by Alvin G. Burstein
This film is a many-layered confection, like a pousse-café or a Dobosh Torte. At one level, it is the latest link in the seemingly inexhaustible Avenger series of Marvel world films. As such it provides the hectic action and mind- boggling special effects that characterize the super-hero film genre. That is the genre that, in our age, offers the infra-human special powers of super-heroes to allay the woes that beset the human world, a striking contrast with genuine heroes who inspire ordinary humans to struggle against them. Superheroes may offer a modern alternative to religious belief, as it were.
Then, too, the film is a nostalgia fest for devotees of the Avenger series. Deeply involved with its characters, they have an opportunity to relish references and reminders of what has gone before.
On another level, it is a hokily comic account of a high-school class on a whirlwind end of semester tour of Europe. They do the tour of obligatory sights and activities and doubtful accommodations. Leadership is in the hands of their teacher, a guide who insists they are having the time of their lives and an experience they will never forget.
On a third level, the film is a sweetly romantic teen age love story, touching on the anxieties, conflicts and gratifications that characterize puppy love.
A fourth, elaborate level, is an almost post-modern one, calling into question the meaning of reality. To avoid a spoiler, I am limited to saying I that it manages to echo the question posed by Magritte’s famous pipe painting labelled “Ceci n’pas une pipe.”
The topping is the movie’s gnomic element. In the original Spider-Man film, Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben’s dying words were “With great power comes great responsibility.” That becomes the super-hero’s mantra. In this latest film, Mysterio, dying, says to Spider-Man, “People, they have to believe. Nowadays, they’ll believe anything.” Uncle Ben’s adjuration is a pretty clear one. But is Mysterio bewailing modern gullibility or is he saying the need to believe outweighs the nature of what is believed?
Maybe, at least sometimes, as Freud pointed out, “A cigar is just a cigar.” And maybe it’s important to know when a pipe is a pipe.