The Marvel Studios machine keeps turning. With Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, there was a satisfying conclusion to the three-phase arc that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far. This epic two-part film event provided caps on long-standing MCU characters without really hinting at anything beyond.
Yet MCU phase three, as it is currently outlined, concludes with Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Far From Home shows a world which has moved on from the havoc wreaked by Thanos—the havoc was then un-wreaked by the time-traveling Avengers, of course. The world has moved on so much that, aside from an expository intro and the occasional mention of people being different ages as a result of “the snap” (canonically: “the blip”), most of the world has seemingly put the events of Endgame squarely in the rearview.
But those events are not so easy for the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, Peter Parker (Tom Holland), to forget. His mentor Tony Stark now deceased, people are looking for a replacement for Iron Man. Former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), having been a victim of the blip and uncertain of the superhero landscape five years in the future, hopes that someone like Spider-Man can be that replacement.
Him or Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), the mysterious (hence the name) new face of superheroism, who explains that he has come to Earth from a different universe’s Earth in order to combat the “Elementals” that killed his family and sowed chaos on his planet. These element-based forces of nature pop up across Europe, and Fury enlists Mysterio and Spider-Man to take them out. But all Peter Parker wants to do is woo his crush, MJ (Zendaya), during their school trip to Europe.
This is the push and pull of Spider-Man: Far From Home. It brings to this new iteration of Spider-Man the major thematic quandary that the Peter Parker character is known for. It invokes the infamous, oversaid mantra of the property—“with great power…” and all that jazz—without being trite or obvious. Peter doesn’t want his responsibilities as Spider-Man, as it gets in the way of his normal teenage life.
These two ideas—Peter Parker’s personal life and Spider-Man’s professional life—are integrated well, and this is really what separates Far From Home from the more average Marvel entries. The script from Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers provides plenty of humor to accompany the adversity of this duality.
However, Far From Home is not like a Thor: Ragnarok, which is hilarious at the cost of tonal control (just to remind you: that comedy film concludes with the title character’s homeworld being completely destroyed). Spider-Man is a humorous character, and this new iteration of the character provides humor in him and a number of characters that surround him. And, as skin-deep as the emotional appeals of this film are, Peter Parker does not abandon earnestness for the sake of his comedic persona. As a result, the film follows suit and is better for it.
The introduction of new superhero forces are both a strong suit and a weak link. The Elementals are lumbering, faceless giants that make for entirely uninteresting action sequences. The reveal of what these villains’ origins are does not remedy this problem. Mysterio is a fun addition, even though the reveal of his origins is similarly unhelpful to the film’s success.
What works for Gyllenhaal here is his acute ability to conjure sociopathically faux charm. Mysterio is a stereotypical hero presence, piping up with boldly superficial lines about avenging his family and being the selfless hero. But when it comes down to it, Mysterio is petty and weak, and this makes his arc much more entertaining.
In this way and others, Spider-Man: Far From Home is metatextual. But it is not meta in a shoe-horned way, as can be the case with this type of genre film. The metatext blends with the text in a cohesive and symbiotic way. The elements that are meta are also needed for the text to function. It isn’t superfluous.
Another metatext of the film that is worthy of note is the presence of drone-like villains. This is the often-criticized trope of superhero films in which the major villain will provide a large, faceless army of grunts to fight the hero, destroy the Earth, etc. A horde.
In the case of this film, the horde of drone-likes are actual drones. It is a tongue-in-cheek choice that isn’t wasted, as the action sequences involving them is arguably more exciting than the ones involving colossal Elementals. Spider-Man facing off against hundreds of buzzing robots provides a surprising amount of dynamic action.
In the end, Spider-Man: Far From Home is just another Spider-Man film. But, for the Marvel universe, it is notable for its ability to push forward a single character’s emotional arc without worrying too much about the larger implications on the universe. Director Jon Watts makes this story feel big without it ever being universe-shattering, something that other small Marvel films like Ant-Man and its sequel have not been able to accomplish. Following the marathon of universe-shattering implications in the previous two Avengers films, Far From Home is exactly what the Marvel universe needed.
Spider-Man: Far From Home: B
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)