It’s hard to believe, but as of this year’s Avengers: Endgame, Tom Holland has donned the spider-suit in more movies than any other actor, and it’s only been three years since his first appearance in Captain America: Civil War! To my knowledge, only Nicholas Hammond has played the character more than him. This time around, it’s in his second solo outing, subtitled Far From Home.
Early in the movie, the lingering effects of the Avengers epic are dealt with: the “snap” which killed off half of the universe’s population – including Peter Parker and his closest school chums – and the loss of Tony Stark as Peter’s mentor. Ok, I’m sure that second one is a massive spoiler to anyone who hasn’t seem Endgame, but after a couple of months, that’s kind of on you. Following the snap, undone by The Hulk in Endgame, that half returns, but it’s after a five-year gap in which those left behind have gotten older. There are a couple of jokey references to this, but overall it felt pretty phony to me. While everyone keeps saying all this happened five years ago, there’s almost zero evidence that it actually happened, especially given that none of the crew from Spider-Man: Homecoming were affected by it. There was a great chance to show this to comedic effect by having at least one them appear in the movie five years older, but I felt that the need to stand by contracts hamstrung the writers to the point where all they could do was pay lip service to the event. And in a weird way, I also feel that the whole Tony Stark/Peter Parker dynamic seemed a little forced too – but only a little. I never *really* got the sense, even in Homecoming, that a high school-age Peter Parker would really mean THAT much to Stark. Anyway, I’m digressing. On to the review!
I tend to get a little windbaggy when I write about these Marvel movies, and how Marvel Comics was a keystone of my early childhood development, and it’s the same with this movie, but I’ll keep it a little light: Spider-Man’s costume is my earliest memory of superhero costumes – my second? Mysterio, in Spider-Man Comics Weekly #5, in 1973, which reprinted the original story by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko from a decade earlier.
I remember loving that costume so much as a kid, and it’s always stuck with me as one of my all-time favourite costumer designs. I always enjoyed the character’s appearances over the decades, so when I heard none other than Jake Gyllenhaal (Enemy, ) was cast as Quentin Beck I was in two minds: on one hand, I’m a fan, but on the other, would he just phone it in as another paycheque job? The good news is I didn’t think at any time he did. I had much the same fears over Michael Keaton’s turn as The Vulture, and I was surprised there too. Is the Spider-Man franchise the one where good actors are hired to play the villains?
The plot of Far From Home is pretty basic: Peter and his high school crew go on a European trip for some much-needed escape from the recent cosmic events, and during this trip, Peter plans to tell MJ how he feels about her. But while they’re in Venice, a giant Hydro-Man type water-creature appears, only to be confronted by a new hero on the scene – Mysterio. Well, it won’t come as a shock to anyone that Mysterio is the movie’s bad guy. I mean, if you went into this movie thinking otherwise, maybe movies are not your thing. Knowing that he’s the villain of the piece, it makes the next hour or so of the movie a little repetitive while you’re waiting for the inevitable reveal – during which, Peter interacts in an awkwardly, weirdly-written way, with Nick Fury. You wonder, how can Fury possibly be taken in by Mysterio’s outlandish story? In a nod to the early and brief days of Alan Moore’s stint at Marvel, Earth-616 gets mentioned by Mysterio as he claims to be the sole survivor of an alternative Earth, now here to help Peter’s from being destroyed. There’s an answer to Fury’s apparent gullibility much later. Alongside these scenes, Peter still has to interact with his school friends, and it’s all mildly amusing and somewhat realistic – to a point. At no time do they feel like real, contemporary teenagers. They’re all way too wholesome, even MJ who is set up as the mysterious, deadpan, sarcastic chick who’s really only about as “edgy” as someone who makes a point of not listening to Taylor Swift. Having said that, I mostly liked all the kids in the movie, even though they’re the lightweights that are there to remind long-time Spidey movie fans that this is an “all-new!” version.
My interest was always with Gyllenhaal, and I’ll say he delivered. Not any kind of award-winning role, and not as meaty as Michael Keaton’s Vulture, but once his motive was revealed I was onboard with it, and I enjoyed how scenes during the key reveal were doled out alongside previously meaningless clips from other Marvel movies in a manner that reminded me a little of Keyzer Soze’s in The Usual Suspects. From that point on, it’s all about how Spider-Man is going to take down Mysterio, and for me, it made for a pretty good, energetic ending. What added to it for me is that while Mysterio’s true plans are revealed, there’s still plenty of classic Mysterio/Spider-Man confrontations, which I greatly enjoyed. I felt like The Vulture, Mysterio was given a pretty reasonable update, and it didn’t hurt that there’s a kind of nod to Mission Impossible in the storyline too.
What prevents me from being more enthusiastic about the movie is that, at over two hours, I felt the action and story flagged along the way. It felt bloated, and it had a couple of scenes that feel too similar to others in the movie, and while the main plot is the kids’ chaperoned trip to Europe, that felt really redundant to me. None of the locations in the movie are anything other than interchangeable backdrops, given that they have almost zero interaction with the locals or cultures that they meet on the trip. That, too, felt phony. Far From Home is simply the Marvel juggernaut trundling along on its own world tour, vacuuming up money along the way. The story doesn’t stretch any of the characters, doesn’t really force any great change upon them. Marvel’s already done that, and it was called Endgame, and Far From Home is far from that. Stay through the end credits though – there are two fairly meaty scenes that you won’t want to miss. If you heard they’re amazing and unmissable, that’s not exactly how I felt about them, but they’re worth waiting for.
© Andrew Hope., 2019
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