As Mr. Vincent Vega once explained in Pulp Fiction, “You know what the funniest thing about Europe is? It’s the little differences.” By way of example, he cites the fact that you can buy beer at the movie theaters in Amsterdam (and not just a paper cup, he’s talking about a GLASS of beer).
In the 25 years since that movie’s release, many US theaters have caught up with Amsterdam and offer not only beer, but cocktails, and, in some cases, proper meals. Still, Vega’s point stands: it’s just a little different seeing a movie in a foreign cinema.
These words seem pertinent because, on the day of its release, I saw Spider-Man: Far From Home in London. Not just London, but LONDON London, at a theater in Piccadilly Circus, which is more or less the British equivalent of Times Square. To be fair, Times Square isn’t really indicative of New York (and New York isn’t really indicative of America), and the same is true for Piccadilly Circus and London.
Still, this was an opportunity for a die-hard MCU nerd to see the 23rd entry into the canon in the foreign city where the film is partially set. It’s a bit like seeing Spider-Man: Homecoming in Queens.
You may have noticed that, like some pretentious film snob, I’ve repeatedly referred to the movie theater as the cinema. That’s what they’re called in the UK. And you don’t “buy” tickets to the cinema, you “book” them. What’s more, if you book tickets for an 11am showing, it turns out the film doesn’t actually begin at 11am. That’s true in America, as well, where we typically sit through 15 to 20 minutes of previews before the movie starts. In Europe, however, audiences literally just sit there, in silence, with no ads or movie trivia or soft rock or anything. It’s just the loose group of patrons basking in silence (on crushed velvet seats), staring at an empty screen for 26 minutes before the previews start.
Perhaps owing to the city where we all find ourselves, the patrons of a London theater are a diverse bunch. A pair of Asian girls speak their native tongue. A couple of Germans do the same. Two teenage Londoners who had to show their IDs to the ticket-taker to prove they were young enough to merit a student discount (a significant difference from America, where kids get ID’d to get into rated R movies).
A quick note on those ratings: in England, movies are classified by the BBFC, the British version of the MPAA. The nuanced scale used by the BBFC begins with U, which means “Universal.” It’s the equivalent to a G-rated movie. The PG rating is self-explanatory. Theatrical releases then make the distinction between 12A films (which require adult accompaniment at theaters for those under 12), age 15 films, age 18 films, and the rarely used R18 (which means porn, and is probably as common as NC-17 in the States).
To this Yankee (who is no fan of the MPAA), it appears to be a better system, albeit slightly confusing for newcomers. For instance, the new Luc Besson movie Anna is rated R in the states, and it looks like a rated-R movie. But here, it’s rated 15. Meanwhile, the new horror movie Midsommar carries an 18 rating. The distinction between violent action films and violent horror films seems an important one, at least to your squeamish author, who has never been much of a fan of the latter.
With that in mind, you can probably guess the rating of Far From Home: 12A. This, too, seems smart. While Marvel movies are never especially violent or salty in their language, I wouldn’t want my (theoretical) kids under the age of 10 to see one on their own.
The concession stand offers relatively similar fare to what a movie fan would find in America (though, at comparatively steep prices). The major distinction is the difference in a large soda. A large in Picadilly’s concession stands comes in at 32oz, a paltry amount of soda compared the buckets served stateside. Fitting with the leisurely nature of recreation in Europe, the hallway between theaters is stocked with seats and tables, where patrons can enjoy those glasses of beer before the movie.
As for Spider-Man: Far from Home, the film (much like Avengers: Endgame and even Captain Marvel) is yet another strong entry in the Marvel Universe. Fans of Homecoming certainly won’t be disappointed.
It’s not much of a spoiler to say that the climactic fight scene atop London’s Tower Bridge (often mistaken for London Bridge, which is a joke the movie doesn’t pass up) is something to see in a proper cinema. In terms of the audience’s reaction, I expected the crowd to respond a bit more vocally, given A) a lot of the Marvel movies (and characters) are quintessentially American rather than British and B) we were less than 3 miles from that very spot. But to be fair, it was an 11:26am screening that was maybe half full; at packed London cinemas on Friday night, there’s one shot in particular that I’m sure will elicit a more than a few cheers, even among the famously reserved Brits.
So while Far From Home may not be the best Spider-Man movie, the experience of seeing the action go down at locations I visited during my own month-long trip to Europe certainly made it a very memorable experience