One of the most interesting aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that it was able to be built on the shoulders of some of the less familiar heroes from the Marvel canon; or should I untried on the silver screen. It’s interesting that the core group of Avengers that laid the foundation for all else to follow was made up of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, of all people. Up until the launch of the MCU with Iron Man, only the Hulk had been tested on the big screen, and not very well I might add. Yet, these were the characters that producer Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios were willing to bet the farm on, instead of the Marvel characters that had already had varied success before like the Fantastic Four, Wolverine and the X-Men, and most importantly Spider-Man. The reason for Marvel Studio’s exclusion of these well known characters was pretty apparent; years of licensing out their characters to other studios created a rights issue nightmare once Marvel had established a permanent home at Disney. To their credit, they managed to survive without these other characters and elevated the once unproven heroes into A-list names on their own, which then forced the other studios to consider playing ball, once they saw all the money that Disney and Marvel were making. Sony stepped up first, working out a shared profits agreement with Disney that would allow for Spider-Man to participate in the Avengers crossovers, while at the same time allowing Sony to keep the rights to the character for his own standalone franchise, only with Marvel taking creative control. This agreement has proven to be a win win for both sides, as Marvel can now include Spider-Man as a part of their universe, and Sony can benefit from the residual good fortune that his presence there brings back to his own series.
One of the things that has really mattered the most for this compromise is in how they’ve dealt with the character as part of the cinematic universe. To work him into a continuing story-line that connects all the other films as Marvel had been doing with their universe, the makers of this new Spider-Man had to consider where he would be at in this point of his life. So, it was decided to dispense with the backstory of the character (how he got bitten by a radioactive spider and witnessed the murder of his Uncle Ben) and just jump strait to him using his powers. This helped to bring him smoothly into the MCU, with his debut in Captain America: Civil War (2016) winning many raves. We didn’t need to watch him grow into Spider-Man; that story had already been told, twice. This was Spider-Man being welcomed into the family. What it also did was introduce an interesting new character dynamic that most people weren’t expecting, which was the mentor/apprentice relationship between him and Tony Stark, aka Iron Man. Since Iron Man was the one who recruited him, it makes sense that the two would form a closer bond, which became a central theme in the first solo film for this new version of the hero, called Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017). The casting of youthful looking Tom Holland in the role also helped to reinforce this new aspect of the character, because he brought an exuberance to the character that played very well off of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man; acting very much like the eager intern wanting to impress the boss. It worked out so well that their relationship resulted in probably the most emotional moments from both Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019). It safe to say that even though he was late to the party, Spider-Man has become an essential and beloved part of the on-going MCU, and we are about to see what comes next in his second, stand alone feature titled Spider-Man: Far From Home. Is it another triumph for the young hero, or does he get caught up in his own web?
It’s hard to talk about some aspects of the movie without discussing spoilers from Infinity War and Endgame. I’ll assume that enough time has passed to talk about the ending of Infinity War here, and the fact that this movie exists at all should tell you a little bit about what happened at the finale of Endgame. Still, I’ll keep things slightly vague and warn you now; some spoilers ahead. Okay, so unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, the MCU concluded the events of Infinity War with the villain Thanos wiping out half of all life in the universe. This event was undone during Endgame, but five years had passed for those who were left behind. Just as quickly as all the victims were wiped from existence, they magically reappeared again in the same place in an occurrence that people now refer to as “The Blip.” Peter Parker (Tom Holland) was one of those blipped, as was his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), MJ (Zendaya) the girl he has a crush on, Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) a school bully, and Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), all of whom are having to readjust in a society that has aged 5 years without them. Having helped the Avengers defeat Thanos, and saying heartfelt goodbyes to fallen comrades in the process, Peter just wants to put the Spider-Man to rest for a while and enjoy a vacation away with his friends. His school takes a class trip to Europe, where Spider-Man is not well known and never needed, so Peter finally feels free of the burden. That is until the director of S.H.I.E.L.D, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) calls upon Spider-Man for help. Fury introduces Peter to a new superhero named Quentin Beck, who goes by the persona Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). Mysterio warns them that ancient beings called the Elementals have destroyed his home and are intent on wrecking havoc in Europe as well. Peter now must make a choice; does he put his vacation R&R on hold to save the day once again, or does he leave the Super Hero responsibility behind? In addition, can he also fully trust this Mysterio character as well?
