is mourning Tony Stark and is vulnerable to another role model entering his life to dish out helpful lessons in life.

The problem is that the very essence of Spider-Man/Peter Parker is that he’s learned his main lesson in life that great power comes with great responsibility due to his selfishness causing Uncle Ben (the man who raised him as his own son) being murdered. Now we don’t need to see Ben die yet again on screen but in every version of Spidey out there this is the core of who he is, even the Ultimate version written by Brian Bendis on which this version is largely based. Up to now things have worked with Peter desperate for a father figure in Tony Stark and carrying on his lesson learned from Ben’s death but here Peter is a lovesick arsehole doing silly things to prove himself to MJ and Mysterio who he barely knows.

Nobody is fleshed out. Nobody has sensible motivations.  Mysterio is yet another bitter villain who just wants revenge on Tony Stark, or on his legacy,  while Peter and MJ’s relationship feels rushed and unearned even though Tom Holland and Zendaya work their arses off to make the best of what they’re working with.

Far From Home isn’t a bad film. It’s a summer blockbuster that is fun and entertaining but the script is a road accident as it feels like it took a desperately quick rewrite after Endgame to take that film into account, not to mention work so it sets up Phase 4. Plot overtakes story and characterisationas these films are made on a production line. That’s one reason why most recent MCU films use a load of green screen work which makes scenes look cheap and rushed. However ignoring the character of Uncle Ben changes Spidey. It takes the guilt and self-loathing (in those Ditko/Lee strips Peter not only hates himself but is often a pretty unlikeable bit of work) out of Peter Parker and replaces it with a whining stupidity that ends up with Peter giving Mysterio the key to Stark’s technology because Peter here is an idiot.

Which is a shame. Tom Holland is a perfect cross between the John Romita and Ultimate era Spidey. He’s a good actor who will clearly be the new cornerstone of the MCU in the decade to come and will hopefully have better to work with in the future but Far From Home feels rushed and more interested in the overall arc of the MCU than telling a great Spidey story.

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What I thought of some recent comics…

For many folk who follow this blog one way or another you possibly followed me because of my reviews of comics and although I don’t have the time (or to be honest the energy right now) to pick this up again but I do miss it so here’s a rundown of some of the comics you should be picking up, and some to avoid,

Starting with…

The Immortal Hulk.

The Hulk has had long runs of quality throughout the character’s long life from the original Kirby/Lee run, through to Herb Trimpe’s long run, and so on. This latest run written by Al Ewing and drawn by Joe Bennett is rewriting the character in a horror setting although still playing with the superhero genre. It owes a lot, and I mean a lot, to Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run and Neil Gaiman’s superhero work.

It is however a stunning work in its own right melding body horror. supernatural elements and superheroics. This is by far the best comic produced by the Big Two today.

Batman.

Tom King’s run initially was offputting to me but he’s developed a clear story for Batman/Bruce Wayne that’s went from strength to strength. DC suffer from producing reams of utter drivel with art trapped in DC’s sub Jim Lee house style. King’s Batman run is blessed from having artists who can actually draw comics.

The Walking Dead.

This is a title which has been treading water for some time since the introduction of the Commonwealth with the title often resembling an essay of the benefits of capitalism versus socialism. With issue 200 coming soon it was clear Robert Kirkman would pull something out his hat for that issue to rival #100’s death of Glenn and introduction of Negan.

Well he’s done that in #191 and #192 and in these two issues the entire comic is up in the air as I have no idea how the comic is going to develop from now on. Picking these issues up won’t be easy as they both are selling around the £10 mark already and look to increase once the second print hits.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

Remember the days when Marvel used to produce fun, all-ages comics that anyone could pick up? They’re more or less gone but Squirrel Girl keeps the flag flying with light, fun superheroics every issue and it is a complete delight.

Wicked and the Divine

This title was one again I was less than excited about at the start but is now clearly the best superhero based title out there today. It is however nearing the end so pick it up now and you’ll get the final days of one of this decades most interesting mainstream books.

The Green Lantern.

Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp’s revamp of Green Lantern is interesting mainly thanks to Sharp’s stunning art. Morrison is going back over old ground in terms of style and although it is readable, there’s not much going on here apart from Sharp’s splendid art.

The Avengers.

