Film Review: Spider-Man: Far From Home
In a post-Endgame World, Far From Home is a spectacular Meta Magic Trick
Spider-Man: Far From Home, Tom Holland’s second standalone appearance as the friendly neighborhood web-head, is a worthy followup to 2017’s Homecoming and a strangely fitting end for Marvel’s Phase Three. A confident mix of humor, action, and comic book zaniness, Far From Home’s sleight-of-hand pulls off effective and high-impact twists and turns, even when you see them coming. With an assist from Jake Gyllenhaal’s captivating performance as Quentin Beck, the film is one of Marvel’s best in recent memory. Mild spoilers ahead…
At first glance, Spider-Man: Far From Home is a strange choice to close out Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Where Avengers: Endgame is seemingly the perfect offramp for a decade-long superhero saga - namely, a tidy bow to wrap up a high-stakes and apocalyptic showdown with long-running villain Thanos - Far From Home starts a new chapter away from intergalactic calamity, instead focusing on a more personal and intimate journey for Peter Parker. However, walking out of the theater, it became obvious why Marvel producer Kevin Feige and company chose this particular film as the end-cap to the Infinity Saga. The remaining Avengers are nowhere in sight and Thanos may be gone, but Spider-Man: Far From Home reels heavily from the events of Avengers: Endgame, and it does so from the perspective of the youngest and most grounded Avenger: Spider-Man. The film pulls off a stunning high-wire act: Jon Watts, resuming his directorial duties from the excellent Homecoming, delivers a close-to-perfect Spider-Man story, closes the book on Phase Three, and constructs a third act for the ages, all in 129 minutes.
Far From Home picks up in the direct aftermath of Avengers: Endgame. Peter Parker (Tom Holland, the living embodiment of the wall-crawler), along with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and all of his school friends, adjust to being zapped back into existence five years after the events of Infinity War. The sudden return of half of the world’s population - dubbed “The Blip” by the students of Midtown High - is mostly played for laughs, but the loss of three founding members of the Avengers during the events of Endgame has a much more profound effect. Peter, struggling with the death of his mentor Tony Stark, continues to juggle his personal life with his superheroics, finally deciding to take a European vacation to spend more time with his sardonic crush MJ (Zendaya) and best friend Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon). But with Far From Home being a Spider-Man movie, the call to superhero duty isn’t far behind: no sooner than stepping foot in his Italian hostel is Peter conscripted by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to battle a new world-threatening enemy. It’s here that we’re introduced to Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal, flexing a wide spectrum of thespian muscle), a superhero from a parallel Earth destroyed by elemental entities. Fury and Beck surmise that Thanos’ snap tore a hole in between dimensions, allowing the creatures to spill over into our reality. Peter bonds quickly with the earnest and sometimes corny Beck - encouraging, patient, and straightforward in all the ways Tony Stark was not, the character introduces a mentor-mentee relationship that is a refreshing change of pace.
“The classic Peter Parker dilemma lives on in Far From Home, but with [Tony] Stark’s sacrifice looming large, it makes for a much more compelling narrative…”
“With great power, comes great responsibility.” The wise words of Uncle Ben are at the core of the Spider-Man mythos, and it makes for a solid - albeit somewhat overplayed - throughline in all iterations of the hero. The fragile dichotomy of Peter Parker’s personal life and superheroic responsibilities has always been central to Spider-Man’s relatability, and both the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield films tackled this aspect with varying degrees of success. But director Jon Watts, alongside new franchise screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, introduce a fascinating new wrinkle only possible within the film’s larger cinematic universe: the ghost of Tony Stark. Iron Man, who started out as a self-interested opportunist, evolved into the world’s greatest hero, eventually making the ultimate sacrifice against Thanos. How does a high school kid live up to a legacy like that? The classic Peter Parker dilemma lives on in Far From Home, but with Stark’s sacrifice looming large, it makes for a much more compelling narrative only made possible by the interconnectedness of the MCU and the events of Endgame. Throughout the film, multiple threads pull at Peter, asking: “Are you going to step up?” Nick Fury is the one to straight-up ask the question, but whether it’s Happy Hogan, Aunt May, or Tony Stark’s technological bequeathals, Peter feels the weight of Spider-Man’s responsibilities in a way never seen before. In this regard, Far From Home feels remarkably fresh; it’s a film that takes Spider-Man in exciting new directions, but doesn’t feel like a betrayal of his core values.
Far From Home’s greatest asset, however, is its narrative structure - in addition to being a story that is fully self-aware, the film also toys with convention and audience expectations. The best way to describe Peter Parker’s latest adventure is that it is a meta magic trick, a superhero film that leans into its tropes as a distraction for its big reveal and absolutely phenomenal third act. The first half of Far From Home is an odd beast, an hour that feels uncharacteristically light and low-stakes for pretty much one reason: the elementals are boring. Faceless, dialogue-less non-entities, the elemental threat is typical, low-stakes, superhero fluff. But without spoiling too much, there’s no real way around how empty the CGI threats feel, so Jon Watts and company bolster it with what they know best: teen comedy and human drama. From Jacob Batalon as Ned, Martin Starr as the beleaguered Mr. Harrington, and Tony Revolori as Flash Thompson, there’s no shortage of charm and humor in Far From Home. Even bit characters like Betty Brant (Angourie Rice) get their moments in the spotlight. But the biggest MVP of the film’s supporting cast, without question, is Zendaya’s MJ. MJ gets a full character arc and some of the film’s best moments, a fitting extrapolation of her charming yet fleeting appearance in Homecoming.
The little moments of Peter Parker’s school trip and his struggle with the costume do a great job of distracting from the slightness of the elemental monsters, so that when the film finally kicks into high-gear, its effects are really felt. Yes, Far From Home has a big twist, and yes, most people will at least have an inkling of what it is, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. The film’s third act works like gangbusters, displaying some of the greatest nods to comic book lore I’ve seen in a superhero film; comic book fans will relish in its trippy fidelity, while casual fans will marvel at its inventiveness.
Far From Home is the perfect companion piece to Avenger’s Endgame, continuing the MCU’s winning streak. A film that takes the character in new directions, but still stays true to the essence of Peter Parker and his costumed alter-ego, Far From Home reconfigures heavily-tread ground into a new context. For those worried about a Marvel Cinematic Universe without Robert Downey, Jr. or Chris Evans, Spider-Man is the antidote and the path forward.