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Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)
~Review by Grawlix (August 2019)
I don’t envy the position director Jon Watts was placed into with Spider-Man: Far from Home. I mean, how does one even begin to follow a movie like Avengers: Endgame. Granted, Far from Home was well in the can before Endgame released, but still, Watts had to know what he’d be coming after, both thematically and in terms of budget. So, Watts (or more specifically, the writing team of Erik Sommers and Chris McKenna) decided to go small. Not like they really had much of a choice, when you think about it. How could they possibly go bigger than Endgame? But still, Avengers dealt with time travel, quantum dimensions, and an entire war between heroes and aliens? Far from Home hinges on a high school field trip.
Eight months after the events of Endgame, things have apparently calmed down enough that most people have settled back into some semblance of normality, and Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and his class embark on a field trip across Europe. Peter just wants to be a kid again, for a while, and confess his feelings to his crush, MJ (the mononymous Zendaya) in Paris. Of course, this being the Marvel Universe, things never stay simple for long, and since the Earth is suffering from a shortage of superheroes after Endgame, it falls on Peter’s relatively inexperienced shoulders to pick up the slack when the next round of superhuman hijinks inevitably occurs. This time around, the nexus of these hijinks is Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a, …er, mysterious character, with an even more mysterious backstory. I don’t want to say too much because, even though anyone familiar with Spider-Man’s supporting cast will be able to predict most of what comes next, the movie’s advertising managed to keep most of the twists well-guarded and I don’t want to spoil anything for those who genuinely don’t know (I went to my screening with my brother, a Spider-Man neophyte, and he didn’t have a clue).
I’ve said this about a lot of Marvel movies, but I felt it was a bit more noticeable here, that Far from Home really feels more like a cog in the wheel of the mighty MCU machine, dependent on prior movies to provide necessary context for what’s going on. I hasten to add that this isn’t really a problem, per se. Whoever is in charge of editorial and continuity in the MCU has done a bang up job of maintaining consistency, from a timeline that can comfortably reference prior episodes (even factoring in the time travelling) to making sure the same actors keep returning to play the same characters (franchise contracts must be bulletproof these days). But there were times in Far from Home in which various metaplot threads felt like they were getting in each other’s way. There’s the Endgame fallout which also dovetails with leftover plot threads from the Ironman movies. Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan is a constant presence as is Nick Fury (the Immutable Samuel L Jackson) and both seemed determined to drop as much responsibility as possible onto our teenage protagonist, regardless of the consequences.
Now, far be it from me to complain about action in a superhero movie, but given all of the high school drama that Far from Home talks up in its opening reel, and given that Spider-Man has one of the best and most diverse supporting casts in comics, it is a little off-putting how quickly the movie dives into the deep end with SHIELD and Stark et al. There’s an amusing subplot with Ned Leeds and Betty Brant (Jacob Batalon and Angourie Rice, respectively). The neurotic, put-upon teachers accompanying the class are always good for a laugh, and even Flash Thompson’s (Tony Revolori) affable dickishness adds some spice to the mixture, but overall it sometimes feels like FfH is trying to cover a bit too much ground for its own good, leading to strange incongruities like a surprisingly casual attitude toward Spider-Man’s secret identity, even though Peter specifically notes this as a concern. There are also a couple scenes in which Peter nearly exterminates his entire class, which are usually played for laughs, but did strain my suspension of disbelief regarding how much power would realistically be entrusted to a teenager, even in a superhero context.
When it comes to the visuals, I mean, it’s Marvel. It’s Disney. Do we really need to belabor them at this point? Whoever’s in charge of parceling out the effects assignments clearly has their job(s) down to a science. They might not be smashing planets together in this one, but the effects look great, and not only do they cleverly update some classic ideas for a modern audience, but they also tie them to the existing MCU more smoothly that I would have expected. The varied European locales are a nice bonus too. Normally when a series or franchise inexplicably relocates to across the pond it’s a sign that a budget has been cut (Ghost Rider: Spirits of Vengeance is the first example that springs to mind) but here it just gives more varied scenery for the action scenes. The thematic purposes become more and more trifling as the movie roars on, but hey, destroying famous landmarks is a hallowed action movie tradition at this point, and Far from Home gives us our money’s worth in this regard.
Far from Home is a fun enough romp, and I was consistently entertained, but it also feels like an odd note on which to close out Phase 3 of the MCU. There were plenty of big moments, this is a summer blockbuster, after all, but there weren’t many memorable moments of the type that stick with you after you leave the theater. A little surprising, really, considering that this movie technically marks the end of the shared Sony/Marvel Spider-man collaboration. Probably the most significant takeaway from FfH, for me anyway, was that we finally got an in-universe acknowledgement that after everything that’s happened in the MCU up to this point, people are jaded. There’s really no such thing as farfetched in this reality any more. Really, it would be the case that any sort of confirmed superhuman activity would represent a paradigm shift that would rock the entire world to its very core. Naturally, things would be a bit different in a comic book universe, but it’s understandable that after superpowers, alien invasions, magic, and the death and subsequent rebirth of half the population of the planet, people might finally be getting a bit numb to it all. And, I don’t know. Maybe I’m getting a bit jaded too.
Final Grade: B
The early going promises a more personal, close-up superhero movie, but by the end it’s throwing the kitchen sink at the action. And while I love kitchen sink action, this soon after Endgame it just feels like something’s missing; the Wow factor that takes things to the next level isn’t quite there. Spider-Man: Far from Home is a solid superhero film that delivers the requisite thrills and spills, but while it’s good, it’s not exceptional.
Mid and post credits sequences are back on the docket. The Mid-credits sequence in particular is a can’t miss and shows that Marvel still has some interesting plans for the character, so they best get Sony’s lawyers back to the bargaining table and hammer out a new deal.
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