Director: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Angourie Rice, Samuel L Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, Martin Starr
It might seem odd to suggest that a studio that has dominated the global box office for the last decade and has just recently delivered the highest grossing film of all time could find themselves in a make or break situation. But that is kind of what Marvel Studios are looking at. Maintaining their stranglehold on audiences means reinforcing to everyone that Avengers: Endgame is the end of a chapter, not of the book, and as they venture into a new era for the franchise without Iron Man and Captain America, the two characters who have been their icons, Marvel – in conjunction with Sony -have turned to their traditional trump card: Spider-Man. So with Endgame still in cinemas, the Marvel Cinematic Universe marches on with Jon Watt’s Spider-Man: Far from Home, a film which serves as equal parts Endgame coda and introduction to the next stage of Marvel’s quest for world entertainment domination.
Struggling with the loss of his mentor and the pressure being put on him by the press and public to fill the void left by Iron Man, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is in desperate need of a break. So his science class’s trip to Europe could not have come at a better time. Leaving his Spider-Man responsibilities behind him, Peter boards a plane armed only with a detailed plan to ask MJ (Zendaya) to be his girlfriend. Unfortunately, the superhero game is not so easy to escape. No sooner have they arrived in Venice than the city comes under attack from a giant water monster. The latest in a series of attacks from these ‘Elementals,’ Peter finds himself conscripted by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to help a new powered hero, dubbed Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), who claims to have crossed over from another dimension. However, as his name might suggest, there is more to Mysterio than meets the eye.
With matching, let alone exceeding, the scale of Endgame not a possibility, Spider-Man: Far from Home is the perfect vehicle for recalibrating the stakes for the franchise moving forward. As was so effective in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Far from Home is a high school movie in which the superhero stuff just happens to occur. Peter’s primary objective as the film’s protagonist has nothing to do with being Spider-Man. It is simply to buy a gift for MJ and ask her out. We’ve gone from a universe shifting event to a high school romance. Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers’ screenplay even manages to explore the storyworld ramifications of what happened in Endgame at this more grounded level. The five year period in which half the population vanished is now referred to as ‘the blip,’ and for the Peter’s friends the impacts of it vary from the strange – my little brother is now my big brother – to the inconvenient – we had to retake final exams.
That being a superhero is literally a distraction for Peter at this point reflects the evolution of his character. Tom Holland, making his fifth appearance as Spider-Man in only four years, has established himself as the most engaging of the big screen Spider-Men. Once a wide-eyed, enthusiastic kid who was just desperate to be an Avenger, the character we meet now is a slightly more reluctant hero with a greater appreciation of the price of that heroism. Spider-Man is unique among the MCU heroes in that he is the only one who has to deal with the classical trope of the secret identity, with that desire to protect those he cares about by maintaining his anonymity contributing to the sense of isolation he feels, particularly having lost Stark, whose shadow looms large over this story in more ways than one, as a mentor.
Far from Home is at its best when focusing on the character stuff, particularly the relationships and interactions between Peter and his classmates. MJ has been significantly fleshed out from the first film, Ned (Jacob Batalon) remains an endearing sidekick, while their hapless teacher Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr) provides many of the film’s funniest lines. However, that we most enjoy the scenes where we are just hanging out with Peter and these supporting characters is also a reflection of the somewhat less engaging nature of the superhero side of the film. With the exception of one psychedelic sequence which is pretty impactful (though not quite on the level of what we saw in the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse), the action is largely messy and unaffecting. Regardless of whether you are familiar with the character of Mysterio from the comics, you find yourself waiting for a plot twist, not because it is telegraphed in any obvious way, but rather that the superhero narrative is progressing in such a rote fashion that you can’t help but assume there is something more on its way. So when the expected twist does arrive about half way through the film, it is not quite the rug pull that we got in Homecoming.
While not quite reaching the heights of Homecoming, Spider-Man: Far from Home successfully recaptures much of what made that film work. It is a fun, largely joyful film which does enough to ensure that Marvel’s fanbase won’t be tempted to jump ship any time soon. While a decade into the franchise fans should already know not leave the theatre as soon as the credits start to roll, it is worth noting that there is a cameo appearance in a mid-credit scene which is sure to delight longtime Spider-Man fans.
Review by Duncan McLean
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