for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments
Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau
Kevin Feige, Amy Pascal
Sony Pictures on
This review contains significant spoilers for "Avengers: Endgame" and minor spoilers for "Spider-Man: Far from Home."
Spider-Man: Far from Home works best when viewed as an epilogue to Avengers: Endgame (and, by extension, the entire MCU multi-film arc to this point) instead of a stand-alone adventure. Perhaps of necessity considering the monumental task it has of following up on The Big Wrap-Up, Far from Home falls back on standard superhero tropes. Although there are some twists (which won't be viewed as such by anyone familiar with the comic books), the basic structure is essentially hero vs. villain without many of the subtleties and tangential elements that have elevated the better MCU offerings. This movie is more about ending one era and starting another while giving Tom Holland an opportunity to continue to fill the shoes of Tobey Maguire (and, to a lesser extent, Andrew Garfield).
The screenplay, credited to Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, wrestles with the aftermath of Thanos' snap. While a five-year age difference might not be viewed as a big thing for adults, it's more than an inconvenience for high school kids. Far from Home also has to deal with the post-Avengers superhero "reality." However, even though some of the highest profile saviors are gone, the film tap dances around the survivors' whereabouts. Thor is said to be "off-world." Others are "unavailable." No one mentions Scarlett Witch, Hawkeye, Black Panther, or a host of other Earth-based heroes who presumably could join Spider-Man. (To be fair, the post-credits sequence offers an explanation of sorts, but it's spoiler-ish, so I won't get into it here.)
Fortunately for Peter Parker (Tom Holland), all of his friends and family members were also obliterated by the snap (in an event now referred to as The Blip), so their relative ages remain constant. In particular, Peter's crush, MJ (Zendaya), is still in high school, as is his annoying best buddy, Ned (Jacob Batalon), and Ned's girlfriend, Betty (Angourie Rice). Aunt May appears as hot as ever, although with the ageless Marisa Tomei playing her, who would know if she added a few years? The movie spends the better part of its first 20 minutes (or so) attempting to give a sense of the "new normal."
Peter feels lacking for what Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) expect: elevating his position as Tony Stark's protege to that of Tony Stark's successor. There's a new threat facing Earth - a series of four Elementals that could destroy the planet from the inside out - and Fury needs a new "Avengers"-like team led by Spider-Man and the mysterious Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a superhero from a parallel Earth. Peter is more interested in being a normal teenager, taking his school trip to Europe, and trying to figure out how to tell MJ that he really likes her. Fury, not used to being defied, manipulates Peter's life script so he's in the right place at the right time. (The place in question being Prague.)
As was the case with Spider-Man: Homecoming, director Jon Watts keeps the tone as light as possible considering the remnants of the Endgame cloud that hangs over the world. Images of Iron Man are everywhere and Peter is suffering from a sense of extreme inadequacy. He's more than happy to let Mysterio take the lead while he hangs back and fills the sidekick role. Watts is adept at developing the Peter/MJ dynamic (this is pure rom-com territory), although he doesn't quite generate the level of magic Maguire and Kirsten Dunst conjured for Sam Raimi 15 years ago.
Once area where Watts' vision encounters limitations is a key psychedelic sequence that echoes something out of Doctor Strange albeit with less flair and imagination. In overlaying perception and reality, Watts never tricks us enough for it to work. If one was to compare this to Christopher Nolan's Inception, there's no question which offers a more complex scenario. In Far from Home, there's a sense that Watts wants to play it safe rather than risking an overreach. For those who would argue that Spider-Man needs to remain guarded to guarantee its box office, I present Exhibit A: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which was anything but "safe." In fact, to the extent that I was disappointed by aspects of Far from Home, it may be because Into the Spider-Verse raised the bar for what a Spider-Man movie can be.
As one might expect from a Marvel feature, there are mid-credits and post-credits scenes. Both are important and need to be seen in order to get the entire picture of where the future is headed (there's also a great cameo). The film's significance to the overall MCU and its role in "normalizing" the post-Thanos milieu forces one to think beyond the tepid superhero elements when evaluating Far from Home. Its strengths lie more in the existential realm than the tangible one. By using its most popular (at least over time) superhero, Marvel has smoothed over the aftermath and recalibrated the universe for whatever lies ahead. With a dose of comedy, a dash of romance, and some CGI-heavy battles, the film accomplishes what it needs to do.
© 2019 James Berardinelli
Cinemas About Town