Review: The Spectacle and Farce of 'Spiderman: Far from Home'
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
With the world-shattering events of Infinity War and Endgame brought to a close and the Avengers disassembled, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) longs for simpler times outside of the spotlight. In Spiderman: Far From Home, he has big plans for his school’s summer trip to Europe, where he hopes to have some well earned R&R. Yet there are forces keeping him from enjoying a regular teenage existence, namely taking the shape of a particularly grouchy Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). With another existential threat on the horizon, he sees Peter as the only reliable hero around to save the world, and won’t take no for an answer. Though Fury is at odds with an unstoppable force: teenage hormones. Peter is overtaken with romantic feelings for MJ (Zendaya), and intends to confess it to her while they’re abroad.
With Fury at his back, Peter is pulled into fighting Elemental giants that are conveniently popping up across Europe in the same locations as his trip. Aiding Peter in this task is Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), the last protector of a parallel universe Earth who has come to our dimension under the name Mysterio. Quentin proves to be an ally to him, recognizing Parker is way beyond his depth. Not to mention that Peter’s Spidey Sense, or “Peter Tingle” as Aunt May calls it, has fallen quiet in the wake of Tony Stark’s passing. The only father figure in his life has bequeathed him an obligation and legacy to wrestle with, and understandably, he feels those shoes are too big for him to fill.
Far from Home has an earnest desire to investigate the internal conflict faced by a hero with a secret identity. At an age where your biggest problem should be grades or having a crush, the burden of hiding a whole second life is too much to bear. Peter’s duty to protect his friends and family comes with the risk that the more they know about his powers, the more danger they will find themselves in. However, the loss and intensity of what he has experienced isolates him from them.
We do get to see more developments in Peter’s dynamic with his friends, including MJ , Ned (Jacod Batalon), and Betty (Angourie Rice).All talented in their own right, this group provides much of the lighter, comedic side of the film, and serve as a reminder of what is at stake when Spiderman must go up against villains.
Speaking of villains, Mysterio is neither super nor hero. Peter discovers that his abilities are in fact highly advanced VFX technology, along with the Elementals. His trope- laden, generic backstory and ridiculous costume are intentionally designed to be so. His true powers are spectacle and manipulation, and with a team of disgruntled ex- Stark Industry employees, he produces a farce to gain the trust of S.H.I.E.L.D. For narrative purposes, it works perfectly, adding some inadvertent commentary about the film’s audience and their gullibility for absurdist narratives. Mysterio exploits the fact that Marvel has conditioned us to believe anything. The skies regularly open up for aliens to come pouring out, half the Earth’s population comes back from the dead, and they teach about Thor’s lightning powers in high school physics class. We are eager to accept the possibilities of a multiverse and the fantasy of the heroes who protect it, and as we do, we let down our guard. It’s a clever reversal timed perfectly in cinematic series contingent of suspension of disbelief.
The absolute best pieces of the film are Mysterio’s augmented reality traps, formed of nightmarish dreamscapes. He uses his technology to create a psychological house of mirrors that disorients and deceives, as it pries open Peter’s fears and insecurities. While this facet is one of the film’s better elements, it’s criminally underutilized, and had the film been more ambitious it would have leveraged them more.
Even with flashes of originality, Far from Home really is just the next chunk of footage in the Marvel universe. The events of the last two Avengers films are quite literally a “blip”; the studio has moved on. They’ve dropped any interest in how the world-altering event continues to have any resounding emotional impact, beyond candlelit shrines and murals to Tony Stark dotting the globe. Although Marvel has fine-tuned the execution of the biggest blockbuster pop culture events, they can still suffer from poor filmmaking.
Far from Home in particular is subject to simply lazy editing with no regard for the characters going from scene to scene. It’s a trip from point A to point B, but no nuance as to why or how beyond basic exposition. The film is played safe and shallow, even for Marvel. Peter’s tour of Europe includes Venice, Prague, and London with about as much depth as a high school kid could imagine for each city. The opening sequence is so bizarrely obtuse that you wonder how it possibly escaped the cutting room floor. It’s evident that Marvel films are not designed to be consumed in the same way as other films, because there always needs to be a teaser for future films. The impetus to sell tickets to the next takes precedent over the actual story of the current, because major plot points are saved for the credits scenes. The novelty is worn off, and all that is left is frustration for a film that doesn’t even bother with a proper conclusion.
This problem extends into the characters as well. Because the films are heavily reliant on CGI and blindfolded by Marvel’s anti-spoiler secrecy, actors essentially have no clue what they are filming. Their actions, physicality, and relationships are all approximations, stitched together in post. Each installment in the franchise blends from one to the next for the people who are supposed to define it, resulting in a gradient without any definition . If your stars aren’t allowed to know exactly what they are shooting or anything about the film being made, how are they supposed to keep us engaged? It’s irresponsible, disjointed, and more self-destructive than worthwhile.
It isn’t entirely the actors who are to blame for the flat banality of the MCU, as particular characters do still stand out. Gyllenhaal handles his eccentric antagonist characters (as with Okja and Velvet Buzzsaw) with the same aptitude as his serious roles. His reversal mid-film is when he finally gets to be entertaining, enough to almost excuse the fishbowl helmet filled with green vape cloud. Tom Holland does genuinely fit into the image of Peter Parker so well that you can’t help but like him. He stumbles over his words and emotions like a real high schooler, but his courage reveals he truly does have the makings of Tony Stark’s heir apparent.
By taking a step back from the recent intensity of the MCU, Far from Home is free to get more personal and playful with its cast of characters. By shying away from creative risks and prioritizing the box office over the quality of the piece, it repeatedly shoots itself in the foot. However, if you can get past the editing and heinous poster art, it’s a decent enough way to pass these summer hours.