Every Avengers movie since Age of Ultron has been followed by a lighthearted palette-cleanser. In the past, the lower-stakes, street-level adventures of the world’s tiniest Avengers, Ant-Man, fit the bill, with the enjoyable smallness of Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp proving to be the perfect anecdotes to the grandiosity of AoU and Infinity War. This year, however, Marvel has given the job to Tom Holland’s Spider-Man in Far From Home.
The plot, quite simply: Peter Parker tours Europe to see the sights (Venice, Prague, and water monsters!), woo the girl (Zendaya’s MJ, sardonic as always), and eventually beat a bad guy (spoiler). Until the two monumentally important post-credits scenes, it’s the least consequential Spider-Man or Marvel Studios movie in recent memory, yet it’s exactly the kind of breezy fun we need after Endgame. In a larger sense, however, Far From Home almost feels like Marvel showing off.
Far From Home Spoilers Here On Out
Who else but Marvel, for example, could get away with a summer blockbuster where almost nothing truly important happens until after the credits? Only Marvel has the cultural bandwidth and brazen ingenuity to pluck long-forgotten extras from prior movies and bring them back as a group of villains who function as the bad guy’s glorified film crew – one is a writer, another a costume designer, yet another is a special effects guru. And truly only Marvel could make a summer blockbuster where the villain isn’t just something a special effects department created through a combination of mo-cap and CGI but instead literally a guy – Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio – walking around in a mo-cap suit and fooling everyone with his own CGI creations.
For such an effortlessly entertaining film, there seems to be a fair bit of flexing going on behind the scenes. This is Marvel confidently showing exactly how meta it can get, foregrounding our concerns over who can possibly replace Robert Downey, Jr. in the MCU and crafting an entire story about Peter Parker freaking out over being asked to step into Iron Man’s shoes.
Heck, the MacGuffin of the plot is literally just a pair of Tony’s glasses – super tech glasses, of course – and the villain is constantly talking about creating a crisis worthy of The Avengers. Plus, Kevin Feige and his crew seem to be inching ever closer to making something which might be inevitable: a movie where the characters just hang out. Endgame flirted with that longer than anyone expected and so does Far From Home.
Apart from a quick prologue introducing Mysterio battling an elemental monster, the film takes its time getting to its first big action set piece. After the utter epicness of Endgame’s everyone-on-the-screen-at-the-same-time action finale, this slower approach might frustrate some, but for me it registers as a much-needed exhale moment. We get to settle back into this universe and enjoy the simple, teen movie-leaning joys of Peter, Ned, and MJ’s crazy European vacation.
Of course, you’ve probably seen the trailer. You know what eventually comes along to interrupt Peter’s quest to kiss MJ: Nick Fury shows up to recruit him. Glass bowl-headed Mysterio fights giant water and fire monsters. The multiverse is invoked. Peter resists the call to action until he can’t anymore.
Then, in classic Marvel fashion, there is a mid-movie twist about the villain. This is one of the more interesting parts of Far From Home in that it will likely play far differently for comic book readers vs. non-comic book readers. This isn’t a Captain Marvel or Iron Man 3 situation where even comic book readers were thrown by what was done with a classic villain. No, Far From Home leans into exactly what you’d expect from Mysterio if you know him from the comics. If you don’t, however, Gyllenhaal’s switch from so sincere it hurts to unhinged con man yelling at his co-conspirators probably registers as a fun twist, even if it’s exactly the kind of surprise we’ve come to expect from these movies.
After that switch takes place, returning director Jon Watts seems to challenge himself to use Mysterio to push the franchise to new visual extremes. Or he just really loves the Scarecrow missions from the Batman: Arkham video game series. Either way, Mysterio’s hallucination tech sends Spider-Man down some very trippy holes. Even as the “how is Mysterio doing this?” gets to feeling a bit too undefined and limitless you just go with it because what’s happening on screen is basically a therapy session for Peter, albeit in the form of nightmare imagery like a skeletal Iron Man rising from the grave or an army of Spider-Men dogpiling on top of him like Agent Smith on Neo in The Matrix sequels. Tom Holland’s version of Peter is still so lovable we’re almost hardwired to want to see him succeed.
Of course, it’s a superhero movie meaning his eventual victory is never really in doubt. That might be why Far From Home saves its two biggest reveals until the post-credits, giving us a story we mostly expect and enjoy before completely gut-punching us with two credits scenes which point to a far more interesting Spider-Man 3 and a tantalizing hint at what might be in store for the MCU in Phase 4.
From the looks of it, some reviewers have jumped on this “save the important stuff until the film is over” as being an act of condemn-able artistic neglect. Fair. However, after 11 years of this we should be used to the somewhat weightless, but enjoyable transitional Marvel movie which needs to exist to bridge us to the next big thing. What happens with Spider-Man next looks infinitely more interesting than what actually happens in Far From Home. This movie feels like a 3-issue comic book about Spider-Man’s light adventures in Europe; the next thing looks like a major, era-defining graphic novel. I can’t wait for that next thing. However, in the here and now Far From Home does exactly what any post-Avengers movie should: it gives us time to breath and simply enjoy the company of these characters.
RANDOM PARTING THOUGHTS
- Trailer Alert: This above scene from the trailer where Peter jokes with some cops? Not in the movie.
- Far From Home is front-loaded with cutesy jokes about the real-world ramifications of half the population disappearing and then suddenly returning five years later. My favorite bit: a teacher admits his ex used Thanos’ snappening as an opportunity to fake her death and run off with another man. I wonder if every MCU film for the next couple of years is going to have to include such acknowledgements to post-Endgame fallout – not just how it impacted major characters but also the day-to-day lives of people everywhere- or if they’re going to want to move past it as fast as possible.
- This movie is the end of Marvel’s Phase 3. So, of course, the script includes a meta line about the world entering a new phase.
- One sad part: Ned and Peter aren’t together nearly as much as they were in Homecoming. Oh, well. Ned gets a surprise romance with Angourie Rice’s Betty Brant, which is fun.
- Mysterio’s whole plan is that in a post-Endgame environment the world is naturally longing for a hero, and he’s exactly the kind of conman who can give that to them and somehow make some money in the process, although that last part is never fully defined. People will believe whatever you tell them, he says. If you are so inclined, you can read a lot into this story line as a commentary on the fake news era, but it isn’t developed enough to land with great metaphorical weight. Instead, it’s there to set up the first post-credits scene revealing J. Jonah Jameson as an Alex Jones type.
3, 2, 1, your thoughts on Spider-Man: Far From Home, Go! To the comments section, that is.