Movie Review - Spider-Man: Far from Home
By Matthew Huntley
July 25, 2019
“Spider-Man: Far From Home” will likely be remembered as the first Marvel Comics Universe movie to come out after the universe game-changer, “Avengers: Endgame” (in fact, the former arrives in theaters just shy of 10 weeks after the latter). It’s a safe bet, then, that whenever anyone sits down to watch “Far From Home,” they’ll have just watched (or re-watched) “Endgame,” in order to refamiliarize themselves with the events leading up to it.
But just in case viewers aren’t privy to what went down in “Endgame,” “Far From Home” provides a funny and heartwarming summary: a worldwide “Snap” caused by Thanos vanquished half the Earth’s population by turning them to dust, including Spider-Man himself; the remaining Avengers found a way to go back in time and undo said “Snap” when Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) invoked a “Blip” (the names “Snap” and “Blip” have been used interchangeably, but stay with me); a reunited, full-force Avengers squad defeated Thanos and restored balance to the universe; by the end, Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow and Vision had all passed away.
For more details, I suggest you watch “Endgame,” but for now, we have “Far From Home,” and because its context is inextricably linked to the epic, multi-character/multi-incident “Endgame,” the movie functions nicely as a lighter, less serious, more personal adventure. It reminds us the core appeal of the Spider-Man mythology is that it centers around an insecure kid struggling to find out who he is, what he’s capable of, how he fits into a world that confounds him, and that learning things the hard way, and subsequently growing as a result, is not only the nature of adolescence, but life in general. In other words, the charm of Spider-Man is that he’s like us and we’re like him.
The movie is a welcome breather, an active recovery if you will, from the more emotionally draining “Avengers” saga, but that’s not to say we react to it with any less enthusiasm—it’s just a different kind of enthusiasm. It’s also a step up from “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017), the first standalone Spidey installment featuring this latest incarnation of the angst-driven hero. To me, “Homecoming” was merely average and didn’t provide much in the way of new or exciting developments for the well-established character, as if director Jon Watts didn’t want to take too many risks and decided to just play things safe until audiences accepted this new Spider-Man.
Now that we have accepted him, Watts and his team have let loose a bit and seem less inclined to stick so rigidly to such a safe and standard superhero movie formula. The screenplay by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers feels episodic in the way it allows the narrative developments to flow randomly rather than linearly. The story doesn’t revolve around one major event but a series of small ones, and they’re delightful in the way they catch us off guard with their sheer energy, humor and inventiveness. They disrupt our expectations for how we imagined the story would play out.
This is all the more fitting since 16-year-old Peter Parker’s plans for a romantic summer getaway also get disrupted. As Peter (Tom Holland) still grieves for his mentor, the aforementioned Tony “Iron Man” Stark, he’s about to embark on a European trip with his high school classmates, including his best pal Ned (Jacob Batalon), the prim and proper Betty Brant (Angourie Rice), his frenemy Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), and last but not least, his longtime crush, MJ (Zendaya). Peter hopes that by the time they’ve ventured from Venice to Paris, he’ll have worked up the gumption to bring MJ to the top of the Eiffel Tower and tell her he doesn’t just like her, but that “likes her likes her.” In an ideal world, his carefully manufactured plans would go off without a hitch, starting with his finding a way to sit next to MJ on the seven-hour plane ride so they can watch movies together with one earbud set; buying her the perfect black dahlia necklace in Venice; and finally knocking her socks off while overlooking Paris.
But, as Peter is still finding out, it’s far from an ideal world, and his plans immediately get sidetracked when he starts receiving incessant calls from former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), which Happy (Jon Favreau), Stark’s former bodyguard and now the head of security for Stark Industries, advises Peter not to ignore. Peter “ghosts” Fury’s calls anyway, not realizing that Fury and former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) need him to help superhero newcomer Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal) take down a band of monster-like entities known as the Elementals, each of which uses one of the classic elements of either earth, water, air or fire to wreak havoc. For Peter, the timing couldn’t be worse. He was in such a need of a break, he didn’t even pack his Spidey suit, but luckily his dear Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) snuck it into his suitcase at the last minute.
Beck dons a getup not unlike Thor’s, with his orb-like helmet, maroon cape, and gold breastplate and matching wrist cuffs. He has the power to fly and spew a green, smoke-like substance from his hands, which allows him to defeat the water Elemental in Venice and subsequently earn the moniker “Mysterio.” When Beck officially meets Peter and tells him the Elementals killed his family on his home planet, which is apparently light years away in the Multiverse, Peter sympathizes and finally decides it’s time to put his comparatively trivial high school problems aside and focus on his Avenger duties.
Or, just maybe, he can do both. After all, Stark left him some pretty nifty sunglasses that access a highly advanced and highly dangerous tech system called “E.D.I.T.H.”, which is controlled by artificial intelligence and can do everything from identify everyone around you, to erase embarrassing pictures on cell phones, to detonate deadly attack drones. With E.D.I.T.H., maybe Peter can save the world and win the heart of MJ.
But does Peter have the self-control and personal responsibility to handle such a complex system? Will he be able to swallow his pride, put his personal problems on hold, focus on the greater good, and thus live up to the self-less hero Stark wanted him to be? Will he be able to be honest with his friends and himself?
Nearly every Spider-Man movie, right up to last December’s highly lauded and Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” poses these types of questions. They’re nothing new and certainly have the capability of getting old, which I think “Homecoming” proved. But when the narrative stars align properly, they can also be refreshing, and “Far From Home” is proof of that. It has a lot going on, but the key to its success is the balance and variety Watts and his team lend the story, which is a healthy mix of character development and personal, one-on-one conversations; rousing yet not too bloated action sequences; innocent humor; and a fairly complicated good vs. evil plot. The result is a fun, exciting adventure that neither under nor oversteps, but rather hits the majority of its marks just right.
About the plot, and without giving too much away, the villain’s scheme serves not only as ample fuel for a superhero movie but also as a thoughtful commentary on the idea that public heroes are sometimes defined by their charm, humor and ostentation instead of their actual heroism, honesty and humility. In our hurried, partisan, and technology-dependent society, the bad guy in “Far From Home” makes a good point: we’ve all become susceptible to buying what those who speak the loudest and most often are selling simply because of the way they sell it and not because we’ve seriously thought about what they’re selling. Plus, we often fail to remember that all great ideas are the result of collective efforts and not just the work of a single person or platform. We like to attribute material things to one source because it’s easier to think that way, but we need to keep in mind that everything we use and reap has been delivered to us after going through many channels.
Not that anyone should resort to violence or mayhem to vent their frustrations with society’s unequal distribution of credit, the way Spider-Man’s latest nemesis does, but given he’s a superhero movie villain, his decision to inflict devastation to get his point across comes with the territory.
As for the rest of the movie, could it have presented a newer take on the source material and mixed up the genre a bit more? Could it have taken more risks by giving the well-established characters alternative paths and developments? Could it have raised new questions for us to consider for Spider-Man besides the usual ones? Of course, and had it done any of these things, “Far From Home” might have raised its status from “very good” to “great.”
But Watts and his team imbue the movie with such magic and zest that we don’t bother getting hung up on what the movie “could have done.” Rather, we enjoy it for what it does well, which is it serves as an entertaining, breezy adventure with endearing characters, exciting action, and a few lasting messages, one of which is we all have responsibilities we’d rather not bear, but we do anyway, and not because we’re heroes, but simply because it’s the right thing to do. This is a time-honored message in nearly every Spider-Man story, but it’s one that somehow never gets old, probably because it’s so true.