Spider-Man: Far From Home is a perfectly balanced Spider-Movie
Warning: This review contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame.
The biggest relief in watching Spider-Man: Far From Home is that it primarily functions as a Spider-Man movie. Yes, it is also definitely an epilogue to Avengers: Endgame in more ways than one, but it never loses sight of Peter Parker (Tom Holland). All the questions around how people would return after the five year jump in Endgame and what regular people know about what happened to the original Avengers is answered in the first few minutes of this movie, and only referenced again for the sake of comedy. But the weight of Tony Stark’s legacy weighs on Peter throughout this movie, as he wrestles with remaining a Friendly, Neighborhood Spider-Man in the wake of having been in space.
Peter decides he needs a break from superheroics so he can enjoy his class trip to Europe over the summer, and does not even want to pack his super suit. Ned (Jacob Batalon) wants to live the glamorous “American bachelors in Europe” life for two weeks, while Peter plans on telling MJ (Zendaya) how he feels about her. Meanwhile Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is trying to get a hold of Peter for a mission involving the appearance of Elementals, an existential threat that needs to be contained. Helping Fury and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) is Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man from an alternate Earth that was destroyed by the Elementals. Also on Peter’s mind is whether or not Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is trying to date Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).
Like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, Far From Home is chiefly about Peter trying to balance his life between his civilian identity and what he feels are his responsibilities as Spider-Man. Many of the best Spider-Man stories are centered on this theme, with the idea that if things are going well for Peter, they probably aren’t going well for Spider-Man, and vice versa, so it doesn’t feel like a rehash. Fury represents the necessity of Spider-Man, and pressures Peter into feeling that his high school concerns are beneath him, and don’t really matter (Fury also represents adulthood in this film). And in a nice change from Homecoming, Peter is the one trying to pull back and have some semblance of a normal life. Like Homecoming, Far From Home leans into being a high school movie, deploying tropes from those films deftly while keeping the relationships firmly grounded in 2019 social dynamics and humor.
Also like Homecoming, much of Peter’s problems in Far From Home are self-made. This Spider-Man frequently makes mistakes when it comes to modulating the power/responsibility dynamic, but his willingness to own up to his mistakes makes him heroic. By now, he has also learned the lesson from the previous film and knows that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, and he need not go it alone. How director Jon Watts is executing this growth arc for Peter isn’t all that different from any other superhero, but Holland is so earnest and fun that it is exciting to watch him learn and grow.
Warning: The rest of this review contains spoilers for Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Comics fans won’t be surprised when Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio is revealed to be a secret evil mastermind. But this interpretation of the character fits perfectly into my Big Thesis for superhero films, that the best villains are a dark mirror of the hero in some way. In the comics, Quentin Beck is a disgruntled special effects wizard, and this film reveals him to be the creator of B.A.R.F., which Tony Stark used to interact with holographic versions of his parents at the beginning of Captain America: Civil War. So still a master of illusions, but updated. Both Beck and Parker are part of Tony Stark’s legacy, for good and bad. It’s always refreshing when the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) reminds us that Stark wasn’t perfect. Spider-Man was the legacy he chose, but Beck and his cadre demonstrate that the skeletons in his closet have not been forgotten. However, it is what Beck and Parker choose to do about this legacy that defines who they are as people. Beck is all about manipulation and control, while Parker fights for the truth. But the catch is that both Beck and Parker hide behind masks. Which version of them is real, and which is the illusion? This isn’t exactly new ground (see the Superman speech from Kill Bill Vol. 2), but the answer in both Far From Home and Spider-Man 2 is that balance between the two is a necessary, and unstable thing. There is no equilibrium for Peter Parker.
Mysterio has long been my favorite of the webslinger’s rogues gallery, half for his wonderfully garish yet simple costume design, and half for how he fights Spider-Man not as a physical threat but as a manipulator of reality. I am happy to report that not only does the costume survive the transition to the screen mostly intact, weird pyramid eyes, fishbowl helmet and all, but there is at least one sequence that perfectly captures the unreality of the Spider-Man/Mysterio fights in the comics. I’ve also become a Jake Gyllenhaal fan in the last few years, and he does not disappoint at all. He has a huge range in this movie from subdued mentor to rabid villain and back again, which Gyllenhaal excels at maximizing. The character truly lives up to the version from the comic.
While I was hesitant to have a Spider-Man movie that barely takes place in his home of New York, Far From Home uses the setting well enough because the film’s central conflict is Peter Parker needing to choose between New York and the Avengers. It’s also nice to have action scenes that don’t look like they were filmed in an Atlanta parking lot.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is now playing in Philly theaters.