As a title, this sells like proverbial hot cakes and it should do but I’ve never been convinced by Jason Aaron as a writer and this title won’t be the book that sells me on him having one good title in him and that’s about it. Its readable but disposable rubbish.

Savage Avengers

Remember the 90’s when any old shite would be thrown out if it had a bunch of EXTREME characters who were anti-heroes so they could do EXTREME things every month? Well, this is that book but they’re doing SAVAGE things instead of just being EXTREME. With a lineup of Wolverine, Elektra, The Punisher, Brother Voodoo, Venom and err, Conan this is a shameless cash cow designed to milk the Avengers brand, the Conan IP, and the popularity of Wolverine, Punisher and Venom for every single fucking penny Marvel can get out of the punter. It is terrible but it does serve as a signpost as to how awful comics can get.

 

And that’s it. Hope this pointed you in the direction of some good books and warned you off others. I may end up making this a monthly thing, so until the next time go out there and get yourself some good comics.

X Men day!!

X Men day is here!! What? You’ve never heard of it? Well its a day to celebrate the end of a 20 run of X Men films as the last 20th Century Fox X film is due to be released ahead of Marvel taking back ownership of these characters, and we assume, a rest of a few years before new films are launched. There’s lots of talk of how these characters are great, how much money they’ve made for Fox, how excited Uberfans are for the forthcoming Marvel films and on and on but there’s one thing really missing.

That’s the fact the comic was created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in 1963. It may not have been one of Kirby’s favourite creations, and certainly Lee made his mint off the characters over the last 20 years but for fucks sake can anyone writing about this horrendous marketing toll at least mention the two people who actually came up with the concept in the first place?

Why are comic shops closing in a time when comics have never been so popular?

The Guardian published an article recently about why are comic shops closing when superheroes are quite literally making all the money on the planet and have never been so popular? The article isn’t bad and gets most of the reasons why. For example…

So why are so many going out of business? Like other retailers on the high street, comic shops must factor in rents, business rates, staff wages, insurance – but the profit margins on comics are so narrow as to make this a very delicate balancing act.

They then go onto discuss how monthly comics is a guessing game. You as a retailer have to sit with a copy of Diamond Previews, and try to guess what will sell and in what numbers.

Previews is a massive book released by the largest, and only real distributor of mainstream comics in the world, Diamond Distributors. As a retailer you spend so much time scouring the monthly order form working out how much of say, Iron Man, is going to sell in three months time. So you order enough for your standing orders and maybe 5-10 copies for the shelves as people like Iron Man right? But all that money of yours is now sunk into comics that aren’t sale or return (SOR) plus your profit margin is pitiful, so do you run the risk of having unsold copies sitting there wasting your money or have nothing which means people coming in asking for Iron Man leave empty handed?

Whatever decision you make depends on lots of things but the one thing you can’t change is where you get your comics from as Diamond operate a monopoly. There is no competition, which means the direct market which was meant to bring control to retailers and create a better overall industry, is stale and bloated at a time when the Marvel films are making billions, and folk see comic related characters adapted to to film and TV everywhere.

There are other reasons, such as kids especially not being familiar with how comics are read because it isn’t just words with pictures. Comics are an entire art form and medium of its own, and although there’s a lot of titles out there which are written or drawn by people who don’t understand how comics work (hence why some books are glorified storyboards) a lot do get the basics at least. Also some shops are opened by people who may love comics but have no idea of business so once the comic collection they used to help launch the shop is gone, then they struggle to push on because they don’t know what to do next.

As for shops there’s still those out there where staff are uninformed, unhelpful and these tend to be places with ‘Geek’ in the name of the shop. These places are part throwbacks to the old style of shop and a pretence of a more modern shop but end up just being awful places to shop. To use one example I walked into one such shop and had some 17 year old follow me around the shop thinking I’m obviously some shoplifter even though I’m now a middle aged man who suffers from right sided numbness after a stokes three years ago, so move at the pace of a drunken slug.

But ultimately the main reason shops go under is the business is an unforgiving one controlled by a monolithic distributor so it forces the retailer to take on other revenue streams which may be more profitable (see the proliferation of Funko Pop toys and wargaming) but take you away from what you wanted which is a comic shop. There is no easy solution to this but for shops to make money they need to adapt, but they all need to start questioning, and actually challenging, the way the entire direct market has been set up. Maybe then things will swing back the retailers way.

