Director: Jon Watts
Cast: Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Jake Gyllenhaal
Running time: 129 minutes
*WARNING: Avengers: Endgame SPOILERS contained within this review.*
After the emotional pounding inflicted upon audiences during Avengers: Endgame, the Marvel Cinematic Universe needed a lighter touch. Something to kick off a fresh phase of the MCU, acknowledging just how far we’ve come, while not leaving us languishing in the last decade of superhero storytelling.
With pleasing new additions and welcome returns, Whitney Houston ballads, euphemisms about Spider-Man’s ‘web-shooter’, and the line “Bitch, please – you’ve been to space”, Spider-Man: Far From Home fits the bill. Cranking the tone up a fair few notches, the twenty-third film in the franchise is a gleeful, charming, satisfying swing toward the next chapter (with some neat nods back, too); but isn’t without its fair share of sticky residue.
With Tony Stark gone, and the Avengers all but disbanded, Peter Parker (Holland) – AKA Spider-Man – is left wondering his place in all of this. Where does he go from here? How does he, a sixteen-year-old high-schooler, begin to fill the shoes of a genius playboy billionaire? And, more importantly, should he even try?
The world around him is similarly at odds with itself: still piecing together the repercussions of the snap-reverse-snap – understatedly titled ‘the blip’ – that saw exactly fifty-percent of the earth’s population disappear into thin air and return five years later having seemingly not aged a day.
Thankfully, even after such a cataclysmic event, mankind’s tendency to resolve all its problems by jetting overseas seems to have not been lost in the ether, and so Parker and classmates – including best bud Ned (the increasingly loveable Batalon) and love interest MJ (Zendaya) – head to Europe for a relaxing, culture-filled trip: the perfect opportunity for Peter to put Spider-Man duties on hold.
Sadly, no such respite is granted as it turns out school registers aren’t the only thing to have been royally messed up by the blip. The tampering of the space time continuum in Endgame appears to have altered the multi-verse, triggering the arrival of the Elementals: a quartet of otherworldly beings wielding the power of the elements – earth, fire, wind, water – who want nothing more than to decimate the planet. No sooner has he exchanged his cash for Euros, Parker is suiting up once again and teaming with newcomer Quentin Beck (Gyllenhaal) – AKA Mysterio – a powerful superhero residing from the same universe as the Elementals who’s recruited by Nick Fury (Jackson) to help bring an end to their reign of destruction.
To disclose any further plot points would be to teeter unfairly close to the edges of spoiler territory. However, anyone familiar with the Spider-Man comics, animated TV series, or how to use the Google search function will know, in a quite literal sense, there is certainly more to this story than first meets the eye.
Yet, despite its narrative twists and a handful of quieter, subtler moments, things almost always remain high above the line of joyful superhero romp here. Breathing new life into a character we’ve seen grace the big screen nine times since 2002, Tom Holland once again oozes bumbling charm as the note-perfect incarnation of the titular wall-crawler in a film where the jokes fire as rapidly, and hold as firmly, as the very web blasts from his wrists. Despite the film’s conventional beats, his on-screen chemistry with other members of the young cast, coupled with quirky interaction with the reliable old guard – Fury; Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan – keep the film’s infectious energy conducting throughout, and provides the fuel for yet another wave of on-brand Marvel warmth. Marvel, and only Marvel, could follow up a universe-quaking showdown with some spandex-heavy, teen frolicking around Europe.
As for the film’s A-list addition, the sight of Jake Gyllenhaal in a cape – an actor who, by and large, has repelled the lure of the shiny, big-budget blockbuster in favour of smaller, grittier projects – takes some adjusting to. However, after only a few early, seemingly rudimentary, exchanges with Parker and co. – that lead to something altogether more meatier – he quickly becomes Far From Home’s most intriguing element.
As the quirky light-heartedness begins to interweave with the story’s more sincere threads and revelations, however, the narrative begins to feel far less adhesive. Jumping from set piece to set piece with the velocity of an arachnophobe sprinting from a daddy long-legs, Watts’s film lacks the same polished concision and slick pacing of the very best of the franchise’s previous productions. Absent of the same palpable tension found in Homecoming‘s third-act car ride, rarely does the sense of dread in Far From Home exceed beyond musings over the hefty (hypothetical) financial implications of rebuilding a totally decimated Tower Bridge; and, at 129-minutes, it’s a film that suffers from a needlessly long run time. But, perhaps with the exception of Ragnarok and Doctor Strange, this the series’ most visually impressive foray and has fun and laughs by the suitcase load. More than enough to get those Spidey tinglse a’tingling again.
While the narrative is far closer to familiarity than the film’s title would suggest, Spider-Man: Far From Home is a suitably humorous, delightful tonal upturn: one that sets a promising course for the next stage of the MCU.