- Spider-Man: Far from Home
- Directed by: Jon Watts
- Written by: Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers
- Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya and Jake Gyllenhaal
- Classification: PG; 129 minutes
If you only see one Spider-Man film this year … go stream Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. But if you only see two Spider-Man films this year … well, I mostly loathed Avengers: Endgame, but the brief moments featuring Spidey himself were zippy. So: If you only see three Spider-Man films this year … then yeah, go watch Spider-Man: Far from Home.
It is objectively bizarre, and more than a little funny, that Hollywood and audiences think nothing of the fact that so many superhero stories can be jammed into so small a release window. Yet, Endgame is nearing US$2.8-billion at the worldwide box office and Spider-Verse was genuinely delightful in addition to making hundreds of millions, so here we are, with Far from Home acting as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s tidy little bow on its “Phase Three” slate of films. Moviegoers have no official idea what’s coming next from the MCU – there’s an “Untitled Marvel” movie coming in May, 2020 – but if it’s anything like this film, hopefully the small break will give the Marvel Studios brain trust a much-needed creative reset.
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So very much of Jon Watts’s new Spidey film feels assembled from bits and pieces left to gather rust on the MCU’s factory floor. There are the generic action sequences that are so by-the-numbers that you or I could easily storyboard them. There’s the saggy third act that crams in so many unnecessary subplots and overstretched set-pieces that five minutes begin to feel like 20. And there are the many smirky call-backs to previous MCU films that … actually, while these once felt grating, they’re now perversely delightful. You haven’t seen the 22 films that preceded this adventure? Then tough luck, pal. This is all going to all be gibberish. I can’t help but admire the studio’s continuity cockiness.
Still, this Spider-Man feels like all the other Spider-Men to come before. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is still awkward and lovesick over MJ (Zendaya). There’s another villain (Sony Pictures has politely begged critics not to spoil who it is, but trust me, you’ll figure it out quickly) who feels that they should be the real hero of the story. And there’s the tired theme of weighing the good of the world with the good of your loved ones. With great power comes great familiarity.
It didn’t have to be this way, as the first third of Watts’s film hints at another, better Spider-movie. It is here where the director and his two screenwriters – Erik Sommers and Chris McKenna, the only two to survive from Spider-Man: Homecoming’s six-scribe politburo – import the fun, light self-awareness of their first effort. After shovelling in some post-Endgame story on what the world looks like after Thanos’s “snap” that killed 50 per cent of Earth’s population and the “blip” that brought them back five years later, the filmmakers churn out a solid high-school rom-com.
There is nothing revelatory as Parker’s science class embarks on a trip to Europe, but it is thoroughly entertaining to watch Holland play sweet and flustered around the macabre Zendaya while Watts lets his supporting cast (including stealth comedy weapons Martin Starr, J.B. Smoove, Jacob Batalon and Tony Revolori) run loose in the background. For about half an hour, it’s as if the rest of the MCU doesn’t exist, and the result is an enjoyably light excursion. Even the roughly five-dozen references to Iron Man feel justified, given the sincere bond the MCU has crafted between the fallen hero and his over-his-head protégé.
But then the corporate obligations arrive and promptly weigh the story down. Now, Watts has to juggle Parker’s engaging lovesickness with a visit from superspy Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, looking mighty angry, possibly because he knew this film was going to destroy his Shaft reboot), plus a left-over Stark Technology subplot and some initially fascinating but ultimately pointless jabber about parallel universes. And “pointless” is the skeleton key to unlocking Far from Home’s narrative – almost everything that unfolds here doesn’t matter by the film’s “gotcha!” ending(s). For those who like such narrative ducking and weaving, Far from Home is an all-you-can-eat buffet of greasy fake-outs.
The only bright spot from the hour-mark onward is the introduction of a superhero named Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), who seems to be the father figure Parker needs in the absence of the dearly departed Tony Stark. Sporting a fishbowl-like helmet and an infectious sense of self-confidence as he battles a new breed of supervillains nicknamed the Elementals, the character is just strange enough to intrigue and seduce, with Gyllenhaal clearly enjoying himself. Although not too much. Spider-Man: Far from Home is not Okja 2, after all, and it becomes distressingly easy to tell when Watts yanks at the MCU leash collared around Gyllenhaal’s neck.
In five years’ time, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Far from Home ranked near the bottom of everyone’s favourite MCU efforts – the film evaporates, Endgame-style, immediately after viewing. But it does boast the rarest of MCU traits: a postcredits scene that’s more interesting and fun than the footage that comes before it. I won’t spoil it, but not because Sony will murder me if I do. Only because it’s one of the few moments during Far from Home that I could not wipe the stupid grin off my face. And if that means we get another three Spider-Man films next year, too, so be it.
Spider-Man: Far from Home opens July 2.