The Iron Spider stops Mr. NotSoStrange: A review of Spider-Man Far From Home

The newest Iron Man movie starts off with a half-assed high school tribute to the founding Avenger Tony Stark. Then it quickly devolves into a 2-hour quest for Little Tony Junior to discover his inner Iron Man before he can defeat the newest Dr. Strange knockoff in the latest Marvel movie masquerading as a Spider-Man flick.

I have been far too soft on the Avengers films. In fact I have sung their praises individually while maintaining my displeasure with the shear amount of films required to follow the massive cinematic universe Marvel Studios have crafted under the heavy hand of The Walt Disney Company. Yet as I sit in the theater enjoying easily my favorite stand alone, solo Marvel superhero go on his latest adventure I can’t but wonder when are we going to get a Spider-Man film that doesn’t have ties to either the Avengers, SHIELD or Tony stinking Stark. Don’t get me wrong this is not an attack on the film, I enjoyed it, nay I loved it. Save for a few heavy handed references to that industrialist whom I have grown to detest, loath even. To the point I am willing to revert to cliche’s in an attempt to accurately convey my disdain for the fact that nobody has a problem with any of these movies because godforbid you  have your own opinion. No if you stray from the message of Marvel Rules and the MCU is cinematic perfection, then you will bring the wrath of the nerds down upon your sorry ass faster than Thor can throw a thunderbolt at Loki.

The plot

This is my sticking point. The movie is utterly fantastic, through and through, no question there. I loved this portrayal of Peter Parker, his friends and even the very adorable Mary Jane. I was annoyed at first that there were obvious alterations from her comic book appearance but the actress handily won me over and made my heart flutter, yes that is in deed the woman this version of Peter Parker would fall madly in love with.

The parts of the story that focus on Peter and his friends and teachers is absolutely brilliant. I loved it. It really captured the essence of a high school field trip gone awry. As a former high schooler who experienced many failed attempts at following the itinerary the adults were amusingly trying to force upon us this film encapsulated that perfectly.

The downside is the movie relies heavily on SHIELD interfering to bring Spider-Man out to play while once again making Tony Stark the central force not only tying the plot together but serving as the entire motivation for the villains. Every single person who sides with Mysterio does so exclusively because of their respective desire to destroy the legacy of none other than Mr. Stark himself. By the time the film gets Peter on a plane waving his hands around at his version of Jarvis, now named EDITH (Even in Death I’m The Hero) a not-so-subtle reminder Stark is still running the damn show. Seeing Spider-Man replicating the motions of the man who wore the Iron Man suit, while constructing his own Iron Spider suit, just goes to show had desperately the MCU has come to rely on a single man. Now, don’t get me wrong I can handle a reference to Stark, I can surely accept these movies are in the same universe, but when the entire film centers entirely on Tony Stark as the motivator for the plot, the reason for the antagonist and the solution to the problems created throughout it only makes me wonder who, behind the scenes, is infatuated with either the character, or the actor who played him? Even in death Robert Downy Jr’s Tony Stark was seen throughout the film, on multiple occasions.

There was even a point where Peter suggests he doesn’t want to be the next Iron Man, he just wants to be Spider-Man. YES, that is exactly what I want too! I want a Spider-Man movie more akin to the very faithful adaptation Sam Raimi provided more than a decade ago.

The characters

I can’t spend too much time knocking the characters. In fact I literally want to do the opposite. The kids were fun. The adults were fun to laugh at. The villains were exactly as expected and most importantly Tom Holland nailed his portrayal of Peter Parker both in and out of the Spider-suit.

I haven’t seen the previous film so I didn’t spend enough time learning the names of the new characters. I will say that each one served a purpose and was exactly as entertaining as I expected. I honestly have no complaints. I was, at first, annoyed our beloved Mary Jane Watson was not a red head (especially as someone who is fond of red heads just look at my Jean Grey obsession) but I can honestly say this interpretation won my heart. She really was the object of Peter’s affection and she nailed her performance. The other characters were as aptly acted as I expected and nobody stood out as off putting. For everything I love about the Sam Raimi Spider-Man film, the one thing that I don’t like is Kirsten Dunst’s portrayal of Miss Watson.

The only characters that did annoy me were the Avengers characters that I felt were out of place in this picture. I don’t need to see Nick Fury sending Spider-Man to Proq to fight Mysterio, I want Mysterio to hate Spider-Man for his own personal reason without the need for Stark Industries or SHIELD to be involved what so ever. Still, the Mysterio parts were totally amazing.

The action

This takes me to the best part. As is to be expected the action sequences handily deliver an experience that is very much worth seeing in the theater. In fact, I will say that as much as I absolutely love the original 2002 Spider-Man, this movie was clearly the more cinematic picture. Sure, times have changed but still this movie jumped off the screen whereas that previous film merely did the job it needed to at the time.

