by Philip Price
Director: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal & Samuel L. Jackson
Runtime: 2 hours & 9 minutes
Jon Watts' second ‘Spider-Man’ film, “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” has a lot of things going on, but just as Thanos preached in “Avengers: Infinity War,” what keeps everything intact and moving at a sustainable pace in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a post-Mad Titan world is, somewhat ironically I guess, the fact Watts and the screenwriters are able to keep everything "perfectly balanced". What is most interesting in slating the sequel to Watts' 2017 film as the immediate successor to “Avengers: Endgame” though, is that it immediately signaled the type of tone Marvel Studios and "showrunner" Kevin Feige would be addressing the fallout of the monumental events that any average viewer of the MCU knew were coming. The fact remaining that while ‘Endgame’ concludes on something of an uplifting note for Steve Rogers the ramifications for many other characters were nowhere near as...complete. There were countless questions that required the attention of the creators behind the curtain: what is the state of organized religion in a post-snap world? How did those who'd gotten re-married in the five years since the snap and weren't polygamists deal with the fact their husband and/or wife just showed back up one day? If kids not snapped away aged five years and presumably continued their schooling, why would they still be in the same grade as their counterparts that did "blip" away? As Betty Brant (Angourie Rice) puts it at the beginning of ‘Far From Home,’ "it's been a long, dramatic, somewhat confusing road," and while the subject of our review today might be intended to bridge the gap and help audiences, "move on...to a new phase in our lives," the fact remains that this "bridging of the gap" could have been handled in a multitude of ways, but for one reason or another Feige and co. decided to place this responsibility on the back of their friendly neighborhood Spider-Man and thus the question remains the same: why? Why is Tom Holland's 16-year old Peter Parker, the youngest avenger, the one to bear this responsibility? It all comes back to that aspect of tone and knowing what consequences to take seriously and place weight in while knowing which to laugh off; Watts' high school comedies dressed up as super hero flicks make an ideal vehicle to blend the heart and the humor and it doesn't hurt that the film becomes a pretty good ‘Spider-Man’ movie along the way as well.
This being something of a delayed review, I'm sure you've heard by this point that in ‘Far From Home,’ both Holland's Parker and Parker's secret identity are dealing with those aforementioned ramifications by attempting to take a break, but as any of those revenging avengers would tell Parker or, you know, as his Uncle Ben likely once did..."with great power comes great responsibility." This is essentially what Parker is learning here despite Feige and the MCU convincing us that it skipped Spider-Man’s origin story altogether. Nearly every scene in ‘Far From Home’ has Holland’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man reiterating the fact he’s just a kid and that he isn’t ready to take on the weight of the role that is being thrust upon him. As if inheriting super powers weren’t enough the precedent set by his teacher and mentor, Tony Stark AKA Iron Man, has added more pressure to rise to the occasion while-as a viewer-one just wants to see our young webslinger get his way every now and then. It is in this aspect though, this upending of Peter’s hopes and dreams every time he seemingly comes close to achieving something that Watts and the writers generate a sense of the comic book wall crawler as set within the confines of the MCU. Wanting to escape to Europe on a class trip after the events of ‘Infinity War’ and ‘Endgame,’ Peter Parker is keen on leaving his secret identity in Queens, but even on this short getaway and even after the cataclysmic events of ‘Endgame,’ the world can’t help but to throw another hurdle at the high-schooler and thus is the reason Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill are finally, properly introduced to Peter Parker and furthermore, why they introduce Peter to Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a scientist posing as a super hero from another dimension that has come to the MCU’s Earth in order to help stop a gang of “elementals” that destroyed his world and have now moved on to theirs. Of course, given Mysterio is a golden age villain from Spider-Man’s rogues gallery going back as far as the mid-sixties and given Beck is Mysterio’s alter ego, it’s also a given that Beck would turn out to be a liar and a fraud…an illusionist of sorts, if you will. This isn’t as much spoiling anything as it is confirming suspicions, but nonetheless ‘Far From Home’ essentially goes on to ape the villain arc from ‘Homecoming’ (at this rate, half of the sinister six will have bones to pick with Spider-Man based solely on feuds created by Stark) and “Iron Man 3” before that and “Iron Man 2” before that, and Civil War to a certain extent as well. See the crutch here?
