Peter Parker (Tom Holland), best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), and sardonic classmate MJ (Zendaya) are all coming to terms with life after the reversal of Thanos’ decimation – here termed “the blip” – in Avengers: Endgame. A school trip is the perfect excuse for our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man to take a break and pursue his affections for MJ.
After Sony’s execrable Amazing Spider-Man series, Spidey’s feature-length return in 2017 to Marvel’s stable was a real homecoming – staying true to the callow hero’s roots while skilfully sidestepping the beats of the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield tenures. If Homecoming felt fresh in its teen-comedy approach to the character, Far From Home is the difficult second album, keeping the small-scale teen-movie feel of its predecessor, while being increasingly beholden to the vast interconnectedness of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Although the word is barely muttered in the film, responsibility hangs heavy over Peter’s arc. A brief visual nod to Uncle Ben gestures towards the theme, but it’s Peter’s coming to terms with the death of Tony Stark and his place in an Iron Man-less world that drives his conflicting motivations and the film’s wider exploration of a post-Endgame world. The result is a remix of the “Spider-Man no more” plot, with Peter’s desire to pursue MJ clashing with his sense that the world is waiting for him to become the next Iron Man.
The abdication of worldly responsibility in favour of personal fulfilment is a well-worn approach in superhero sequels, though it’s played much lighter and more irreverently here than in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. What really sells it, however, is the chemistry between Holland and Zendaya, who is effortlessly adorable in an expanded role. The film is strongest when doing its teen comedy thing, though its attempts to balance a few too many supporting characters fail to draw believable relationships beyond the principal cast.
Sadly, it’s the superhero material where Far From Home comes up short. The film never fully gets to grips with new force Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), whose motivations feel like the reheated leftovers of MCU heroes and villains past, whereas Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury increasingly seems to be phoning it in. Meanwhile, a subplot involving love rival Brad (Remy Hii) is pure filler, and an attempt to present the villain as an agent of fake news is shallow and never interrogated. A mid-point twist livens things up considerably but will be obvious to audiences regardless of their familiarity with Marvel comics history.
While director Jon Watts is in comfortable territory with the human-scale dramedy, he fumbles with the superheroics. It’s the inevitable result of the film being designed as a teen comedy first and superhero epic second: the obligatory set pieces should be driving the story forward through action, but instead it is forced to a grinding halt while the insubstantial CGI treats us to generic, inconsequential acrobatics that rarely shows off Spidey’s specific skill set.
With the exception of a hallucinatory tour de force at the film’s mid-point, the problem is exacerbated by visual inertia that ranks among the ugliest of all Marvel’s films. Far From Home visits Venice, Prague, and London – three of the most iconic and beautiful cities in the world – yet in true MCU style, they are made to look as vibrant as a car park on an overcast day.
Finally arriving back home in New York, the film finally finds its identity as a Spidey flick, not to mention featuring the most surprising and delightful mid-credits scene since Nick Fury’s cameo in Iron Man. In truth, however, this Spider-Man sequel feels more like the spiritual successor to Captain Marvel. Repeating many of that film’s virtues and vices, Far From Home nails its characters, chemistry and sense of humour, while fumbling the action and visuals.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell