Monday, July 1, 2019

'Spider-Man: Far From Home' (2019) Movie Review

spider-man does spider-man things

Just a heads up: talking about Spider-Man: Far from Home necessitates discussion of key events from Avengers: Infinity War. So, be warned if you’re one of the five people on Earth who hasn’t watched that particular motion picture yet.

If Avengers: Endgame felt like an end, like the closing of a door, Spider-Man: Far from Home plays almost like an epilogue at the end of a novel. It finds characters dealing with the fallout and contending with previous events. Time has passed, but even from the opening scene, the specter of loss looms large over the entire film.

spider-man swings through the city

Though to call Far from Home a coda to Endgame—or in context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, maybe a post-credits stinger—does it a disservice. It functions that way, but even though it connects to the larger chain of episodic events—IMO, the hammering home of those connections is the film’s weakest aspect—it works better as a single, standalone movie than many of its compatriots.

With Spider-Man: Homecoming, the Wall-Crawler’s first solo MCU adventure, director Jon Watts and company created a John Hughes teen rom-com feel that works well with the age of the characters and the high school setting. Far from Home captures that sensation, essentially a teen comedy with superheroes. If you enjoy the earlier movie, this has an identical vibe and hits that same sweet spot. 

tom holland as peter parker

Far from Home picks up with Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and his classmates after the “Blip,” the five-year period between Thanos snapping half the population out of existence and when they returned. If you’ve wondered what happens when all those people magically reappear, the film addresses some of those concerns with a humorous eye.

Fortunately for Peter, all of his best friends and key side characters—Ned (Jacob Batalon), MJ (Zendaya), Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), Betty Brant (Angourie Rice)—blipped out and back at the same time. Unfortunately for them, they still have to finish high school. The story tracks them as they embark on a school science trip to Europe. Things, of course, can’t go entirely without drama, and when massive beings called Elementals pop up and threaten the very existence of the world, a reluctant Peter, who just wants to relax and tell MJ he likes her, must pull on his Spidey pants team up with Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) to save the day once again.

jake gyllenhaal shoots green mist from his hands

Far from Home has a lot going for it. It’s charming and fun, Peter and Ned, and Peter and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), have great chemistry and banter. Honestly, even Betty, a character who, by all rights is narratively pointless, is kind of the unsung hero of the sidekick gallery, and Rice is fantastic and fun as the prim, proper girl with a new lease on life.

Holland again shows he was a good choice to take over the Spider-Man roll. Awkward and hesitant, but also heroic and brave when necessary, he’s a scared kid faced with impossible choices. And by his actions and countenance, he embodies the “with great power comes great responsibility” ethos central to the character, but without, thankfully, ever having to say it out loud.

peter parkers friends in peril

Sarcastic, bitter, conspiracy-theorist MJ is a take on the character I can definitely role with. Zendaya and the script from Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers make her an interesting personality in her own right, not just the damsel in distress and out-of-his-league love interest the character has so often been in the comics. She’s sharp and skeptical, with a droll, deadpan sense of humor, and watching her torment Peter while simultaneously decoding a mystery is one of the joys of the movie.

Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio is a great addition to the fold. Charismatic and earnest, he takes Peter under his wing, not just to help battle the Elementals, but as a mentor, almost stepping into the role left vacant by Tony Stark—something Peter is desperately looking for. There’s much more to say on the Mysterio front, but the less we talk about him, the better—though fans of the comics will not be surprised at all by the character’s arc.

an elemental destroys italy

Wielding skyscraper-tall creatures composed of the Earth’s core elements, Watts stages some of the best action set pieces the MCU has seen in some time. These scenes are slick and thrilling—and thank the all-mighty, mostly well-lit—seamlessly incorporating mammoth special effects we so often take for granted. And, of course, there’s ample room for Spider-Man’s trademark quips and banter as he webs around. 

While fairly self-contained—you don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge of the MCU to enjoy—Far from Home does introduce key concepts that may play a big role moving forward. Marvel honcho Kevin Feige has said this is the true conclusion of the latest cinematic Phase, but it certainly serves as a jumping-off point in a few regards. Though some may be McGuffins, and the characters try their best to act like everything is normal, the world has changed, permanently and in significant ways. 

nick fury argues with happy hogan

Even Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the ultimate spy, the man who knows everything and prepares for any eventuality, is out of his comfort zone. After he blipped out and missed five years, he no longer knows everything and that bothers him. Trying to get a grip on this new world gives the character a bit of much-needed freshness. That’s a key theme: who is in charge? Who is the senior Avenger? Who will step up and become the new Tony Stark? 

Outside of his feelings for MJ, battling Elementals, and high school, that’s the main pressure Peter contends with. And it comes from everywhere. Externally, Fury won’t let him rest and be a kid, and even Tony essentially names Peter his successor from beyond the grave. (Tony Stark, still finding ways to screw it up for everyone, even in death—and come on though, we all know it should be Shuri.) But the anxiety also comes from within, from the pressure Peter puts on himself.

spider-man swings over london

Some of this works well, especially Peter trying to come to terms with the expectations. On one hand, he has the great power to affect change, but on the other, he just wants to be a teenager, hang out with his friends, and maybe smooch MJ. But for everything that works, Far from Home pounds the point home too hard and too often. It even goes so far as to shoot Peter, wearing Tony’s glasses, working with EDITH, the new incarnation Tony’s AI, in what’s essentially Tony’s lab. Spider-Man even soars through the air in his best Iron Man pose. The film goes out of its way to make him look like his guru. The point is made and then made, and then made again, and it ultimately becomes clunky and repetitive. 

As affable and engaging as the Breakfast Club/Pretty in Pink ambience is, it takes Far from Home too long to get down to it. Watts shows Peter and his pals being kids, having fun, bouncing around fancy European locations. And it’s fine, it’s fun, it’s pleasant; but it goes on far too long. Nothing egregious, a scene or two or three, but by the time the main narrative kicks in, it’s a relief to finally move forward.

[Read More: 'Booksmart' Movie Review]

zendaya and spider-man on the street

Maybe not the most memorable installment of the MCU, Spider-Man: Far from Home offers a fun bit of respite. So many of the recent chapters were primarily concerned with building up to massive spectacle of Endgame, overflowing with characters and side plots, that it’s nice to primarily focus on a single hero and a single story. Entertaining, goofy, and packed with strong action, it’s a satisfying superhero adventure.