A film review by Craig J. Koban July 13, 2019


2019, PG-13, 129 mins.

Tom Holland as Peter Parker / Spider-Man  /  Jake Gyllenhaal as Quentin Beck / Mysterio  /  Zendaya as Michelle "MJ" Jones  /  Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury  /  Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill  /  Jacob Batalon as Ned Leeds  /  Angourie Rice as Betty Brant  /  Marisa Tomei as May Parker  /  Jon Favreau as Harold "Happy" Hogan  /  Tony Revolori as Eugene "Flash" Thompson  /  Remy Hii as Brad Davis  /  Martin Starr as Mr. Harrington  /  J.B. Smoove as Mr. Dell  /  Numan Acar as Dimitri  /  Peter Billingsley as William Ginter Riva  /  Jorge Lendeborg Jr. as Jason Ionello

Directed by Jon Watts  /  Written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers





The super hero movie world was shaken to near Snap- level proportions back in 2015 when Sony and the Disney owned Marvel Studios hatched out a plan to allow for Spider-Man to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe on a reported five film loan (Sony has owned the movie rights to the Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created character for years).  

This culminated with a first appearance in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (an oddly unnecessary cameo, in my humble opinion) and then built up towards his first solo MCU outing in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, which head-spinningly served as a reboot of a reboot.  One of my misgivings with that film was that it rarely felt like the character occupied his own film proudly on his own two feet, and instead came off as a bridging/transition effort for more important MCU films to come.  Spidey was more of a sidekick supporting character in his own film. 

Now comes the inevitable FAR FROM HOME, which is in the unenviable position of (a) serving as the twenty third entry in the MCU as well as a solo sequel to SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, (b) serving as an epilogue to the world shattering events of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and the recently released ENDGAME and (c) coming out after the critically and audience adored SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (which won an Oscar for Best Animated film).  All of this is a mighy tall order to fill, and, rather regrettably, SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME is a real qualitative mixed bad.  Tom Holland continues to be the shinning light of these new MCU helmed wall crawler epics and remains superbly well cast.  He also has adorably awkward chemistry with co-star Zendaya, which gives this sequel its dramatic and comedic heart and soul.  But the tone of this follow-up entry is all over the map and it unfortunately commits many of the same missteps that have plagued past and problematic MCU sequels.  



There are two films kind of battling for attention here (as was the case with HOMECOMING): On one hemisphere is a bubbly and agreeable high school comedy (this time mixed with the elements of a European vacation farce) and, yes, an epically staged super hero extravaganza.  SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME is a pretty light hearted and delectably endearing high school comedy, but not much a substantial super hero flick that matches the scale, scope, and stakes of previous great MCU fare.  We are re-introduced to Peter Parker (Holland), still struggling with managing the magnitude and importance of having great power with great responsibilities alongside the pressures of being an adolescent (he now also has to deal with the grief of - SPOILER ALERT - losing his mentor, Tony Stark, who gave his life in defeating Thanos in AVENGERS: ENDGAME). 

Peter also has to acclimate to a world of the future.  He was eradicated by Thanos' "Snap" (now known as "The Blip") that wiped out half of life in the universe, but was then reversed.  Rather conveniently, Peter and most of his high school friends - M.J. (Zendaya), Ned (Jacob Batalon) and Betty (Angourie Rice) - were lost in the Snap as well, not to mention his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), so even though they were immediately whisked back to life having not aged a day, the rest of the world has evolved for half a decade.  Now, considering the devastatingly destructive nature of The Snap in the MCU and the absolute world altering aspect of billions of the Earth's population instantaneously re-appearing out of thin air, the world we are introduced to in SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME seems unbelievably care/stress-free and weirdly normal.  This left me with many questions, like how did the planet sustain the sudden and immediate reappearance of billions of souls? What would that do to society, the economy and belief structures?  Where do these extra people go and live?  How are they fed and employed?  How would they deal with the trauma of what they went through?  None of these logical queries are ever really dealt with in the film, outside of being delegated to a jokey afterthought in a quaint little high school created video at the beginning of the story. 

