With Spider-Man: Far from Home (FFH), movie-goers are looking at the third iteration of a character that was once the most popular super hero in the world. It is odd then, that it has taken so many attempts at getting it right. “Far from Home” is far from perfect but theres no denying that it is a good time at the movies. Which is just as well, seeing as how this is going to be the last Marvel offering we see for a while.
The plot is standard “bad guys want to destroy the world” fare but with a couple of twists. For one thing, it is intertwined with a coming of age tale that involves a school trip. For another, the bad guy isn’t who or what you think it is. (It is hard not to spoil things here so I’ll have to be vague). Old time fans of Spidey will expect a certain twist in the story pretty much from the first scene. On the flip side, folks who have little to no idea of the source material will likely be stunned by said twist. I heard more than a few gasps in the theater when it showed up. FFH is one of those rare films in the genre wherein the audience’s ignorance about the source material could prove to be an asset.
The cast is familiar, with a couple of new faces to keep things interesting. Speaking of which, Jake Gyllenhaal is hands down, the best thing about the film. He plays the character of Quentin Beck aka Mysterio with aplomb and is clearly having a lot of fun. The man owns every scene he is in, including an exposition laden one which would have normally made me cringe. The MCU waited way too long to rope him in. Apart from him, the rest of the primary cast is exactly the way you remember them. It is going to be very interesting to see how Sony treats Tom Holland as he ages. They struck gold with him. Finally, the studio can actually show Peter Parker grow into his costume. I mean that in both the literal and figurative sense. Regardless of how one feels about FFH as a film, it is a sheer joy to watch Holland grow into his role.
Every major super hero has one thing that defines him/her. How this translates to film is up to the director and screenwriters. For instance, Superman’s struggle is that of trying to be “just another guy” whilst living among people that see him as a god. What makes him truly “Super” is his self control when it comes to dealing with guys that he, if he so chose, could easily vaporize with a glance. Batman wields fear as a weapon. A good director will make you forget that he is constantly breaking the law. Or that he is essentially a nine year old who cant get over the murder of his parents. The X-Men need to deal with a world that hates them whilst still risking all to save it. In the comics, Spider-man is a super hero who is almost always squaring off with baddies that are over his pay-grade. He is the friendly neighborhood Spider-man. The guy who tries desperately to stay “local” and deal with average Joe problems while trying to pay his taxes like a good citizen. In the movies though, he is caught in an infinite “coming of age” loop. The poor guy always seems to struggle with the “man” part of Spider-man. This film is no exception. And though FFM “tries” to break this loop, director Jon Watts seems to be suffering from a serious Endgame hangover that keeps him from fully committing.
The problem lies in framing Peter Parker as the next Tony Stark. The Endgame saga went out of its way to show that Tony and Peter share a special bond. The former was a father figure of sorts to the latter. But none of the movies have suggested that Peter is on the same intellectual plane. Yet FFH insists that this is the case. One of the central plot points of the film revolves around how Tony foresaw Peter as the best custodian of a powerful AI. This thing can control military grade weaponry that most countries would gladly kill for. Yet the best candidate for overseeing such power is a sixteen year old high school kid. Which brings me to my biggest complaint about the film. Keep in mind that most of this assumes you are familiar with the MCU’s Endgame story arc.
Even within the relaxed confines of comic book logic, FFH’s plot is a hard sell. As mentioned earlier, there is nothing in any of the movies to suggest that Peter Parker is anywhere near prepared for this. Yes, hes a smart kid with a hero’s soul. Yet there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to convince a viewer that handing over the reins of the world’s most powerful AI to him is a good idea. Isn’t Bruce Banner still alive? He and Tony worked on the AI that went into Vision. He was smart enough to figure out the finer points of time travel. And he finally managed to solve his “Hulk” problem. The dude might just be the smartest man on the planet right now (at least until Marvel finally takes control of the Fantastic Four license and Reed Richards shows up). Then there is Nick Fury. Or any of the surviving Avengers. Or the entirety of S.H.I.E.L.D. And yet I’m supposed to believe that a hormonal teenager is a better choice? Did I say hard sell? I meant stupid. This is stupid. So stupid it makes Tony Stark look like an idiot. The whole thing smells of weak sauce. Bah.
