Peter Parker says “friendly neighbourhood” Spider-Man one too many times.
We’ve already seen him (on his first of now two trips to Germany) take on an armada of Avengers, a band of tech-heavy mercenaries, fight for the fate of the universe and, as Nick Fury astutely points out, travel to outer space.
Sure there’s plenty of comics to draw from with Spidey foiling muggers about Queens but it’s a very tangled web to weave (I promise it’s just the one) to now pretend he’s only really accustomed to the ‘smaller’ stuff.
Strangely enough, Far From Home actually takes place on a lighter stage than its precursors and, for a welcome change of pace, that faced doesn’t threaten to destroy all life in the universe or even nearby planetary realms.
Somehow ill-content when otherwise ever-ready to at least help from the sidelines, Fury-ous machinations whir into place to ensure Spidey at least shows up on the day. Contending with giant recognisably human shaped ‘Elementals’ who turn up in the form of wind, water and else to wreak havoc on European capitals, wherever they are, so is the very mysterious, power-wielding Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) to fend them off.
Suffice to say, there’s a shrewd twist on all this Marvel lore.
The problem with Far From Home is that it only gets interesting or even good in its second half. Contenting itself with a happy-snappy summer vacay for Peter’s class across Europe at the outset, to the film’s credit this and the other plot dynamics which might seem ludicrous or teeming with happenstance start to make sense as the curtain comes down.
Marvel #23 fills itself with meta-commentary on the extent to which the MCU and indeed our own world have come to value and perceive superheros, most prominent among them Tony Stark. There’s a surprisingly cynical undercurrent running through Far From Home relating just how much we are willing to take for granted not only the presence of superheroes but by virtue of their seeming infallibility their intentions, and too abundantly rely on, as Marvel has always stressed, perceptibly flawed individuals to always do good by us.
To the matter of the MCU itself, there’s a pretty funny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gag on this universe’s own in-universe superhero flicks which are the only films available to Peter on the flight over.
Following Homecoming’s lead in expanding this universe beyond its titans and to those more significantly affected by what might be a regular day for the Hulks of the world, Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) also gets a bit more to do. Some of her line delivery (fairly given the writing) is about as forced as the later season gags in How I Met Your Mother, but she does get to fire a gun in one of the film’s more entertaining moments.
Gyllenhaal; the issue is that he, like this film, is only interesting for about one solid half of what runs for two hours-plus, even if he does imbue scenes which in the hands of most other actors would be boring with some intrigue and charisma. An about average performance for one of the most interesting actors working today in Hollywood, he’s still ace as always and on the occasions when Gyllenhaal has good material to work with Far From Home noticeably reaches its heights.
Too best when exploring some of the trippy visual experimentation the likes of which were so better achieved in Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse, alas; unlike its predecessor here such treats are barely sustained beyond minutes or less when they do arise. Thankfully, Far From Home did however take some cues for scene transitions. Several working seamlessly and with no unnecessary padding at all, the film adopts stylistic, action-orientated rather than situational transitions as if you were still snug at home flipping pages.
Tom Holland is very good and he’s fairly the best on-screen Spider-Man to date, balancing the acrobatics, action sequences, alter ego and awkward schoolboy routine more convincingly and endearingly than either Maguire or Garfield. Zendaya, playing a much more nuanced iteration than Dunst, does very well; too getting some of the best laughs as MJ. Australia’s own Angourie Rice, with limited screen-time, noticeably manages to sell all this much better than a lot of her co-stars.
Jacob Batalon and Martin Starr, both returning as Pete’s best mate and teacher respectively, don’t see nearly so many of their gags land. More a consequence of the writing than their performances, the screenwriters simply relied on tired shticks, and in the case of Starr’s a stock-standard uninspiring tour leader bit, being funny, with Batalon in particular tasked with a one-joke romance subplot that’s stretched out for the entire film.
Starting fairly on the nose with the music choice (even if it’s an excellent song it just clashes), Far From Home goes yet further in it’s opening moments to acknowledge that this universe has entered a new “phase.” In a film that doesn’t always choose it’s words carefully, the Producers obviously haven’t seen Team America either given the title cards make reference to, for instance, “Prague, Czech Republic” alongside “Newark, New Jersey.”
Touching on the immediate fallout from Endgame, had Far From Home explored the effects of what is here called “the blip” in more detail and the consequences of half the universe disappearing this might have proved more memorable. But, hey, there’s landmarks to destroy.
On the subject of CGI, cast your mind back to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. Remember that scene where Goblin is lecturing Spidey on a rooftop, or chasing him in the streets atop the glider, or fighting in the final confrontation? They all have something strange in common and it’s that the actors, absent any enhanced graphic imagery (though fairly with some practical effects) just get to work their magic all on their own. The difference is it looks and feels real and it’s such a refreshing change from an onslaught of still excellent digital generation to just watch a couple of really strong performers hang out in costume. Far From Home comes close and notably there’s a very similar exchange atop a roof between Mysterio and our webslinger, but there’s nothing here where it’s apparent the performers got to straightforwardly emphasise their own theatrics rather than that colourful others could build around them.
Leaning too heavily on the 80’s-inspired bits and only really becoming engaging following very generic fare with the peculiar second act about-turn, the end-credits are too something to hold out for and like Gyllenhaal ensured this was a worthy watch.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is in cinemas from July 1