“Far From Home” is a solid if so-so Spider-Man film


Budget: $160 Million

One of the earliest posts I made about Spider-Man on this website is that his introduction into the MCU would be the catalyst for its ruination. I was premature, but after viewing Spider-Man: Far From Home I’m still not entirely sure I was wrong.

“[T]he most generous thing you can say about “Far From Home” is that it’s the third-best Spider-Man movie of the last seven [Eight] months.” said NY Film Critic David Ehrlich. It’s an okay film. Some might call it a delight. I remember how influential the first film was at the time of its release, breaking every record in sight, there was nothing like it and I credit its $100 Million Dollar weekend with the creation of the uber-blockbuster. The rebooted Amazing Series were a step down, but still something of an event. You got the sense the producers were throwing everything at the screen. For the previous film, Homecoming a joint production between Marvel and Sony; the filmmakers took their third crack at rebooting the character and successfully limited his scope to friendly neighbourhood territory. It was a great film. While similarly trying to limit the scope for a second film (the third second spider-man film), the taxing reality of operating within a mega-franchise comes to collect in this film which exhausts itself with explanations on how it ties into the previous Avengers films. For the first time, the cracks of the seemingly effortless world building begin to show. We get some chuckles and breezy character work by committed players, but for better and worse this is the least interesting Spider-Man film by far and the least special.

I don’t blame returning writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (Community, Homecoming, Ant-Man & The Wasp, Jumanji 2). As much as I was disappointed with their underwritten Ant-Man sequel, I blame returning director Jon Watts for not bringing much this time to the table. This is a noticeable quality dip from the previous film and carries symptoms of sequelitis. From shifting to an uninspired European locale like Vacation, no doubt an inspiration for this film, (others Garfield, Deuce Bigelow, Rush Hour have done this) and having an overabundant cast, the movie spends too much time doing exposition cleanup for other Marvel movies and commits the egregious sin of the previous second spider-man film sacrificing valuable writing territory to save for a later film. There are interesting ideas at play here, and the romantic elements work because the actors have a good friendly chemistry that overcomes some inconsistencies. And the film does mine some storytelling territory of the events of Avengers: Endgame with ‘The Snap’ or what the characters call ‘The Blip’ causing some students to age ahead of others. But the movie never successfully argues why this should be Spider-Man’s fight.

Second billed Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio brings the right oddball energy to the proceedings and gets enough scenes, but the material doesn’t sink in the way that previous series supporting actor Michael Keaton did. Gyllenhaal is the highest profile actor to join the MCU. Good but not great (aside from Nightcrawler) he’s a hit and miss performer (positive Prisoners, Life; negative Okja, Everest). He’s also given good out-sized performances in Prince of Persia (despite white washing) The Day After Tomorrow, and Donnie Darko. Theoretically he’s a perfect fit for Mysterio. Yet his character inclusion here draws attention, perhaps somewhat purposefully to the cheesy special effects that pull together the cheapest live action Spider-Man film since the original.

SPOILER ALERT BEGINS-:

Of course Mysterio is the bad guy! You can see the beats coming a mile away. You may have guessed it from the comics, TV shows or earlier video games, or the economy of characters: there’s no major bad guy in the trailer so obviously he’s it. He is a ‘Class A’ dweeb, and a master illusionist. The second Trump-era villain in a row for Spider-Man, the film inserts him well into the established mythos. But because you never buy Quentin Beck (his real name) as a good guy, the first half of the film is spent waiting for his inevitable turn. Having Beck as a disgruntled Stark employee makes sense as does making him a relevant post-truth Steve Bannon type. The reveal is delivered in clunky expository way. But there are good ideas at play here but they are just ideas. He is a less fully baked villain and less interesting than The Vulture was. And the ultimate showdown is one of the most boring setpieces in Spider-Man history. But the movie’s one standout effect is Mysterio’s illusions and how they play with the psyche of Spider-Man. In the way that they shake the foundations of his known world occasionally achieve the goals this film was aiming for.

SPOILER ALERT ENDS–

More Positive Stuff

The characters are key and to many the difference between a good and a bad Spider-Man film. What we see here suggests a pure Spider-Man RomCom done with 3 romantic plots that more or less work. Happy Hogan steps in for Tony Stark and Peter Parker’s buddy Ned Leeds is good for a few laughs with a cute relationship of his own. For the main bit Tom Holland and Zendaya have a friendly chemistry and both play up their nervousness and teenage awkwardness well. Holland especially proves he’s the best Spider-Man with the material of the Raimi trilogy and the performance and commitment of Garfield. It’s hard to tell if MJ is either underwritten (likely) or is given a sharp edge by Zendaya but I don’t understand exactly why MJ suddenly likes Parker now other than it’s in the comics so must be. I honestly read this version of Peter as gay and MJ either an asexual or non-hetero. And I never delve much into character psychosis. Maybe I’m just getting bored with the Spider-Man mythos. The major improvement the film makes from its predecessor is the high school drama matters with actual emotional stakes for Peter. Following the last solo film he just wants to enjoy being a high school kid. And playing up the humour as this franchise always does (a little more hit-and-miss than usual) it gets a few pubescent laughs out of his dysfunctional spider-sense.

This is a perfectly watchable but inessential Spider-Man film. If the surprising zippiness of animated offshoot Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse was about opening up possibilities and following your destiny wherever it may go, this film Spider-Man 2 #3 suggests that path is predetermined by whats come before, and corporate chequebooks come first.

Tidbits:

  • The original Raimi films emphasized Peter Parker’s lower class roots, sticking him in the Disney-Marvel machine scrubs him of that relatable character detail. He’s a bit too rich and well-off which making a less relateable underdog. Ever wonder what most of these other active superheroes do for a living?
  • Like the Ant-Man sequel, despite being one of Marvel’s top solo franchises this feels like Backburner B-Squad film. Since Marvel was working on this the same time as Captain Marvel and Avengers they might’ve gotten more valuable attention in story detail and special effects during post-production. A crime shame. Spider-Man deserves more.

 

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