It’s pretty clear that the expectations for Spider-Man: Far From Home are pretty high. Not only was Spider-Man: Homecoming heralded as one of the best Spider-Man movies to date, but in between these franchise films we’ve even been treated to one of the best animated films in years centered on the character with the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (2018). Not to mention, we’re also coming off the high of both Infinity War and Endgame, which Spider-Man also played a crucial part in. So, a lot is to be expected now. Kevin Feige even stated that Far From Home is actually the official close of Phase 3, acting as sort of a feature length epilogue to Endgame. The only question is, does it live up to all that? Yeah, in a way. I did enjoy this movie quite a bit, but I wonder if I might have enjoyed it better had it not come with all this baggage attached to it. If the grandiosity of Endgame had not preceded it, this movie might have resonated a little more, but instead it merely just serves it’s purpose and nothing more. My expectations were met, but were never really exceeded. I don’t want to sound negative, because the movie is not a disappointment by any means. As a sequel, it does work as a great companion piece to Spider-Man: Homecoming. But, as a part of the MCU, especially in presenting a post-Avengers level event, it is par for the course. This won’t count as one of the all time great Marvel movies, but if you’re looking for just a fun romp with your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, than this is more than satisfying. It might be that the expectations for the character have almost outgrown what he is capable of delivering now, since so much has gone right for the character as of late. The last thing you’d expect at this point right now for Spider-Man is go less epic and grandiose and more intimate and farcical, but that’s exactly what we get, and in a way, it kind of makes sense given everything else we’ve seen.
Far From Home plays it’s story a little closer to the core of Spider-Man’s character; having him struggle with identity in this new unfamiliar world that he’s been absent from for so long. One of the movie’s surprising aspects is in how it deals with the aftermath of Endgame. It surprisingly takes a humorous spin on the horrific event early on, but at the same time, it never forgets that the world has changed in the absence of these core characters. In particular, the movie gets at it’s most interesting when Peter struggles with how his coming to terms with the aftermath is far more profound than with everyone else. It makes him a little more careless, selfish, and emotionally distant than we’ve seen him be before, and that is an interesting exploration to take with the character. This is Spider-Man completely un-moored, left uncertain about his future and it makes him in a more cynical state than before. I’d say that the only fault that the movie has is that it sometimes looses that focus on this aspect of the story, choosing to conveniently drop it whenever the story needs it to. We start with Peter clearly wanting to distance himself from Spider-Man for while as he begins his trip abroad, choosing to leave the suit at home (though Aunt May has other plans), however the moment the Elementals make their first attack in the city of Venice, Peter doesn’t hesitate to step in. I guess Peter’s inclination is to always help out even when he doesn’t want to, but I think it would have been more interesting to see how not acting the hero would have impacted his character. Things get more interesting in the second half of the movie once Mysterio and Spider-Man’s relationship takes center stage, and I quite liked how the movie built that up as the central conflict of the story. It will be interesting to see how opinions on this movie may differ depending on how people view this interpretation of Mysterio. I will say that the character is faithfully adapted from the comic, and that could be a blessing or a curse depending on how familiar you are with the source material. For me, it became the thing that fueled the movie to it’s high points and I ended up enjoying the character quite a bit.
