#16 in my Ranking of The MCU Phases 1-3.
I was underwhelmed by Spidey’s second solo adventure in the Marvel universe. I’ve struggled a bit to figure out why I wasn’t that engaged with the film, but I think I’ve come up with it. There are tonal issues right out of the gate that make what probably should have been a sadder film into a jokier one, and I think the contrast hinders the film.
The world is reeling from two major events: the death of Iron Man and the blip (as they call it where half the population disappeared and re-appeared five years later). The opening treatment of Iron Man’s death feels wrong. It’s somewhere between genuinely sentimental and a joke, providing the audience the background while doing so as a cheaply produced high school TV production. The clash of tones is rather shocking. Anyway, Peter Parker was one of those that blipped, but he never seems concerned with it, he’s more concerned with the loss of Iron Man, his father figure. He’s mostly concerned with, though, dating MJ, an intentionally unpleasant but pretty girl in his class.
And that fight of concerns in Peter’s mind is what drags the movie down for me. The thrust of his arc is about becoming his own man and stepping out of Iron Man’s shadow to become the Spider-Man he could become, but he spends a very large chunk of his time trying to win MJ’s unpleasant heart. There’s no real focus to Peter’s journey. It jumps from one concern to the other, never really connecting the two. The MJ part is hampered by the fact that MJ is intentionally unpleasant, and the other part, the part dealing with Mysterio and EDITH ends up feeling a bit underserved.
When Tony Stark died, he apparently had known that Peter Parker was going to come back from the blip and wrote in his will that Parker would get control of EDITH, a powerful defense architecture controlled through a pair of very Tony Stark sunglasses. The first thing Peter does with it is accidentally set a hit on the kid in his class that is spending time with MJ instead of him. Meanwhile, a series of large elemental creatures are destroying parts of the world and a new hero, Mysterio, is helping SHIELD fight them off. When Peter goes to Europe with his class, he finds himself center stage and helping to fight alongside Mysterio and Nick Fury.
The action scenes are big and inventive, finding new ways to use Spider-Man’s powers in support to a stronger adversary. Feeling overwhelmed, though, Peter hands over complete access to EDITH to Myseterio, an action that feels really underdeveloped. So much time has been spent focusing on MJ and so little focusing on Peter’s inability to face large forces without Iron Man at his side, that the hand over feels like the creation of a screenwriter instead of a natural decision for the character.
It’s that handoff that allows Mysterio to reveal himself to the audience and no one else. He’s created the monsters through a combination of holograms and drones to inflict real damage, tricking SHIELD and using old Tony Stark employees, all with motives for revenge against…a guy who’s already dead. And who saved the world. Sure. I’ll buy it. Mysterio plans on using the drones that EDITH controls to make even larger threats that only he can fight off, cementing his status as a great superhero, I think. He’s essentially Syndrome from The Incredibles with less motive and a less clear endgame.
I get it. It’s fun to make fun of high school drama, emotions, and hormones, but it’s done at the expense of Peter’s actual journey. He doesn’t know what to do in the face of Stark’s death, and in the movie he’s supposed to come out of that shadow and become his own superhero. The journey is muddled with distractions, though, and I think it really drags the film down. It has a superficial appeal in terms of special effects, humor, and performance, but it still feels like a disjointed experience that never really comes together to tell a complete story.