“Spider-Man: Far from Home” Spins a Modest and Satisfying Tale
Where should the Marvel Cinematic Universe go after the epic, all-hands-on-deck finale of Avengers: Endgame? It looks like Spider-Man: Far from Home has the right idea. This Spidey sequel tells a story that’s smaller, more intimate, and with a distinct emphasis on character. It may not reach the heights that last year’s animated and Academy Award-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse achieved, but as superhero films go, it’s easy, breezy, and satisfying. Also, it’s got the best post-credit teasers in many a Marvel moon.
The film’s story picks up soon after the Avengers saved the planet and returned the populations initially lost via Thanos’ snap of his fingers in Infinity War. And while Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is grateful that many of his classmates have returned, he’s still mourning the loss of his mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) It’s hard for the teenager to move on, especially when Happy (Jon Favreau), Stark’s right-hand man, shows up with a special gift for him. It’s Tony’s A.I. infused glasses, bequeathed to Peter. Those glasses come in handy on his science class’s trip to Europe where he’s trying to figure out if his girl crush M.J. (Zendaya) is interested in the handsome and confident Brad (Remy Hii). Peter taps into their cellphones to read corresponding text messages and ends up unwittingly ordering a drone strike on Brad.
Peter gets out of that jam, but then Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) shows up, demanding that he help thwart some environmental villains based on the elements, alongside a mysterious superhero named Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal) who’s traveled to our planet from a different dimension of earth’s existence. Mysterio, as Peter dubs him, quickly becomes a stand-in father figure to Peter, filling the void left by Stark’s death. And soon enough, they’re fittingly saving Europe together as they battle and prevail over two monstrous demons – a water monstrosity in Venice, and a fire demon in Prague.
The fun of these set-pieces is two-fold. One, the CGI is deftly done, never overstaying its welcome and occurring in real settings, so it’s all the more believable. And two, the characters come through in all the action. Parker’s uncertainty translates to his movements even as Spider-Man, and despite his extraordinary abilities, his hesitancy speaks volumes about the inexperienced teen. One of the reasons that Spidey is so popular is that he is just a kid in these latest films, even though Fury guilts him here into taking adult responsibilities. That makes for a much more vulnerable hero than usual in such features, one whom the audience can’t always be sure is going to prevail.
He gets able help from Mysterio, and his backstory covering another dimension earth dovetails nicely with the multi-universe trappings in the Spidey animated effort that took the Oscar this past spring. This new film doesn’t do too much with the theme here, perhaps saving it for another adventure, but this new movie does make a lot of hay out of Beck and his true origins. Such revelations also give the special effects wizards an opportunity to mine some distinctive new territory this go-round too, tapping into the VR world that is slowly but surely taking over our entertainment devices.
None of the strengths, from the expert CGI to the deftly done action sequences, would play however if the actors weren’t as compelling. Fortunately, Marvel picked Holland to be their third lead in this franchise and he’s easily the most likable and relatable actor in the role yet. Interestingly, Holland gets very little dialogue in the film. In almost every scene he’s in, the other characters say more. That means the young actor mostly reacts, but his facial expressions and body language speak volumes. He’s one of the best actors of his generation, and it would behoove the MCU to keep him for several additional entries in the franchise.
But he’s not the only game in town. Zendaya is superb, underplaying the cynicism of M.J. and letting us see the sweet kid under all her sourness. Favreau is always a comic delight, and despite being one of today’s most sought-after directors, he really should do more work in front of the camera as well. Gyllenhaal makes the most of all the layers revealed of his character, having a lot of fun with it, and just who he turns out to be in this story makes for one of the better rug-pulls in the MCU.
The script by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers gives a lot of the third-tier characters plenty to do as well. Hii and Angourie Rice, as his love interest Betty, are cute and funny in their mismatched romance abroad. As the two teachers chaperoning the trip, Martin Starr and J.B. Smoove are hilarious and brighten the picture each time they show up. Only Marisa Tomei gets shortchanged, as one wishes that her Aunt May had more screen time, especially when she can throw off sarcastic zingers with such aplomb.
Jon Watts’ direction moves things along at a crisp pace, never dwelling on anything too long or underlining gags. There are posters and murals throughout the film of Tony Stark, as the sacrifice he made to save the world has turned him into a mythic figure, but Watts doesn’t oversell the idea. His ability with actors and comic sensibilities make this Spider-Man movie as funny as anything in the MCU, including the zany Ant-Man films. The only real quibble is that Marvel produces so many films that the specialness is waning some. Luckily, this one is a genuine winner and never wears out its welcome, even if we’ve all seen far too many superhero movies this past decade.
And, as previously mentioned, the post-credit sequences are a hoot, nicely setting up a new adventure for the web-slinger. Indeed, just when we think we may have seen enough, we get stuck in the web again, wanting more.
Check out the trailer below:
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