Movie Review - Spider-Man: Far From Home
There are only seven stories in the world, as the saying goes…and if you’re the second film of a superhero series, it’s a good bet you’re gonna lose something.
And sure enough, we find that here in Spider-Man: Far From Home.
To be fair, though, the fact that this second MCU Spider-Man film did indeed adhere to the usual tropes of a superhero sequel didn’t really occur to me until after I’d walked out of the theater. And as such, we have to look at that saying once again: if there truly are ONLY seven stories, then as a critic, the important thing is how the story is told. And as we’ve come to expect from Marvel Studios, this latest Spider-Man film is full of action, heart and thrilling set pieces in the Mighty Marvel Manner that audiences have come to enjoy and respect.
The story opens in the immediate aftermath of Avengers: Endgame. [How have you NOT reviewed that yet??? – Ed.] Tony Stark is gone, but not forgotten. [Spoilers…maybe? – Ed.] We find Peter Parker back in high school and the movie is right up front about addressing the time jump within the preceding Avengers film. Those that were part of “The Blip” (not crazy about that title, but I guess it would make sense since the rest of the world didn’t know it was a Snap), haven’t aged while those that remained, sure enough, have aged five years. I bring this up because you’ve got some people who “Blipped” and some who didn’t in Peter’s group here…so does this mean there was no school during the 5 years between Infinity War and Endgame? Or were the older classmates now chaperoning? I dunno…maybe I wasn’t paying attention. Anyway…how about that plot recap, huh?
In the wake of the events of Avengers: Endgame, with Tony Stark gone Peter finds himself without a mentor and now fully aware of the threats that are out there. While coping with the problems of his superhero alter-ego, he also has to prepare for a school trip across Europe and how to express his feelings for MJ. Hoping he can focus on this more normal aspect of his life, Nick Fury comes looking for the friendly neighborhood webhead. Turns out the events of Endgame may have had unintended repercussions: a tear in the fabric of reality has resulted in four elementals being unleased on our world from an alternate Earth. The hero responsible for stopping them on that world, Mysterio, is now here on our Earth to help Fury, S.H.I.E.L.D. and Spider-Man to stop them once and for all. But...is everything as it seems?
Let’s get this out of the way first: anyone with any familiarity with Spider-Man from the comics is gonna know who the villain of this piece is…but just in case…
There, with that out of the way, let’s talk about the film.
Usually I like to go into negatives and then positives…or positives then negatives…you know, whichever direction my brain decides to go in that particular day…but there’s not much, if any, bad here. Performances range from solid to great, Tom Holland continues to shine as the best on-screen Spidey so far, Jacob Batalon as Ned continues to bring the comic relief in a reliable yet not overbearing sort of way, we see MJ melt slightly but retain her gruff demeanor and…ugh…you know, I could have saved myself some words here just by saying that the entire cast shines. Jake Gyllenhaal is a welcome addition to Marvel’s rogue’s gallery and the visual effects associated with Mysterio do not disappoint. There’s one sequence that even meets or exceeds some of the trippy-ness seen in Doctor Strange, and given that we’re dealing with Mysterio here, that’s very welcome indeed. And while the mentor-turned-heel angle has been done before, the chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Holland never makes it feel cliché or boring. It's also worth noting that this film serves as a great coda not just to Endgame, but also to these first 11 years of the MCU, drawing references and characters from the entirety of the run. So on top of an engaging story, great performances and effects and some great end credit sequences that show the way ahead for both the MCU and Spidey, it also serves as a victory lap for those who have been paying attention to all the films up to this point.
And if I was desperately searching for a negative…well, maybe that’s it. I was asked recently by a Spider-Man fan if they should check this film out…and initially I said “Yes! Absolutely!” But then they mentioned that they hadn’t seen any of the Spidey films since Sam Raimi’s original trilogy…and that’s when I had to walk it back a bit. For just the casual Spidey fan…is this movie going to make any sense? Coming right off the heels of Endgame, and serving as both the wrap up for that film as well as Marvel’s phase three in general, well, that means getting this film will require some homework. You’ve gotta see Endgame. But for that to make sense, you need to have seen Infinity War. From here, do you stick to just the Spider-Man appearances? So…Homecoming. But then you need to see Captain America: Civil War prior to that for Peter’s true intro to the MCU. But for Cap 3 to make any sense…you see where this is going? And for a movie buff like me, hell yeah, I love doing lengthy cinematic research. But most people don’t have that kind of time, dedication or both. And it was in this one failed attempt at a recommendation that I kinda get it now. As much as I love the MCU, well, it’s a bit of a juggernaut at this point, isn’t it? Spider-Man: Far From Home marks the 23rd entry into this series. No, not all the films are needed for viewing before taking in this one…for example nothing from the Ant-Man films affects anything here…well, except for the fact that Ant-Man was in Civil War which is where Peter first appeared…and here we go again…DAMMIT! AHA! Thor. Nothing from the Thor movies here. Nada. But you need the Thor movies for Endgame and…okay, you know what, I’m gonna shut up now. I think I’ve made my point here. But I can’t help but wonder if maybe this is why the lackluster-yet-enjoyable Venom was such a hit: it was a superhero movie unconnected to anything…a one-and-done…a standalone. And I can’t help but wonder if maybe now that they’ve been so successful with the MCU that maybe Marvel starts to allow for these one offs: clearly within the universe, but with minimal homework to be done before watching the film.
Oh, I nearly forgot…which is weird since this is what I was going to base the entire review on…perhaps another negative for the film is that it continues the trend of what appears to be the standard second act for comic book movies. If the first act is the origin story, then the second act is loss of power: either metaphorically or literally. In this instance, we find Peter not only losing his confidence now that his mentor is gone, but, to put in terms of the hero’s journey, he loses his talisman (or, in movie terms, the macguffin). This particular take on the ‘powerless’ portion of the movie series has Tony Stark leaving Peter E.D.I.T.H. (humbly standing for “even dead I’m the hero”), the interface for which is housed within a very Tony-Stark-looking pair of sunglasses…and with it a note “For the next Tony Stark”. Peter of course takes this to mean that he’s to bestow these on his next mentor…but I think we can all figure out who they’re really meant for. Sure, in retrospect, especially given that last sentence, it’s pretty easy to see all of this for the tried and true story mechanics that they are…but, credit to the filmmakers, the characters, their interactions, the action and the pace of the film keeps you drawn in to the story enough so that this really doesn’t dawn on you until you’re 5 minutes down the road on your way home from the theater in a classic ‘heeeey…wait a second…’ sort of moment. All that being said, while it is, again, a credit to the filmmakers that they keep you from figuring this out until you’ve had some time to digest the film, it’s still a least a little disappointing that yet another second film in a superhero franchise falls on this mechanic that’s starting to feel more and more like a trope.
Spider-Man: Far From Home has a lot to offer viewers: a great Spider-Man in Tom Holland, a good villain, great effects and the usual features associated with a Marvel film. While these continue to be the studio’s strength, even I have to admit if maybe the MCU is due for a reset, a few one-and-done films or at the very least a good ‘jumping on point’ for new viewers. Still, that’s not enough for me to dissuade anyone from going to see this film. In fact, just the opposite. Go. It’s got everything you could want in a movie: laughs, action, great effects and your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Just make sure you’ve got a friend you can phone afterward to explain all the stuff you might have missed if you haven’t seen all the over Marvel films.