Jeez, trying to fill Tony Stark’s shoes is apparently a whole lot harder than even your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man could have imagined!
Acting as sort of an epilogue to this summer’s Avengers: Endgame as well as the final chapter in the entire 11 year, 22 film long Infinity Saga that kicked off with the first Iron Man movie, Spider-Man: Far From Home sees Peter Parker (Tom Holland), Ned (Jacob Batalon), MJ (Zendaya) and their fellow classmates who were all effectively “snapped” out of existence for 5 years during the events of Infinity War and Endgame, as they take a school sanctioned vacation to Europe to unwind and enjoy themselves over the summer. With the need to feel like a regular teenager instead of the spectacular Spider-Man for once, as well as the thought of living in a world without Iron Man weighing heavily on his shoulders, Peter decides against any superhero shenanigans for the duration of the trip, opting instead to try and woo MJ and confess his feelings for her by the trip’s end. But as to be expected, villainous villains always have other ideas, so when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) calls on Peter and his alter ego for help in stopping four newly surfaced Elementals, or giant destructive beings made out of air, water, fire or earth, Peter barely has a choice in the matter. Partnered with Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a fellow superhero that is soon dubbed Mysterio, Spider-Man must do his very best to yet again balance his real life responsibilities with his super powered ones as he and his class travel across Europe with the threat of utter annihilation unknowingly hovering above their heads as they go. So basically it’s just another day in the life of your friendly neighborhood *ahem*friendly international Spider-Man!
Forget about all of the usual superhero antics and typical “save the city/world” angle which all of these films use to some degree or another, and instead focus on the real bread and butter of this film as you watch: the character work. Sure there’s enough big booms and CGI fights to make your head spin, but the personal journeys each character takes by summer’s end are where the real story – and in my opinion the entire movie – is hung on. Right off the bat we’re introduced to a Peter Parker that is still coming to terms with the fact that he has lost a father figure, a mentor and a friend in the late Tony Stark, and now, after the climactic defeat of Thanos, truly has an understanding as to what the greatest responsibility must be when you inevitably wield the greatest of power.
During most of the film, Peter is understandably feeling a bit lost and wracked with anxiety, a grounding element that the script uses throughout to great extent, choosing more so to flesh out Peter and his relationships with the people around him rather than fully explore the many aspects of the film that are superhero related. With most of the old Avenger guard either gone or dead, Peter is constantly wondering if he’ll ever be able to live up to their memories and become the next great superhero the world needs, or conversely, if he’s nowhere near ready for that kind of responsibility.
Everyone from Peter’s best buddy, Ned, to the obnoxious bully that is Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), to the chaperones assigned to watching these teens during the trip, all have something to do or say that directly affects Peter and his own confusing and hectic journey. It’s almost as if the introduction of Mysterio, the over reliance of Nick Fury’s presence and the idea of the Elementals plaguing the Spider-Man plotline were more of an afterthought to this story rather than the real driving force behind it, a point that is driven home when it feels like more time is spent with Peter out of costume than in it. Due to this, the meat of the story is put squarely on the actors’ shoulders to entertain and nail the material, and luckily each and every person cast does a near perfect job with their screen time, Gyllenhaal fairing a bit worse than the rest until midway through the film when his character is given a bit more to do. This approach is an odd shift from Homecoming’s great mix of riveting character work and explosive action beats, but it seems this time around the filmmakers were only able to strengthen one element of the story at the slight loss of the other.
Fortunately I can honestly say that there are no true “bad” parts of this film, a feat that many recent Marvel films have luckily avoided, but my slight frustration with a lot of what happens onscreen stems from the fact that there’s a whole lot of “meh” going on with only sprinkles of true greatness mixed in. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing here that will break this movie for you or have you crying foul as to what Spidey and crew are doing throughout, but compared to the surprisingly stellar Spider-Man: Homecoming (which also happens to be my favorite live-action Spider-Man film), Far From Home just doesn’t hit those same heights, nor even really seems concerned with trying to reach for them to begin with. The European vacation setting seems entirely underused save for some cool exterior shots, the action is slightly underwhelming (save for the final battle), and the attention paid to the entire Mysterio and Elemental storyline feels contrived, exposition-y and handled with much less care than the rest of the film, a problem that the script slips into more often than it should. An argument could be made that this film should have been scored in the high 7 out of 10 range, but throw in the fact that Spider-Man is such a fun and entertaining character to watch, and that the strength of the character work done in this film alone was so satisfying and unexpected, and I’ll forgive myself for scoring it a bit higher than it might deserve.
While far from being as good as it could have been and falling a few feet short of the fantastic Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-Man: Far From Home still does a whole lot right when it tries to break the mold most MCU films have already done to death, but mostly suffers when it chooses to be a bit lazy and safe in its execution otherwise. Though enjoyable throughout on a base level (this is a Spider-Man film we’re talking about here, folks), the movie teeters from being great to being just okay as its script stumbles from time to time and its focus wavers from what works best to what will simply get the job done. With a genuinely explosive and thrilling third act, and a real beating heart in the form of Peter and MJ’s organically budding and entirely believable romance, by the time the credits roll this Spidey film entertains even if it doesn’t amaze. That being said, if the mid-credit scene in this one is to be believed (and I still can’t believe what I saw!), Spider-Man’s best adventure is still yet to come!