2019 Film Essays

‘Spider-Man: Far from Home’ Is Far from Amazing

Spider-Man: Far from Home picks up right where Avengers: Endgame (2019) leaves off. Following rescue from “The Blip,” Peter Parker (Tom Holland) now has to live in a world without his mentor, and wonders if he truly has what it takes to be the next Avengers leader. For the moment, though, teenage Peter simply wants to go on a European school trip with friends and muster the courage to confess his fondness for MJ (Zendaya). However, Peter’s adolescent aspirations are in jeopardy as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and new hero, Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) enlist him into a global struggle against forces of nature called the elementals. This film is entertaining, but the plot and dynamics are frequently lightweight; it’s more like a Disney Channel sitcom than an adventure thriller.

Right off the bat, something feels off. Unlike Spider-Man: Homecoming, which presents itself as an homage to the John Hughes and John Landis comedies of yesterday, the humor of Spider-Man: Far from Home is hokey and overplayed. (Night Monkey meme and Nick Fury’s tranquilizer gag, I’m looking at you.) On the plus side, Anthony Revolori was born to play Flash Thompson, as he entirely nails the roast master aspect of the character. Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) returns as Peter’s best friend and confidante. While his jokes aren’t as funny as in Spider-Man: Homecoming, he brings appropriate levity to the film’s heavier moments. It’s always good to see a super hero converse with someone rather than constantly provide monologue. Finally, there is the return of Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan. Happy and Peter have a much different relationship than in previous Marvel entries, almost akin to that of Alfred and Bruce Wayne. I question the appropriateness of director Joe Watts injecting Batman elements into Spider-Man tales.

The casting of Gyllenhaal as Mysterio is spot on. In an otherwise flat screenplay, Gyllenhaal makes this new variation of the character sing while keeping all the established quirks of the character intact. In addition, Holland remains the best cinematic Spider-Man to date. He has a natural way about him for delivering funny quips and one-liners. Tobey Maguire, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, may be the existential Steve Ditko version of the character, while Holland is the slightly shy, preppy dream of the definitive John Romita hero that ran in the comics from the late 60s to mid-70s. Both actors deliver the strong Mysterio v. Spider-Man dynamic fans know and love. Unfortunately, returning screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Summers never fully capitalize on this relationship in Spider-Man: Far from Home. Instead, it appears to be present to hit key plot points; focus is prioritized on the MJ and Peter relationship.

This Spider-Man courtship varies from other cinematic portrayals inasmuch as MJ is a little hard around the edges. While I understand the attempt to modernize her, MJ’s abruptness is at times not particularly flattering or appealing. Though Zendaya’s MJ has softer moments, her edginess seems unnaturally matched with Peter Parker’s school boy charm. By the end of the film, the personalities blend more coherently.

When attention is off MJ and Peter, not all is lost in terms of the action elements of the plot. The Venice elemental battle is a real treat, and it becomes readily apparent why it was featured so heavily in the trailer. The water monster packs a punch, and props must be given to the special effects and sound crews who created the texture and sense of depth that is necessary for this scene to work. Holland’s dance abilities and gymnastic moves come in handy for showing off that Spidey strength.

The tightly edited scenes of Spider-Man engaged in parkour along the side masonry walls and tile roofs of Venice Italy are a sight to behold. The visual elements of the film begin to pick up during the interlude Berlin section and the Great Britain finale. Mysterio’s powers are on full display, and the best environmental spectacle appears since Inception (2010). Spider-Man parachuting into the London Bridge demonstrates just how far computer technology has come since the days of presenting a computer image of the aforementioned Maguire sticking to walls and swinging around Manhattan Island.

Unfortunately, this is also where the plot introduces a Deus ex machina device that is so outlandish there’s no right way to justify it. As to why Tony Stark didn’t attempt to use this device in Avengers: Endgame when he had the chance is an enigma. Also, the main villain reveal is no more than a retread of Iron Man 3 (2013) and not as creative the last three MCU film entries.

When all is said and done, Spider-Man: Far from Home is neither fish nor fowl. Screenwriters McKenna and Summers don’t deliver dry-witted humor as well as they did in Spider-Man Homecoming. McKenna seems to forget that he’s not writing the 30-minute American Dad! cartoons. In this Marvel movie, redundant jokes seem to doubt the audience’s sophistication. Yet, the primary weakness of the film is the delayed lack of urgency. This urgency does not emerge until the final two thirds of the film, and there’s just too much dead space in-between. The post credits set-up hints at the inevitable sequel being more interesting than Watts’ story.

Spider-Man: Far from Home is a sophomoric attempt to capture the visual flair and look of the old comics; Watts fails to capture the bite and necessary substance. I suspect that there was some trepidation on the part of the director and screenwriters as to how well Spidey can stand on his own, given the overabundant flashbacks to Iron Man and the constant reminders of Peter Parker being Stark’s protégé. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but as THE film franchise which singlehandedly ushered in the comic book genre era, I anticipated a more sophisticated and polished product. Most casual moviegoers will get a kick out of the special effects and those adorable Disney-esque Spider-Man eyes. However, hardcore Marvel fans who are holding out hope for those Spider-Man 2 (2004) glory days will feel undernourished and may want to settle instead for the compilation of Mysterio highlights when it hits YouTube.

Peter Bell (@PeterGBell25) is a 2016 Master of Arts – Film Studies graduate of Columbia University School of Arts in New York City. His interests include film history, film theory and film criticism. Ever since watching TCM as a child, Peter has had a passion for film, always trying to add greater context to film for others. His favorite films include Chinatown, Blade Runner, Lawrence of Arabia, A Shot in the Dark and Inception. Peter believes movie theaters are still the optimal forum for film viewing, discussion and discovering fresh perspectives on culture.

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