‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ is a great rom-com but a bland superhero movie
Some spoilers ahead.
Marvel Studios have, in the wake of Avengers: Endgame, become indefatigably obsessed with tinkering in their own catalogue of films and providing ‘twists’ that rely on the resurrection of footage and performances from three, four, ten years ago, in movies that aren’t half good enough for anyone to remember quite that well. In Far From Home, we get a kicker: Jake Gyllenhaal’s Quentin Beck (otherwise known as Mysterio) designed Tony Stark’s weird VR projection technology (remember the Hope Davis flashback from Civil War) and was later fired by Stark. He has returned to reap the profits of Stark’s Endgame death and utilise his tech to create illusions of grand superhero action in public while, as the world is distracted, he’s pilfering Stark’s security operation, collection of drones and — most importantly of all — his protege Peter Parker.
It’s reached the point where Marvel’s reliance on intertextuality is not only exhausting, as well as costly for the audience, but robbing these films of the opportunity to construct their own sensibilities. Jon Watts’ Spider-Man movies could and should be one of the MCU’s most distinct strands, not least because they’re Sony releases and bear a very different stamp in their marketing to the typical DisneyMarvel releases. But they’re high school movies, the protagonists are teenagers, and the stakes should reflect as much. Yet Far From Home is ultimately a lesser Iron Man movie, though it maintains some of Homecoming’s breeziness and youth, and one where Jon Favreau gets a remarkable amount of screentime for a man who both directed The Lion King and shepherded The Mandalorian to Disney+ this year.
Favreau, Marisa Tomei, Martin Starr and JB Smoove are welcome presences, however, given Tom Holland’s complete dearth of comedic energy; at its strongest this feels like a solid early-2010s Michael Cera comedy. The funniest joke is the first: a shoddily-made tribute video to the fallen heroes of Endgame soundtracked by “I Will Always Love You”, using Comic Sans titles and iMovie transitions: in a $200m summer blockbuster, it feels like a joke for people like you and me. But soon the film’s rather excellent efforts as a comedy take a backseat to Big! CGI! Fight! Sequences! Despite the big-ness and CGI-ness of the fight sequences being literally built into the thematic frame of the movie, they’re no less frustrating to endure. I also remain one of the only people alive unconvinced of Gyllenhaal’s appeal as an actor; his performance here did nothing for me. Bring back Michael Keaton.
Equally, Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury has now officially entered the “Please retire, please please retire thi character” zone: in his third appearance in four months (an all-time record, I expect) he is flat, weary and adds no life to the script. I would be very satisfied to see Cobie Smulders upgraded to principle S.H.I.E.L.D head honcho as soon as possible. None of Gyllenhaal and Jackson’s lack is helped by the phantom presence of Robert Downey Jr. Oh how we took you for granted. In one scene, Gyllenhaal wears Stark’s most iconic sunglasses and we are encouraged to see a similarity. But all I saw was an actor with half the charm trying to impersonate Downey Jr., and it merely pissed me off.
Far From Home soars when it puts Holland and Zendaya in a scene together and strips away all the comic-book-ness around them. On the bridge in Prague where I was almost crushed to death on New Years Eve 2009, Peter and M.J. (she’s undeniably the *coolest* superhero love interest I can recall) just bring nuclear chemistry to the film that’s crucially lacking with any of the other characters. More Zendaya in every Marvel movie, please. I’m profoundly on board with how that character has been handled.
Watts’ directing ability is largely a “What Kevin Feige Wants” job, but in an extended immersive illusion sequence where Peter essentially enters the hallucinatory state from Doctor Strange, the visual effects department get to have the time of their lives and take — one assumes — some inspiration from December’s beloved animated feature Into The Spider-Verse. Altogether there are ecstatic moments sprinkled amidst the familiar mechanisms; I have transcended cynicism for these movies and have reached a state, once again, of enjoying them through the most base lens of popcorn appeal. Especially given there’s a Martin Starr-does-Tati montage in Venice, Far From Home is a film one could probably enjoy with the volume muted. That’s fine.