Really the only complaint I will voice here is how Spider-Man’s suit looked too high tech. Again I am more than happy with a spandex wearing super hero I don’t need my Spidey running around in Stark Industry gear. However, Disney apparently disagrees so here we are.

The fight scenes where Mysterio are giving Spidey the beat down of his life are just amazing. The illusions were perfectly crafted to confuse the audience while disorienting the wall-crawler simultaneously. I can’t think of a single action scene that didn’t work for me. For the most part the action tends to be the best part of these films anyways so I have no complaints.

Scenery

I don’t normally include this category in a review but this film went out of its way to ensure every shot was breathtaking. The cinematographer deserves an academy award I think. This movie made me feel like I was web slinging with Spider-Man. It made me feel like I was on a bus going down the country side of some distant country I’ve only heard about in movies. It was a very beautifully shot film that really brought the characters to life and made the settings pop.

Overall

The movie is a very enjoyable ride. From start to finish the movie goer is sure to get a thrill ride easily worth the price of admission. While Spider-Man is absolutely my favorite solo superhero in the Marvel battalion, his films have been largely inconsistent. There is usually a great film thrown together with a few minor details to nitpick. In the 2002 picture the movie was mostly perfect with a few cheesy one liners and a terribly cast Mary Jane. The Amazing Spider-Man had some of the most exciting action scenes and took the character in a much darker place but fell short on the charm that makes the character so like able in the first place. This film is no exception. It was a damn near perfect movie only tainted by the overwhelming and very in-your-face references to Tony Stark and the Avengers. Other than that it was perfectly cast, perfectly acted, beautifully shot. It more than capture the essence of the character and the plot, while a little contrived, fit the film nicely. All in all I had a blast and most fans will too.

I rate it a solid 5 out of 5. The minor flaws are just not nearly enough to take away from an absolutely spectacular Spider-film.

The value of exploring religion in movies

The first thing I noticed when I was being raised in my Evangelical upbringing was how Hollywood always portrayed Christians as superstitious Catholics. This was used by some in my circle to prove the error of Catholicism by pointing out the “World” represented by Hollywood, only viewed Catholics as Christian thus proving Catholicism was born of the world, so to speak.

Recently I began watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. As a faithful Christian I have always struggled with TV shows and movies that glorify the occult. I have a strong ability to separate those things that are entertainment and those that are offensive with the intent to offend. I don’t enjoy politically biased documentaries for this reason. I prefer politically neutral documentaries that present the facts and allow the viewer to make up their own mind. For this reason when I see something like Sabrina I am torn. I enjoyed the original show tremendously and watched it regularly despite warnings from my ecclesiastically focused friends it was allegedly satanic. I dismissed many of their claims and went about watching the show.

This presents a problem for me. The new show is a whole lot more obvious in their devotion to “The Dark Lord” and makes claims that the Christian God is the “False God.” Even though it is a TV show, this does not sit well with me. Yet, I find myself going back and watching the show. Why?

This is where it gets complicated. I am not going to present this from a doctrinal or theological perspective, I will reserve that for the individual to make up their mind. Rather I am going to present what my view is on the role of religion within movies. I have come to accept the Hollywood portrayal of Catholics is as far from reality as their portrayal of Evangelicals. Thus I can conclude there is probably some similar exaggerations taking place in a show which features a clearly pagan religious perspective. For example, there are Wizards in Lord of the Rings. They are not pagan in the classical sense, meaning they don’t believe their power is sourced  by the pantheon of the gods. Rather, they believe their power comes directly from the energies of the universe. From the perspective of entertainment, that is the precepts contained in something like D&D or even Final Fantasy, there are distinctions between science, arcane magic and religious magic. There is tremendous overlap but from the context of the fantasy game set they are clearly distinct from one another.

This is where I stand on movies. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe I accept that the Asgardians are mortal beings in the material plane with access to and knowledge of manipulating the powers of the universe using what humans on Earth refer to as magic and thus they are worshiped as gods. They, the gods of Asgard, do not forbid or forsake the worship as gods they in fact welcome it despite knowing full well the reality is to the contrary. Still, I accept that within the context of the MCU the Asgardians are not gods, merely super heroes no different than the X-Men or Spider-Man. This is easy to accept.

From certain eschatological perspectives this is going to become a problem. I am not going to discuss those at this time. Rather I am going to preface this by saying I can accept that in the context of the MCU Thor is NOT a god, while in real-world Christianity he is akin to a false god, or even a demon depending on the Christian perspective.