Regardless, Peter seems content with doing small scale super hero jobs in Queens and embarking on charity events with his aunt (she learned his secret at the end of HOMECOMING, but her reaction and fallout of it all is something that we unsatisfyingly never really see on screen).  There's some semblance of hope and happiness to come when Peter is prepping to go on a massive high school trip to Europe, during which time he hopes to get closer to his crush in M.J..  In pure Spider-Man comic book fashion, something always comes up to interfere with his teenage happiness just when things are going well, with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) dogging Peter to assist him and his allies with dealing with another potential global threat.  Peter reluctantly agrees to join Fury's squad, which is also assisted by the mysterious appearance of a caped hero from (by his own admission) an alternate Earth named Quentin "Mysterio" Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), who initially seems like a caring and nurturing partner to Peter.  

Then...things get complicated. 

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME deserves some credit for understanding the empathetic appeal that many young readers had when originally gorging on Stan Lee's comic book narratives.  The core of the Spider-Man character is that he's really just a shy, anxiety riddled, and confused teen trying to live a life of normalcy, but his costumed alter ego and his self-anointed commitment to battle evil always gets in the way.  All Peter wants to do in SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME is relax and chill with his buddies in Europe while trying to get cozy with M.J., only then to be interrupted by Fury and the call to save the world yet again.  One thing that this sequel has going for it is its new and welcoming geographically flavor, and returning director Jon Watts gets ample mileage out of this film's change in locale, which varies from Venice to Prague to London.  Not only does it give the film a renewed aesthetic allure, but it also helps set up the budding romance of Peter with M.J., which opens up all sorts of new romantic possibilities. 

And, again, SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME works well enough as a pretty obligatory, but nevertheless appealing romantic high school comedy.  We not only witness the will they or won't they tension between Peter and M.J. (both actors bring a considerable amount of natural and lovely charm playing off on one another), but we also see romantic sparks between Ned and Betty as well as between Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and Aunt May (who's a MILF...even though she's an aunt).  Holland is so exemplary is his role and once again demonstrates why he was cast in the first place (I also continually admire that he's one of the first age appropriate actors to own the part of a teenager hero).  Zendaya is also given more to do this go around than simply offer angsty and deadpan verbal zingers.  She obviously likes Peter, but also doesn't make that readily apparent and refuses to make his courtship of her easy.   

Things start to unravel, though, when SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME tries to be a comic book film, mostly because its story and tone are schizophrenic and could have benefited from - as previously mentioned - a bit more risk taking in the area of dealing with the outcome of Stark's death and the remnants of The Snap's affect on the world.  Stark's Iron Man visage is the stuff of religious murals everywhere, and his enormous shadow does cast over on Peter's already nagging low sense of worth.  And considering the horrific level of mass murder that Thanos perpetrated, SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME doesn't seem interesting in exploring it at all and feels more inclined to simply play things safely with the Spidey property.  This sequel is comfort food for series fans, but it really takes no calculated chances with the continuing MCU arcs and, overall, is a lackluster dramatic epilogue to AVENGERS: ENDGAME.   

The overall storytelling here seems pulled from previous genre playbooks, which involves introducing us to new threats and new allies for the heroes, sudden betrayals, climatic showdowns for all, and building to massive action and VFX heavy sequences where whole cities are left threatened yet again with destruction.  Last year's joyously inventive SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE adhered to super hero film formulas while also slyly subverting them in an inspired and innovative fashion, whereas FAR FROM HOME seems too reticent to take calculated and much need scripting gambles.  This brings me to the film's new character in Mysterio, whose played in a performance ranging from finely modulated to aggressively histrionic by Gyllenhaal.  Mysterio serves as a newfound mentor figure for the now surrogate fatherless Peter after Stark has exited the picture, and their initial relationship is intriguing enough.  But future reveals in the script and would-be shocking payoffs with Mysterio in terms of his real identity, where he came from, and his real motives aren't as mind blowing as the film thinks they are.  And when one scrutinizes this character's handling more, it will leave many with unflattering memories of similar creative choices in IRON MAN 3, which didn't work then and don't work now. 

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME is not a failure for the MCU, but it mournfully comes off as a  substandard outing for both the titular character and the MCU as whole.  Overall, there were individual moments contained in the film that I loved, but perhaps more things that absolutely bothered me, which is frustrating.  The actors are top notch, the giddy romantic comedic elements work, and Watts seems even more at ease with the film's giant set pieces this time (the effects are as good and convincing as ever, but more often than not the film favors distracting chaos over visual coherence and editorial clarity).  And Tom Holland's take on both Peter Parker and his masked alter ego is a performance treasure that keeps on given, but his inspired turn simply deserves a great Spider-Man solo MCU outing that, at the end of the day, has yet to be made, leaving the true believer in me wanting more. 

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