Spiderman in red and blue leotard hanging from a thread swinging out from a burning building

Spider-Man (Tom Holland) interrupts his European vacation to battle monsters. (Courtesy of Sony Pictures)


Spider-Man movies generally pit the reluctant superhero against two powerful foes: (1) a monster bent on mass destruction and (2) teenage angst. The monster is always vanquished in the end, while the angst survives to be dealt with all over again the next time around.

That’s fortunate, because Peter Parker’s struggles with his youthful insecurity are usually more entertaining than his alter ego’s struggles with the monster du jour.

This is truer than ever in Spider-Man: Far From Home, mostly because the comic-book hero resides in the ever-expanding Marvel Universe. Marvel’s battles tend to be so big and frantic—and so computerized—that they lose the ability to thrill us.

Thank heavens that Peter (engagingly played by Tom Holland) is as humble and angsty as ever. When Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) orders him to help fight a new class of baddies called the Elementals, Peter declines because he’s more interested in finding the right moment to declare his love for longtime crush MJ (Zendaya). And when he learns that the now-deceased Iron Man has bequeathed him a powerful technological weapon, he insists that he’s unworthy.

Far From Home takes place in the aftermath of the last two Avengers movies, which destroyed half the universe and then partially restored it. For Peter and his high school classmates, this means that half of them disappeared for five years and then returned without aging a day. Of course, this includes Peter and MJ, as well as Peter’s best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon).

Directed by Jon Watts (2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming), the movie is most entertaining when it shows the trio and their schoolmates behaving like typical teens while enjoying a European class trip. Things get a little less interesting when one of the Elementals shows up along with a new superhero named Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). Suddenly, personalities are overshadowed by the resulting chaos and destruction.

By the time the inevitable final battle arrives, the CGI action is so fierce and the odds so impossibly stacked against Spider-Man that we can only watch in disbelief. Unfortunately, not the awe-inspiring kind of disbelief, but the kind that makes us want to protest, “Oh, come on! Even superheroes have their limitations.”

Marvel being as sly and self-referential as always, screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers seem to wink at our disbelief with a plot twist that shows things are not as they seem. I’ll say no more except to suggest that some might see parallels to our current political climate, with its manufactured “crises” and “fake news.”

In a recent radio commentary, NPR critic Bob Mondello pointed out that Disney now owns the Marvel, Star Wars and Avatar franchises, as a result of which it can be expected to corner the market on blockbusters for years to come. He expressed particular concern over Disney’s plans to release some of them during the lucrative Christmas season.

The result of this monopolistic behavior is that many serious films, released late in the year in hopes of gaining Oscar nods, may be crowded out of the market. In their place, we can expect many more movies like Spider-Man: Far From Home: likable but over-produced and ultimately unnourishing works that amount to cinematic junk food.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Spider-Man: Far From Home (PG-13) opened July 2 at theaters nationwide.

B-films find summer home at Wexner Center

If you want to take a break from the kind of big-studio money-makers that dominate the multiplexes, the Wexner Center has your back. During July and August, it will screen “B-Movie Mania,” featuring two series of independent works from the 1930s and ’40s that were able to ignore the conservative Motion Picture Production Code.

“Forbidden Fruit: The Golden Age of the Exploitation Picture” (July 5-25) includes movies that revel in controversial topics, often while pretending to promote morality or education. Examples are Sex Madness (July 11), about a small-town girl introduced to big-city vice; and Test Tube Babies (July 18), which includes footage of an actual childbirth. The latter is preceded by the shorts How to Take a Bath and How to Undress.

“Down and Dirty in Gower Gulch” (Aug. 1-15) features low-budget films made by small companies located along Hollywood’s Gower Street. It begins Aug. 1 with the horror double feature The Vampire Bat, about a mad doctor; and False Faces, the true story of an unscrupulous plastic surgeon.

All screenings begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are $8, $6 for members, students and seniors. For details, visit

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