This anything that is not Christian is pagan and anything that is pagan is satanic is often used to condemn basically anything a person could choose to do so.

Then why do I not give the same benefit of the doubt to Sabrina? For starters within the context of the show the Christian God is the villain. He is represented as a monster, a liar, and a false prophet. The Dark Lord, as they refer to him mostly, is glorified and in the context of the show, is the true god. This doesn’t sit well with me. But I can dig further.

In the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise the Christian mythology is evoked equally with heathen religion. There are multiple instances of the Christian God being supreme while the heathen gods having power, an example would be the cursed gold from the first film. The movies remain ambiguous on which power is at play. There is a balance but since the films are set in a parallel film universe based on but not set in our physical universe I can accept that.  Basically it comes down to reverence for the Christian God.

There are scores of horror movies that have evil represented by the devil, or some spiritual force that could be a stand in for the Devil. This is acceptable to me because we, as Christians, accept the Devil as evil. The forces of Good are combating the forces of evil thus any allegory to that structure is permissible. I liken it to referencing the Slasher films as morality tales. I don’t have an issue with that.

Why, then, do I draw the line with Sabrina? Or rather, should I?

It comes down to personal preference alone. I use this example. I can enjoy the Omen, the Exorcist and even The Shining as works of literature. No problem. I go a step further and often proclaim my favorite film of all time as the horror movie A Nightmare on Elm Street. This is clearly something I cannot shy away from. But even in those instances there is no reference to the origin or source of the powers, be them evil or good. This ambiguity allows me to place the art or literature into it’s own category, in my view a movie universe parallel to our own with similar, but slightly modified laws of physics. This is how I can accept a film with an extra-terrestrial Superman flying around powered by the solar rays that give cancer to ordinary inhabitants of our planet.

At first I was able to compartmentalize Sabrina and place it in the same box. In this universe thus is so. However something didn’t sit well with me. In this universe MY God was not being given the respect and devotion he deserves but rather being proclaimed a false god. I have seen horror movies that take this same approach but they present it as such, the divide between Protestantism and Catholicism, in other words they usually have a form of religion, a symbol of a church, but because it is the “false church” their proponents don’t have the power of God thus they are often portrayed as false. For example Dracula and other Vampire movies. They borrow heavily from European myths mingled with superstition and Christianity. There are often Christian symbols, holy water and the Cross or crucifix depending on the portrayal, being used to defeat the vampires, or forces of evil.

As I examine this I pull it back and let this be the deciding factor for me, not based on an intellectual argument or even a theological argument. I base it on what I am comfortable with personally.

As I watch Sabrina I hear them exhaling Satan and demonizing My Lord, I feel a twinge of disgust. It doesn’t sit well with me. I am not going to make the claim it *IS* Satanic and thus forbid or implore anyone to not watch it. Rather I am going to state why *I* have decided it is too much for me and invite others to either defend it, with in reason and not using personal attacks or logical fallacy, or I would ask that in this case my views be respected and I not be expected to defend my point other than it makes me uncomfortable to watch so I am recusing myself from it, for the time being.

This is not to say I will apply this analysis to other works of literature or artistic expression. After all, you have to draw the line somewhere of what is acceptable and what is not. For me, I can accept a movie about a pedophile being condemned to hell and sentenced to invade the dreams of the relatives of those who judged him using illegitimate means. The basis is on the fact that neither Mans law (Justice) nor God (Church law) judged him accordingly, thus despite him being evil in life, his death was unjust opening the door for the spiritual forces in the context of that franchise to provide a middle ground. He remains in hell tormented for all eternity, but he is permitted to get revenge upon those who were also unjust in slaying him. It’s acceptable to my perspective because it fits the real of what is to be expected. God demands, in the real of Christianity, to adhere to mans laws as placed in jurisdiction over us. The exception is when those laws prevent a person from expressing their obedience to God’s commands. Thus, it is my perspective, based on purely my own understanding, that disobeying God’s law does not justify disobeying mans law. In other words, the parents who murder Fred Krueger are as guilty of the sin of murder as the man they killed. Rather, if the courts, appointed by man respected by God, permitted him to trial and he was sentenced to death, he would not be justified in returning to this world, either in physical or metaphysical form, he would be firmly condemned to Hell.

This is how I can accept A Nightmare on Elm Street without a twinge of strong guilt but, currently, cannot do the same for The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Maybe upon further examination I will change my mind. At this point, and in the future, I will not ever condemn another for their choices. Watch the show if you find it acceptable, while I am going to currently refrain from such until further notice.

I didn’t want this to be entirely focused exclusively on Sabrina. After all there was a certain amount of nostalgia at play tugging me into the desire to see it. I also rather enjoyed the few episodes I did watch of it.