What I thought of Avengers: Endgame

In 2007 I read in Empire magazine that a film version of Iron Man was on it’s way from the newly formed Marvel Studios along with a new Hulk film. Future plans included a Thor and Captain America film as Marvel expanded into film media with what characters they’d left having sold the film rights to all the crown jewels like Spider-Man and X-Men during the 1990’s when the company was on the verge of going out of business.

Iron Man, Thor and Captain America (along with Hawkeye and the Black Widow who made appearances in those early Marvel films) were characters from comics who’d had the odd good run, but the majority of the comics featuring these characters were landfill comics. Basically these were destined for dealer’s 50p boxes with the odd issue/run standing out. Add into the mix Robert Downey Jnr who was in 2007 desperately piecing back something of a career after his drugs and alcohol problems of the 90’s left him popping up in films like the underrated A Scanner Darkly, or Zodiac, or the rather wonderful Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang.He was never really a megastar, and you most certainly didn’t pin the hopes of a virgin movie studio upon him.

But we’re now in 2019, Downey Jnr is one of the biggest movie stars on the planet. Iron Man is as recognised a superhero as Batman or Spider-Man and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the biggest moneymaking machine in film history, hence why Disney bought the company. Endgame is the end of a number of story arcs that started with Iron Man in 2008 as well as setting up some of what comes next so what maybe plotholes could actually be setting up future films, or TV series.

So, the film. From here on in lie SPOILERS.

The film starts right after the events of Infinity War, with the remaining Avengers trying to work out what to do next now that half the life in the universe has been wiped out. Meanwhile in space Tony Stark is near death’s door as he and Nebula try to return to Earth from Titan in the damaged ship of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Saved by Captain Marvel who returns the ship to Earth, Tony is bitter, angry and cynical after his defeat at the hands of Thanos plus seeing the likes of Spider-Man die in front of him has left him jaded. Leaving the Avengers to retreat and set up a family, the remaining team decide to find Thanos and use the infinity stones to reverse what he did. Upon finding Thanos they find he’s used the stones to destroy them leaving no way of changing things back to what they were, so Thor kills Thanos and the film jumps five years into the future.

Time has past. The world is trying to cope but we’re told economies around the world are in collapse while people try desperately to live normal lives while trying to cope with overwhelming grief. This first hour or so is not what you’d expect from a billion dollar blockbuster. There’s genuine big ideas as well as how grief affects people and how the phrase ‘moving on’ is easier said than done. There’s also hints that actually, Thanos may have been a lunatic but the oceans are becoming cleaner and well, life is going on. The film however doesn’t dwell on this for too long which isn’t too much of a shock but I hope in future films we see how this world has changed.

After Scott Lang frees himself from the Quantum Realm (another reality) he was left in at the end of Ant Man and the Wasp, he meets up with the Avengers to propose a ‘time heist’ to steal the Infinity Stones throughout time to make a new Infinity Gauntlet to turn back what Thanos did. Tony Stark is initially reluctant having now settled down with Pepper and having a child but rejoins the team after a sort-of reconciliation with Captain America.

The film then flips tone as firstly the original team is reformed, and then embark on a heist to steal the infinity stones throughout time which means the Russo brothers and scriptwriters Stephen McFeely & Christopher Markus can do a tour of past MCU films, specifically the first Avengers film and Thor: The Dark World. This section allows the three core Avengers some personal moments so Tony meets his father, Thor meets his mother, and Cap looks longingly at Peggy Carter. Meanwhile the Black Widow sacrifices herself to get the Soul Stone which means all the stones are returned to the current day so the Hulk can use the stones to change things back as the Hulk is the only one of them powerful enough to use the stones.

