After a cameo role in Captain America: Civil War, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man earned his first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the form of Spider-Man: Homecoming, which succeeded in grounding the superhero in modern-day Queens, and great performances from Tom Holland and Michael Keaton as the villain, but lacked personal stakes for the boy behind the iconic mask, Peter Parker. But the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to reshape itself with every film, and the world-famous wall-crawler’s second film, Spider-Man: Far From Home, exceeds its predecessor through an engaging character arc, vibrant visual effects, and surprising turns that conclude Phase 3 of the MCU in a way that leaves possibilities wide open for the franchise’s future.
Monsters made from the elements are on the loose, and Spider-Man must stop them from destroying Europe and ruining his alter ego’s vacation in the world famous wall-crawler’s latest adventure.
When Sony and Columbia Pictures acquired the movie rights to the Marvel Comics superhero Spider-Man in 1985, fans at the time had no idea what to expect from the world-famous wallcrawler when he would make his debut on the big-screen. After seventeen years in studio development hell, however, with Sam Raimi in the director’s chair and Tobey McGuire as Peter Parker, Spider-Man made its theatrical release in 2002 to critical acclaim, and made history as the first film to make over $100 million dollars on its opening weekend. Two more sequels followed it in 2004 and 2007, opening to more box office success. However, while Spider-Man 2 was hailed as a sequel that exceeded its predecessor, the third film suffered from having too many villains, a hokey, inconsistent tone and lazy writing. The blowback resulted in Sony rebooting the franchise with a new lead in Andrew Garfield, and a fresh director in Marc Webb.
However, Webb’s penchant for young romance and Garfield’s acting skills could only take both underwhelming Amazing Spider-Man movies so far, and Sony Pictures reached out to Marvel Studios for their assistance. The two competitors reached an agreement that would allow your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe at the expense of another reboot. That arrived in the form of Spider-Man: Homecoming, which succeeded in grounding Spider-Man in modern-day Queens, but left Peter Parker himself devoid of the inner conflict that makes him who he is. But the MCU has evolved since then, and after the massive success and stakes of Avengers: Endgame, the third phase of Marvel’s output closes with Spider-Man: Far From Home, and despite an uneven start, the film progresses toward an exciting conclusion thanks to a solid character arc for Peter Parker, entertaining action sequences and strong visual storytelling from its lead actors and director Jon Watts.
Far From Home begins months after those who were wiped out of existence in what the Midtown School of Science and Technology’s student body dub, ‘The Blip’, were snapped back to life. Although things aren’t the same considering half the student body remains the same age, while half their peers have aged five years ahead of them, Peter Parker (Tom Holland), Ned (Jacob Batalon) and MJ (Zendaya) continue with life all the same, and backpack to Europe on a class trip. Yet, Peter does so while internally carrying the grief of Tony Stark’s death along with his feelings for MJ, which he plans to reveal in a grand, elaborate measure throughout the trip.
But after investigating a seismic event in Mexico, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) finds Peter in Italy and requests his help on a mission to fight Elementals: giant monsters made up of different natural elements (air, water, earth and fire) proposed to have been created by The Blip, which also brought hero Mysterio, (alter ego Quentin Beck, played by Jake Gyllenhaal) from his universe into that of Peter’s. As Spider-Man and Mysterio team up to fight the monsters before they can send Quentin to his home universe, Peter wrestles internally with the pressures of filling the big shoes left by Tony Stark and his social aspirations.
While Homecoming was lacking in personal stakes for Peter Parker, Far From Home makes up for it by saddling our hero with a lot of hard decisions to make about what he wants from life, and putting him in a position where he risks growing up too fast with gadgets and responsibilities, reasonably similar to what Tony Stark gained when he first became Iron Man. This character arc that finds Peter doubting himself over whether or not he can be the next Iron Man is nothing short of compelling through the film’s entire run time, in part because Holland balances Peter’s personal desires with his struggles to bear the heavy responsibilities of being Spider-Man through a stellar performance that relies a lot on his visual acting. His grief over Tony, anxieties about the safety of his friends and longing for MJ can be recognized through the expression in his eyes alone. Zendaya also comes into her own, portraying MJ’s concern for Peter, as well as her own blunt and serious reserve in a solid performance dedicated to naturalism, resulting in strong chemistry between both young leads.
The parallels between Spider-Man and Iron Man don’t stop with Holland, though, because the narrative of Far From Home takes intriguing turns that call back to 2008’s Iron Man in a very surprising and creative way, while the action sequences are not only entertaining throughout the film, but they also possess a vibrant visual style and striking images that complement Spider-Man’s inner struggles perfectly. It’s also worth noting that when the dialogue-driven humor lands, it results in consistent laughter, especially during Peter’s awkward attempts at conversing with MJ early on in the trip, or when he uses a destructive tool to keep a classmate from sharing an embarrassing photo of him. The presence of Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) also provides welcome comic relief in the story through more than just a relationship with Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), and Jake Gyllenhaal has a solid turn as Mysterio, whose desire to return to his home world is portrayed with sincere aggression.
However, before the film takes a tonal shift in the second half where the stakes are raised, viewers will have to slog through a slow-paced first half that’s occasionally irksome, thanks to uneven humor that ranges from obnoxious displays of Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) live-streaming every moment of the trip from his perspective, a budding relationship between Ned and Betty Brant (Angourie Rice) that’s too cartoonish and goofy in execution to feel real, and banter between teachers played by Martin Starr and JB Smoove that just falls flat.
While comedy is subjective, and some of these lead to clever payoffs, they clash in the beginning with the intriguing naturalism at play between Peter and MJ, to the point where it feels like the script is trying too hard to be funny. It’s also worth proposing that considering how massive expectations are for the film to set up the next phase of Marvel movies, the self-contained twists and turns that Far From Home ends up taking have the potential to divide audiences.
But for this critic, the risks taken in Far From Home pay off in tremendous fashion, because the film not only concludes this incarnation of Marvel movies in a way that brings the past 11 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe full-circle, it also propels the next phase of films in an exciting, unpredictable direction. Die-hard fans will admire the callbacks to the comics when Peter wears a stealth suit influenced by the Spider-Man: Noir costume for his first missions, and later when he dons the costume worn in his very first issue. Meanwhile, casual moviegoers will marvel at the visuals and be engaged with Peter’s relatable plight to act on his desires as a person while bearing the responsibilities of a hero. Far From Home may be far from the best Spider-Man movie, but it’s a satisfying finish to the third chapter of the MCU, and entertaining from beginning to end.
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