One thing that this movie certainly does is reinforce the fact that Tom Holland is probably the best actor to have ever filled the role of Spider-Man. Tobey Maguire certainly did a fantastic job as well in his trilogy, and Andrew Garfield gave it his best shot in movies that unfortunately were sub-par, but Holland just captures every aspect of the character to perfection. He has probably come the closest to embodying exactly what Stan Lee and Steve Ditko imagined in their minds when they first conceived the character. And, as I stated before, what I liked best in Tom’s performance here was how well he portrays the emotional toll that the Infinity War Saga has put on this character. There’s a wonderful scene between him and Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan (another great holdover from past Marvel Phases), where Peter reaches his breaking point, to which Happy helps to console him and lift him back up for the next fight. It just shows how much range he’s managed to bring to this character, perfectly balancing the film’s more light-hearted moments with it’s heavier dramatic ones; something that he’s demonstrated several times already in the MCU. The introduction of Mysterio into this series is an interesting choice, and I’m happy that Marvel is choosing to spotlight the villains in the Spider-Man rogues gallery that we haven’t seen yet; as opposed to just revisiting that Green Goblin well once again. Jake Gyllenhaal is a surprising choice for the character, but when you see both sides of the character revealed, it makes perfect sense why he was cast. He had to portray the character as relatable, and yet at the same time, duplicitous and self-indulgent, which is very true to the character’s origins in the comic. I also love how much Marvel embraces the original character designs from the comics and that we get Mysterio brought to life in all his dome-headed glory. The returning cast all bring a lot of fun energy to the movie, and I especially like the fact that MJ is more fleshed out in this film which is very much needed knowing how important her character will be in future Spider-Man story-lines. The movie also gives us a couple surprise appearances from key figures in both the world of Spider-Man and Marvel in the end credits scenes, but I don’t want to spoil those other than to say seeing these characters brought a lot of joy to me and the audience in the theater.
One other great thing about Spider-Man: Far From Home is how well it looks. The movie was shot mostly on location in many authentic European locales, and the film makes great use of them all. Even in between the action scenes, the movie shows off the beauty of Venice, Prague, Berlin, and London with a travelogue like sensibility. The whole movie is colorful, probably more than we’ve ever seen from any other Spider-Man movie to date, and it uses it’s widescreen canvas very well. The film also takes some interesting flights into fantasy whenever we see Mysterio’s illusions come fully to life. There’s one confrontation between him and Spider-Man where the illusions become so bizarre and out there that it’s like a nightmare come to life, which itself is very close to how these scenes play out in the comic books. Those scenes in particular are something that I’ve never seen before in any Spider-Man movie, and it helped to set this movie apart from others in the MCU. It explains why they chose a character like Mysterio for this chapter in Spider-Man’s story, because it’s a threat that he hasn’t learned to deal with yet. This is a visually inventive film, and it shows that director Jon Watts and his team are really finding their voice as a part of the MCU, and more importantly, putting their own stamp on the character of Spider-Man. More than anything, this has been the most confident approach to the character that we’ve seen yet, not bound to a director’s own personal style like the Sam Raimi films, nor desperately trying to follow a trend like the grittier Amazing Spider-Man movies. Far From Home and Homecoming take their cues from the comic pages themselves, embracing both the absurd and the profound straight from the page and putting it there on screen.
In the larger sense, I’d say that Far From Home matches it’s predecessor as a cinematic follow-up. In the grand scheme of the MCU, it might come off as a little small, especially when it’s the follow-up to Endgame, which is an epic on a biblical scale. But, it has it’s heart in the right place and doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the character himself. I love the fact that the movie does explore the toll that the previous film’s events have taken on Peter Parker’s well-being, and how that is challenged by his encounter with Mysterio. I love how faithful the movie is to the character of Mysterio himself, not being afraid to portray the more outlandish parts of the character as well as going all in on the costume as well. In addition, we get our first ever look into what Marvel has planned for it’s future, which they’ve been pretty mum about up to this point. The movie closes with a pretty shocking revelation in it’s mid credits scene, and it will be interesting to see where they take the character of Spider-Man from there. Given that the actors are growing older with each new film, I’m happy to see that one of themes of the film was about maturing, and learning to rely upon ones self when that’s all you can do. Future Spider-Man films will need to further explore that continuing maturity, and leave the high school setting behind. I think that’s been the best thing about these more recent Spider-Man films; that they’ve explored the experience of growing up and finding your own path as an adult. That’s what Peter Parker’s story ultimately has to be about, not just what challenges he must face with each new villain. It’s all about that immortal line penned by Stan Lee all those years ago on the comic page, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Spider-Man’s story explores that idea more than any other Marvel superhero, because as we’ve seen in this version, he’s still a child trying to find the right way to use his powers for good, and it’s through the friends and foes that he meets that he grows into the hero that we all need. Far From Home retains that idea, and gives the audience a fun time in the process. Hopefully we be swinging around again soon with this friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.