The only reason this was done was to keep hammering home the fact that Tony Stark is dead. They constantly bring him up in the course of the film. His name will be mentioned during dialog. His image will be shown for no good reason. Scenes will put Peter in a position where he’s supposed to think like Tony. Its almost like the director is all but yelling in your direction. “Hey, remember Tony Stark? Wasn’t he cool? Shame he’s dead. You remember he’s dead right? Yep, he’s gone.”.
Alright, he’s dead. We get it. Tony has gone bye bye. Yes its a tragedy. Yes, we remember. Yes, Peter and Tony had a special relationship. We remember, we get it, he’s gone. But apparently the movie cant help bringing it up over and over. It insists on wielding this emotional cudgel to (repeatedly) bludgeon you over the head with the idea that Peter cant fill Tony’s shoes. I don’t have a problem with the theme, but the on-screen portrayal struck me as juvenile. The unabashed attempts at plucking at my heart strings only manged to hit discordant notes. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the idea that there is so much connective tissue between the MCU and Sony (the latter technically still holds the Spider-Man licence) and it is clear that the creators know their audience. But fan service done wrong quickly degrades to pandering. And THAT is not cool. Depending on one’s point of view, the way FFH depicts Peter’s inner conflict can easily be dismissed as either pandering or laziness. Perhaps both. The writing here just isn’t strong enough to do justice to Peter’s inner turmoil.
There are moments where it seems like FFH is trying to be two different films at once. Much like Spider-man, who tries to be both a high school kid and a superhero. One the one hand, the film is a high school comedy, complete with all the usual tropes of teenage romances and funny moments surrounding school trips. On the other, it is also a balls out superhero action romp. The two don’t always come together as cohesively as one would expect. And then there is the whole “coming of age” thing that Sony cant let go of.
Some of the humor feels forced and many of the jokes don’t quite stick their landing. To make things worse, the film is replete with shots that have no business being in it at all. One of these involves a teacher trying to take a selfie with an old film loaded camera. The whole thing serves no purpose other that to portray the man as a complete imbecile for the sake of eliciting a few cheap laughs. I have no idea how stuff like this survived the editing room. There are scenes from the trailers that didn’t make it but THAT did?!? Not only is it annoying, it also takes away from the real humor in the film, of which there is a fair amount.
Thankfully, the action sequences are good and very reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s Spider-man 2. They are shot from a third person perspective that is close to Spider-man. It gives the viewer a better sense of being in the middle of things. Obviously, the level of special effects has moved on quite a bit since 2004 and FFH does love its CGI. A couple of scenes did strike me as being too “busy”,i.e., there was too much going on to really appreciate the scale of the chaos. Though, to be honest, this might just be nitpicking. For the most part, the action sequences do what one expects them to do. FFH makes full use of its “superhero” tag. There is one sequence in particular (lets just call it “the dream sequence) that is really cool and stood out as one of the best the genre has to offer. Bottom-line, its when the movie focuses on “spider-man” the super hero rather than Peter Parker the kid that FFH puts its best foot forward. In that sense, it is almost the exact opposite of its predecessor (Spider-Man: Homecoming).
All my complaining might suggest I disliked the movie. The fact is that I actually enjoyed it immensely, despite its many flaws. My disappointment stems from the fact that most of said flaws were utterly unnecessary and keep FFH limited to being merely “enjoyable”. This, despite it having everything needed to propel it to “spectacular” territory. You’ve got something special here Sony, don’t make us wait too long for the next one.
FINAL SCORE 7/10
PS: I mentioned that the film’s creator’s know their audience and the after credit sequences will prove this beyond any doubt. There are two of them and trust me when I say, the first one will have old time fans cheering. Do NOT leave your seats until you watch it.