Spider-Man: Far From Home
Directed by Jon Watts
Written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers
Starring Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, and Cobie Smulders
Reber’s Rating – B+
**MINOR SPOILERS WITHIN!**
The various actors who have portrayed Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the last 18 years has turned into the classic story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Tobey Maguire was the right Peter Parker, not the right Spider-Man. Andrew Garfield provided yuks as Spider-Man, though bored as Peter Parker. Tom Holland though? Not only is his Peter Parker very much on point, his Spider-Man feels ripped off Stan Lee’s pages from the 1960’s too. Though 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming was a step in the right direction, a blend of John Hughes sincerity with high-flying fracas, Spider-Man’s MCU debut didn’t have the panache of 2004’s Spider-Man 2. After a heartbreaking turn in last year’s Infinity War and triumphant return in April’s Endgame, Holland’s Spider-Man is given the honor to close out Phase 3 of the MCU.
Far From Home is a major step above its 2017 counterpart, addressing the the fallout of Endgame, yet building upon the characters introduced just two short years ago. Tom Holland solidifies his legacy as the defacto Peter Parker/Spider-Man above all, though the real question is – does Far From Home topple Sam Raimi’s exemplary Spider-Man 2.1? In a couple ways, surely, but overall Far From Home tries too hard and feels like two different films spliced together, witticism and teenage hi-jinks laced with excitement. I felt severely underwhelmed for a film that serves as both the final chapter of MCU’s Phase 3 and laying the foundation for Phase 4, the two stingers within the credits spiking my curiosity to serve as the saving grace for a wildly uneven blockbuster.
Far From Home, much like last summer’s lighthearted Ant-Man & The Wasp, has a major dilemma – a wild rollercoaster lacking a proper genre or identity. The film doesn’t settle on which genre the action aims for. Is Far From Home a teenage comedy or an action blockbuster Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, who’ve penned both action escapades, return for the sequel but without Jon Francis Daley nor Jonathan Goldstein. Their brand of humor, as displayed in NBC’s Community, is a natural fit for a character whose stories are laced with levity. Though the film’s whimsicality is not in question, Far From Home doesn’t settle on a genre till the last hour. The first hour focuses more on Peter’s need to mask his heroics from his fellow students, clownish moments that are guaranteed to draw a laugh. Throw in some angst-ridden teenage romance for measure, the first half feels more like Sixteen Candles than a summer tentpole.
The last hour, however, is tonally a different beast, wrought with fantastically orchestrated set pieces that amplify both the danger and stakes. One moment we’re watching National Lampoon’s European Vacation, the next we shift over to gripping harrowing action. For how frustratingly slow the first half meanders, our focus more on our sociably awkward teenagers, that second hour is worth waiting to see all the plot threads merge into one bombastic finale. If the first half is to build upon character and reintroduce audiences to these characters, the second half switches tracks and paints panels ripped from the comics of yesterday to life. Evoking the spirit of Steve Ditko, the progression of the action twists and writhes both reality and landscapes into some of the most dazzling sequences put into a comic book adaptation.
The other grievance falls back onto our obvious villain. Far From Home is one of those cases where being either a comic book aficionado or a Spider-Man fanboy can serve as a real handicap. I grew up both reading the various Spider-Man titles monthly and watching the Fox Kids cartoon gleefully. We nerds know the history of Mysterio, whichever origin you chose to acknowledge, and how the character is more a showman than a do-gooder. So to see Sony try to veil Quentin Beck as a mentor akin to Tony Stark to the emotionally fragile Peter Parker in the marketing is like dumping ice-cold water over your head. No one needs to hold a Doctorate’s Degree to know who the real villain of Far From Home is and, no, none of the Elementals are the big bads either. What, should Gyllenhaal twist his moustache too?
On the contrary character is where Far From Home excels the absolute most, boasting some of the more personal and enriched characters that feel like flesh and blood. The dynamic between Peter, Ned, and MJ feels more lively and natural. The amplified attention given to making MJ more relatable and peppy creates genuine banter between her and the smitten Parker. Really though, despite many of the background characters getting more time to shine (especially Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan), Tom Holland has finally become the new golden standard. Much like how Chris Evans is and was Captain America, Holland’s depiction of both Peter Parker and Spider-Man is spot on, from displaying Parker’s inelegant approach to human interaction to his sense of nobility and duty. Playing a 16-year-old is wearing thin on the young actor – Holland is 23 and looks his age too – but Holland is utter perfection as our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
Oh, but Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio is the best treat of all. We’ve seen Samuel L. Jackson numerous times, we know how he brings life to Nick Fury, but Gyllenhaal upstages just about everyone in every scene. Sure, we know he’s the heel somehow from the get-go, but his Mysterio stands tall with the likes of Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus and Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin. Gyllenhaal has always been underappreciated in his stagecraft, which in itself is criminal.
Most importantly, the crux of Far From Home is accepting our innermost wants. Sam Raimi’s 2004 sequel shines brightest because of thematic material. Peter Parker struggles to both accept what makes him happy most and the consequences to every action he makes. Sommers and McKenna at least recognize that the fragile Parker has lost much in his life. Though his Uncle Ben is his motivation for becoming Spider-Man, Tony Stark served as Parker’s mentor and role model. The fallout of Stark’s death looms large through Far From Home, Stark’s ghost dogging Peter as he crisscrosses Europe. Parker constantly faces the same questions – can you replace Iron Man? Will you replace Tony Stark? Most of all, who do you want to be? That’s really the toughest question of all, especially for a teenager. Do you choose your friends and stay with your crush, shirking your responsibility? Or do you put your resolve to protect the public above all else? At the end of the day we follow our hearts to do what makes us happy.
Really, that’s all that everyone wants in Far From Home. Everyone is seeking for their own little slice of nirvana and comfort, never mind each individual’s intentions. Though the first hour is riddled with yuks, the second hour is where the dynamic between our characters really starts to shine. If the entire film was more like the second half, with the action and drama finely balanced with the tomfoolery, Far From Home could easily become of the MCU’s best entries. Instead, this entry serves as a reminder that some stories are just beginning. Far From Home isn’t about the bigger universe but instead takes a needed step backward from the emotional turmoil that Avengers Endgame wrought within us. Far From Home is what is needed to close the first 23-film saga – and leave a few surprises to jump start Phase 4.