This isn't necessarily a complaint per se and Gyllenhaal is such a strong presence and good actor that the arc doesn't so much matter because the guy is going to sell it regardless, but there is a certain hope that in Spider-Man's future things might shift from him having to deal with remnants of Tony Stark's past to actually dealing with Spider-Man inspired foes. On the plus side, screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”) use the inevitable after-effects of Tony Stark burning so many bridges to genuinely further our main character here as the growth of Peter from ‘Homecoming’ to ‘Far From Home’ is apparent with certain events that take place here only destined to continue to force Spider-Man to change and adapt. In ‘Homecoming,’ Peter couldn't wait to become a member of the Avengers and yearned to tackle more than neighborhood thugs and small time crooks, but in ‘Far From Home’ he actually considers not taking his Spider-Man suit with him on vacation. There is a crevice opening between the two identities and thus the birth of this internal conflict that makes Peter Parker Spider-Man. One can only imagine that in what will be Holland's "senior year" film as Spider-Man, that Peter Parker will be attempting to find a balance between the two especially given that revelation in the mid-credits scene. Balancing the inner turmoil of his main character torn between his responsibilities as Spider-Man and his desire to chase after Zendaya's MJ while on their class trip, Watts effectively utilizes the majority of ‘Far From Home’ to solidify just how much growing up Parker has done and still needs to do while also dealing in aspects of that five year jump from ‘Endgame,’ Mysterio's own endgame plans, while setting up who knows how many narrative strands for the future of the MCU even when they don't necessarily seem to be warranted in this movie in particular (I'm looking at you, Fury). As far as larger themes and ideas, ‘Far From Home’ largely sticks to these guns of sacrificing one's own desires for the greater good, but due to the ever moving larger machinations of the MCU this standard motif feels more grave when set against Mysterio's motivations, by involving Nick Fury and therefore involving S.H.I.E.L.D. and simply by virtue of the implications of Mysterio's story and what it could mean for the bigger picture (Hello, Doctor Strange!). Does this make the latest installment in Marvel: The Series less enjoyable? No, but does it imply its existence is more surplus than necessity? Kind of.
At its heart though, ‘Far From Home’ is a teen comedy about a boy trying to win over a girl and it is these unique to the MCU elements that allow Holland's Spider-Man to stand apart from both his fellow heroes in this universe as well as from the previous incarnations of Spider-Man. The camaraderie between Holland and Jacob Batalon, returning as Ned, is effortless while the dynamic between Holland and Zendaya is both the right amount of cute and credible as Zendaya continues to embody the most endearing of rebels. Tony Revolori's Flash Thompson continues to be more fleshed out as well with the writers setting up some pretty solid running gags for the character if not trying to make him a little more sympathetic while Ned and Betty's tryst, no matter how short-lived, is a nice little touch and a convenient way of bringing more of Peter's classmates into the fold in order to have them feel more essential and the viewer more ingrained with this group of classmates. Dealing with "the blip" via Remy Hii's Brad character is both a funny way to illustrate how everything works in a post-‘Endgame’ world, not to mention some funny bits as conveyed via Martin Starr's Mr. Harrington, while also feeling like something of a cop-out given the aftermath of ‘Endgame’ felt as if it should maybe permeate throughout more of everyone's daily life. I know, Aunt May's (Marisa Tomei) whole arc here deals in re-building after "the blip" and helping those displaced by the event and I guess focusing on a group of teens more self-involved than they are involved with the world around them is again, the reason Marvel chose to follow-up that last ‘Avengers’ film with a ‘Spider-Man’ flick, but the choice to do this in the first place reinforces that whole feeling of superfluity. I hate to sound too down on the film because it's undoubtedly an enjoyable vacation romp with one of my favorite super heroes of all time in the lead and great performances across the board, but the lack of a real, vital heartbeat only beginning to truly pulse in the final moments of the film is something of an issue. It's also easy to see that Watts is a gifted storyteller as gleaned from the fact the character interactions are the most enjoyable and entertaining moments in the movie, but outside of a single sequence the visual stylings of ‘Far From Home’ largely feel muted and flat with the reliance on CGI seeming abundant. If the creativity on display in that aforementioned sequence can be combined with the more visceral aesthetic of the first post-credits scene it would seem that Spider-Man's return to Manhattan would indeed feel more necessary...probably even amazing. P.S. Jon Favreau is low-key this movies MVP.