The Hulk does indeed bring back everyone but not without being badly hurt in the process, then Thanos from 2014 (there’s lots of time travel stuff here) comes from the past to the present to get the stones, while destroying Avengers Mansion, and the Avengers. A big fight breaks out with Thanos and the core Avengers of Thor, Iron Man and Captain America who nearly beat Thanos, but his armies are pouring down on the Earth and all is lost…until all of the characters lost in the last film, come back along with the Wakandan tribes, sorcerers, Asgardians, and pretty much every film Marvel Comics bit of intellectual property barring the TV shows in a huge fight which everyone expected and just about stays on the right side of being a tedious cut scene from a computer game.  The gauntlet is in the hands of Thanos and just as we expect all to be lost, Tony Stark has stolen the gems from under him and clicks his fingers to wipe out Thanos and his armies.Tony dies, everyone is sad and we have a funeral to end Tony Stark’s arc and to maybe set up the future of the MCU.

Thor goes off with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Hawkeye returns to his family, Hulk is still around, but it’s Captain America who has the best ending as returning the stones back in time he decides to stay with Peggy to have the life he thought he could never have and the film ends…

Endgame is a titanic film. To think that in 2008 the first Iron Man film we’d end up at this with a film which isn’t just on track to be the biggest of all time, but is an astonishing piece of modern culture that cuts across every social, class and cultural divide you can imagine. I find it hard to imagine where Marvel go from here, and yes, sequels to Captain Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther and Doctor Strange will ease the way in the future, but it took 11 years and 22 films to get here  using mainly the lower tier A list, not to mention B and C list Marvel Comics characters to forge what they’ve done here.

Of course Disney/Marvel now own the Fantastic Four and X Men characters which if done right would give the boost to keep it going for years, if not decades to come. We’re talking of a sausage factory here. Getting back to this level of popular culture? I don’t know. Plans for the future are still vague though a few TV series are announced for the new Disney channel but you can’t just throw Galactus or the Kree/Skrull war (which is where I think they’ll go) in two or three years for the next Avengers film without building up as effective a set of villains like Loki or Thanos so someone like Doctor Doom seems essential.

For now though Endgame is a triumph. It gives the audience what it wants, as well as what it didn’t know it wanted. It manages to hold together everything, and even for the first hour managed to challenge expectations massively but mainly it happens to massively entertain, even seriously provide some moving scenes for the 3 hour running time. To tie together 22 films to a coherent ending, not to mention acting as a new start for the next decade of Marvel is a task. My only real complaint is that I wish this massive piece of pop culture resulted in more people reading comics let alone actually knowing the names of the men and women who created these characters who make billions for Disney.

So, if you’re a fan of the films and/or comics go and see Endgame. If this is the peak for Marvel then it is a bloody good peak to hit.

 

Your Avengers: Endgame reading and viewing list

My review is on the way, but here’s a mildly spoilery out of context reading and viewing list for Avengers: Endgame.

First up, Children of Men.

Once you’ve seen the first hour this will make sense. As will the next one which is On The Beach.

I’m talking more of tone than plot here and a big lump of the film’s tone in that first hour seems ripped from the 1970’s BBC series Survivors written by Terry Nation.

But this is a film based off comics, so the main one is Secret Wars.

And of course all of Jim Starlin’s work, especially his Thanos series from 2003, and the climax to the original Thanos saga in the 1970’s.

Also, JLA/Avengers is a perfect one for the tone of the last hour.

Other Avengers books to check out are the Hickman run on New Avengers especially.

Also Peter David’s run on the Hulk is essential as the MCU’s arc for the character since the 2008 film owes much to his run.

Plenty of folk will be recommending Back to the Future as a film to help with the second hour of the film, but Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Chronocops to me is a better example, and comic related. As is Alan Moore and Alan Davis’s Captain Britain stories which introduced the concept of an ordered multiverse into the Marvel Universe.

Finally of course, what MCU films can you watch in a speed binge before watching Endgame? Well, Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Guardians of the Galaxy 1 & 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Thor: Ragnarok, Ant Man and the Wasp, Avengers: Infinity War.

So there you go. This isn’t exhaustive or definitive but it is purely to help where influences may, or may not have come from.

Avoiding Avengers: Endgame spoilers

Avengers: Endgame is finally out and I get to see it this afternoon but negotiating the landscape of the internet to avoid spoilers is easier said than done. All spoiler-free reviews say its best to go in knowing little, and unlike Infinity War there’s not an ending ripped from the comics that’s obvious.and it’s just nice to enter a film not knowing everything that’s going to happen because trailers and spoilers have spelled things out for you.

Anyhow, review over the weekend…