In case you’re not paying attention, Spider-Man: Far from Home is the eighth film about the amazing webslinger in 16 years. The second chapter of the third reboot, unrelated (so far) to last December’s Spider-Man: into the spiderverse, and the conclusion to what the Marvel Cinematic Universe connoisseurs call the Infinity Saga (a whole other conversation), that had reached its emotional climax earlier this year with the behemoth that was Avengers: Endgame. So, again, in case you’re not paying attention, forget about the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb films, to catch up on this Spider-Man you have to go through a whopping 22 other films.
But honestly, if you haven’t yet, why start now?
Because of the film’s context there will inevitably be spoilers of Endgame, so if you’re one of the ten people in the world who didn’t watch it in the cinema when it came out, you may want to skip this review. For everyone else, here goes.
Fresh off defeating Thanos with all his Avengers buddies, our friendly neighbourhood Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is facing real personal issues that only someone from the Marvel Universe could face. First, he and the other students who disappeared during Thanos’ snap (now renamed ‘blimp’) have to go back to school like nothing happened- luckily Parker’s inner circle also disappeared in the same event, including his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), high school nemesis Flash (Toni Revolori) and his crush MJ (Zendaya), so he won’t feel too left out. Secondly, Parker is dealing with grief of losing his mentor and father figure Tony Stark, and the ripple this has on the responsibility of Spider-Man as the go-to superhero.
Luckily Parker’s class is going on a school trip to Europe, so he uses this opportunity to leave his alter ego behind (suit and all) and focus on what is important for him as a confused 16-year old: ask MJ out during the trip, in a triumphant romantic gesture on top of the Eiffel Tower, before the dreamy Brad (played by Australian actor Remy Hill) gets in there first. It’s all compelling stuff and ripe material for crazy shenanigans of young American pubescent boys in Europe. Or at least it would be if this superhero thing didn’t get in the way.
Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) need Spider-Man’s help to join forces with a mysterious new player from another dimension. One Quentin Beck, a.k.a. Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), comes from an alternative planet Earth was that destroyed by elemental monsters who are now set to attack our version of the planet. It just so happens that the next two will appear in Europe while Peter and his buddies are there.
From that point onwards is the usual Marvel grandiose affair, but set against a backdrop of small scale stakes. Director Jon Watts, who had already done a good job with turning Spider-Man into a compelling neighbourly hero on Spider-Man: Homecoming, doubles down on giving Parker true teenager concerns, when the world around him literally explodes. The weight of the suit eludes Parker, who still sees himself as a local protector, even though he has been to space and fought intergalactic threats.
The motto “with great power comes great responsibility”, that served as the driving force of Parker’s pathos’ in the Sam Raimi trilogy, is here given a proper palpable macguffin as Tony Stark’s science gizmo glasses that he bestows to Parker on his death. A weapon so powerful even Parker himself thinks this gift had to be a rare oversight from Iron Man.
Far from Home is, according to producer and MCU mastermind Kevin Feige, the real conclusion to the entire saga that started in 2008 with Iron Man, and I can see why. The story looks at the woes of moving on, not through the prism of grief, but through the more optimistic idea of finding the way to best fit in. Parker is not Pinocchio, but he just wants to be a real boy nevertheless, and yet no one, not his family, his friends, or even the man he most admired in the world, want to let him. There’s something tragic about him that the film only tangentially addresses.
As usual it’s the villain that falls short. While thematically Parker’s journey is of value, it’s not mirrored at all by the cartoonishly humdrum baddie, which is kind of disappointing after the great run these films had with both Thanos in Endgame and Killmonger in Black Panther. And if you had some knowledge about the comics, the twist might as well had been in the trailer for this is not like the unexpected carpet pull from Iron Man 3, if you think you guessed it from the poster alone, you guessed it. And then just ties it all together – it’s fun and filled with good intentions, but you know what you expect and what you know is not large enough to be memorable.
Stay for the end of the credits, though. This one actually delivers in that department.
The sudden charm of Spider-Man is alive and well, and now the Andrew Garfield’s films are just a passing bad memory that we’re about to forget. The big world action scenes set to small personal stakes is the right antidote to the last few bloated MCU films. It’s just a pleasure to digest.
I’m a self-professed MCU fan. I’m invested in the character, I follow the world like it’s my second home, and I see the cinematic value of all these films. There’s nothing soulless about them, the same way that there was nothing repetitive of other Hollywood trends since the golden age. And yet I still demand from Far from Home better grasp of form over style. It falls short of a truly remarkable blockbuster, like missing the opportunity to a larger thematic cohesion that could tie the film together, and a more compelling villain. Also, what’s going on with these two Spider-Man films and the villains that are working class blokes, victims of the circumstance of an opportunistic billionaire? Is Disney cutting the crap and stop pretending they’re anything but a large neoliberal dystopia? Can they also keep Spidey out it?