Jake Gyllenhaal

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME proves Marvel’s formula-breaking *is* their formula

You know when people say “don’t watch this one unless you’ve seen the last one”? Well, that statement may just peak with Spider-Man: Far From Home, particularly when it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The ‘one’ in particular isn’t even the previous solo Spider-Man film, 2017’s Homecoming, because the MCU has changed the game when it comes to how sequels work. Homecoming introduced the supporting characters in Peter Parker’s direct orbit but Jon Watts’ precious picture was neither Tom Holland’s first bow as the character, and Homecoming serves as an important part of the ongoing, overarching narrative in the first era of the MCU which concluded recently with the ‘one’ I am talking about – Avengers: Endgame. That’s the film you need to have seen before Far From Home as Watts’ Spider-Man film serves as an extended epilogue to the epic conclusion to the Infinity Saga, not to mention a coda to that first, decade-spanning era.

Far From Home is about the legacy of an era which reinvented exactly what the ‘superhero movie’ was. Marvel Studios, under Kevin Feige’s aegis, took the formula and tropes we had come to know and understand from the previous three decades since 1978’s seminal first Superman adaptation, through a legion of Batman movies and beyond, and subverted them pretty much from the get-go. Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man didn’t spend half a dozen films hiding his identity as Bruce Wayne did – he came out and told the world right at the end of his origin story. The MCU interweaved characters and narratives to develop the first ongoing, television-style serialised structure in cinematic history. Along the way it brewed up broad comedy, epic action, science-fiction and half a dozen other genres—often within the same films—inside which the traditional ‘superhero’ nestled.

What we have seen in previous Marvel pictures before Endgame, and which Far From Home makes abundantly clear, is that Marvel’s self-aware subversion of that formula has *become* their formula itself.


Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)

Trawling through Film Twitter, it was a surprise to see one particular reviewer suggest they had been informed that Velvet Buzzsaw was a cross between The Neon Demon and Nocturnal Animals. That is lending Dan Gilroy’s picture more praise than, frankly, it deserves.

In some respects, they are all bedfellows, certainly when it comes to the visual juxtaposition of horror, sex and art. Gilroy’s film lacks, however, the operatic eeriness of Nocturnal Animals or the visually arresting palette of Nicolas Winding Refn’s (admittedly somewhat overhyped) The Neon Demon. What they all share is a critique of the world of art and performance, with Velvet Buzzsaw particularly taking a sideswipe at the critique of art critique itself. Gilroy isn’t unloading death wish fulfilment on the creators, rather those who profit *from* artistic creation; critics, gallery owners and agents, all more interested in fame and fortune than what the art *means*.

Okja (2017)

Okja managed to court more controversy than it probably deserves when it premiered at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival on the big screen, thanks to the fact it was bankrolled by Netflix for a streaming release rather than a theatrical one. Cannes-goers, as elitist as usual, wanted their pound of reactionary flesh but the simple truth is that Okja isn’t a film worth anyone getting their knickers in a twist over.

From the mind of Bong Joon-Ho, a South Korean filmmaker known primarily for films that haven’t experienced major UK cinematic releases such as Snowpiercer, The Host and Mother, Okja is a curiosity which attempts to fuse the emotional bond between children and animals normally reserved for Pixar in their animation, with a level of Korean fast-paced farce, jet black humour and more than a little anti-corporate, anti-GM foods sermonising. As you might expect, its an unusual blend which, in the end, struggles to gel together and deliver a cohesive whole.

Okja nonetheless has a great deal to like. Tilda Swinton, a co-producer on the film, kicks things off in barnstorming fashion as Lucy Mirando, the new head of the Mirando Corporation, which a glitzy and shiny corporate presentation which presents the central concept. Attempting to tackle the issue of a world steadily running out of food thanks to global warming and Western consumption largely, Mirando scientists develop a series of ‘super-pigs’ which will be reared by pastoral farmers across the world for 10 years before the best is presented, very publicly, for the slaughter. The rationale is simple: feed millions, give people good tasting pork, and make a ton of money.