Directed by Jon Watts
Starring Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson
In a media environment where we consume as much news about the movies as the movies themselves, Marvel Studios prexy Kevin Feige calling Spider-Man: Far from Home an epilogue to the world-changing events of Avengers: Endgame might be doing Tom Holland’s second solo outing as the friendly neighborhood webslinger a bit of a disservice. It makes what is mostly a charming story about an adolescent who wants to put the brakes on growing up too fast into nothing more than a clean-up exercise.
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After a cold open set in Morocco that has Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and longtime assistant Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) witnessing a fight between a sentient mountain of sand and an inter-dimensional warrior named Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal, accomplishing more with a fishbowl on his head than a lesser actor would have), Far from Home goes about mining comedy gold from Peter Parker planning a way to declare his intense crush on MJ (Zendaya) during a school trip across Europe. Peter and his friends are still processing the after-effects of the instantaneous disintegration and re-appearance five years later of half the world’s population, now known as “The Blip” (because I guess only insiders with knowledge of Thanos’ plans would go with the more obvious “The Snapture”). When Far from Home focuses on the teens, it can do no wrong: From small details like a hokey, homemade tribute video scored to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” to a scheme for plane-seating reassignment that hilariously backfires, screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers display their deep affection for the John Hughes teen-comedy playbook, and everything they borrow from it works wonderfully.
It’s when Far from Home dips into the bigger-world questions of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that it wobbles. After witnessing the opening fight between Beck (whom the kids dub “Mysterio” after an Italian news broadcast characterizes him that way) and the sand monster, known as an Elemental, Fury is intent on passing the mantle of Avenger leadership to Peter, and the teen is having none of it. He especially starts to question his fitness after he inherits new weapons-tech masquerading as eyewear from Tony Stark and almost orders a drone strike on his tour bus to silence a competitor to MJ’s affections (Crazy Rich Asians’ Remy Hii). Fortunately, Peter has an empathetic ear in Mysterio, who knows all about the burdens of superheroism (“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” says a character at one point, marking a rare occasion where Shakespeare is referenced in a Marvel movie). And it isn’t long before Peter is absolving his responsibilities so he can just go be a kid.
Homecoming was a refreshingly grounded entry in the MCU—even its big villain had an all-too-human motive for his dastardly deeds. Far from Home should have leaned into that strength. Instead, it takes its villain’s motivation and blows it up into an incoherent scheme involving weaponized drones and alternate realities that not only asks you to suspend your disbelief, but obliterate it completely, offering nothing more than the tangentially topical observation that “people will believe anything these days” as justification. Yes, maybe people will believe anything they see now, but for a movie whose declared purpose for being is processing the consequences of wholesale destruction, it is head-scratching how blithely it discounts the visible aftermaths of its own mayhem.
Holland is still affable and accessible as Peter Parker, and it is affecting to see him grapple with the sorrow, loss, and constant reminders of his interrupted apprenticeship with Tony Stark (one of which involves Stark’s butler Happy angling to get together with Marisa Tomei’s dishy Aunt May—again, when Far from Home zeroes in on its earth-bound comedy, it works). But it is frustrating that a huge chunk of the movie’s conflict for him still centers on keeping his identity secret, a concern which was dispensed with as early as the first Iron Man movie. It is also telling that neither of the two end-credit sequences in Far from Home hint at plot openings for the larger Marvel Universe going forward. In that respect, Far from Home does feel like an epilogue; I only wish it could have also been a prologue to the next chapter.
Photographs from Columbia Pictures