Spider-Man: Far From Home - Review
I know, let’s make the coolest villain we’ve written in years control a drone army! And Peter is now invincible, and M.J. is super woke!
In times like these, it’s important to remember that other movies do exist. You could see the latest Marvel/DC/Star Wars sequel/spinoff/tactless cash-grab. You can do those things, with your money and your time, but they aren’t the best thing. Other films are out there (some of them are in theaters now), and they’re not that bad. Anyway, let’s talk about the latest Marvel Spider-Tingle mess of a popcorn flick.
One thing from the start: I do like Marvel movies. They’re generally entertaining, exciting two hour romps with nice production design, and all the cool costumes I remember from reading Venom #1. Productions like Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame are fitting payoffs for the films that preceded them, and the former actually has a solid villain. But Marvel tends to get lost in a few different places (conveniently not the places most viewers are looking when they come to a theater to see a bad man get wrapped in spider juice).
Spider-Man: Far From Home doesn’t break any molds: It doesn’t give its director a chance to do anything interesting, and the character development is some of the worst in the MCU. Yet, it’s not Iron Man 2, which is so obviously bad because its villain is boring. Never mind that Tony Stark goes through changes in that film, I don’t like Mickey Rourke! Far From Home’s villain is a lot better, but he distracts from the atrocious developments that Peter, Ned, and M.J. go through on their journey.
There are a few good things about Far From Home: Tom Holland still captures the friendly, teenage Spider-Man better than anyone (yes, I’m looking at you, goth Toby McGuire). Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio allows for some of the coolest visual effects the MCU has seen in a while, and manages to have them make sense in the context of the world. His unpredictable nature is initially riveting, as we imagine what kind of person could be so attuned to people’s desire to believe. Sort of an interesting theme to bring up in this decade! This is where the first Big Bad comes in, though, and it’s sort of a large one.
Peter Parker gets hit by a train in Far From Home. That’s right, a full-on, super-fast London transit 140 mph train. Not moments later he crawls out from underneath, his fingers bloodied and a few cuts on his face. Ok, cool. This is saying that not only can Peter Parker survive an accident like this, he can walk away from it. Fine, I’m willing to attribute this to “he’s a superhero and it doesn’t have to make sense,” only the script says it does. Nothing about this scene translates to growth for Peter, because he isn’t punished for his stupidity. He’s up and back to fighting one scene later.
If there’s one theme the film wants you to hear, it’s about rising to the occasion. Peter, as we all know, us Marvel-heads, is not the brightest Avenger out there; a fact Far From Home challenges with a series of difficult decisions that only he can make. Give his newfound technology to the mysterious Quentin Beck (Gyllenhaal); stay with M.J. (Zendaya) or accept Nick Fury’s latest mission? He nearly always makes the wrong call, but it’s this one, the train that should have flattened him, that gets Peter over the hump. While the film tells us Peter’s friends are the reason for his internal conflict, he only really changes when he’s the one put in danger. Not only is this bad storytelling, it’s lazy growth for a character who has the best built-in maturity clock of any superhero: He’s a teenager.
Another smaller, but no less bad part of the writing, is the treatment of Peter’s friends. Ned (Jacob Batalon), who stole the show in Homecoming, is love-crazy in Far From Home, which means he’s hardly ever talking to Peter (the main character). It actually seems like they couldn’t get Batalon for more than a few days, and his scenes are painfully cliche. Trapped in a ferris wheel, oh no. Covering for Peter because he’s the only one who knows he’s Spider-Man, woo hoo. Thanks for the sterile high school archetypes. And then there’s M.J.
Zendaya does a fine job reading her lines and hitting her marks, but that’s where her character stops. Throughout the film, it’s impossible to see her as anything other than a prize for Peter to stumble upon. Funny, considering how many of her lines are poorly written feminist Cliffsnotes, that her entire arc is based around her secret crush on a nerdy boy. There are no interesting character turns, no moments of vulnerability that cut through her rough exterior.
Fans like to say that the Marvel Spider-Man films far outrank the Raimi ones; for those people, I ask you this: Why is M.J., Peter Parker’s main love interest and tether to reality, a composite of every bad Bella Swan character trait, mixed with a healthy dollop of culturally sensitive lingo? Is this interesting, or at all enticing to a viewer that isn’t aware of where the script needs Peter to go? The short answer is no, it’s not, and although she’s not a major part of the film, M.J.’s inclusion feels tokenistic, exacerbated by her proto-woke attitude and wasting of Zendaya’s talent (see: Euphoria).
Say what you will about the MCU, there are some inevitably cool aspects of a world where everything is connected. Far From Home introduces a few welcome twists that set up a new, more diverse second act for our heroes; of course, they’re all post credits scenes, but that’s how Marvel does their storytelling these days: Leaving the heavy-lifting to a 20 second tease. In the much more influential first 120 minutes, there is little to Far From Home that distinguishes it as a Spider-Man movie. From the first beat we’re told SHIELD is at it again, bothering our favorite reluctant super-teenager during another awkward moment, and that cloud never really goes away. Samuel L. Jackson has ventured into late-game Robert Downey Jr. territory, essentially turning up for the check, so there isn’t much to see there...but what about Beck? The main antagonist, the reason for the conflict: What’s his deal?
I suppose this is another point for the “writing in this movie is bad” section, but it applies here, too. Beck is, after a genuinely shocking reveal, a former Stark employee! That’s right, remember that forgettable scene at the start of Captain America: Civil War where Tony talks to a younger, hologrammed version of himself? That was Beck’s technology, and boy was he mad that Tony called it “barf.” Gyllenhaal shines in a few “master plan” speeches, but his threat is mostly tied up in a flock of drones that pose exactly 0 threat to anyone with plot armor. What does that mean, you ask?
Well, it’s literal and figurative. Of course Far From Home isn’t going to kill M.J. or Ned or the teacher of Peter’s class. That would be scarring, outside the norm; it would make people uncomfortable, sad, even, which is something that must be avoided at all costs until the exact moment the series is ready to culminate and deliver a mostly hollow death we all saw coming years earlier (sorry, Endgame hasn’t aged well). Wait, didn’t the last Spider-Man series kill off a main character in the sequel? Wasn’t that one of the only scenes people thought was good in that movie, great, even? Maybe people do know how to deal with the unexpected without throwing their feces at the screen and yelling “MOVIE BAD, MARVEL BAD!” The Marvel-ification of Spider-Man was there in Homecoming, but we were so occupied with the excitement of a new, age-accurate Spider-Man, it was easy to give them a pass. In Far From Home, the villain is given a creative past that builds on the established universe, but the actual tension amounts to wacking a faceless drone with a mace.
It would be easy to label Far From Home as one of the better Spider-Man’s. Easily better than Amazing Spider-Man 2, but not quite on the level of Sam Raimi’s sequel. I won’t lie and say that I loved Homecoming, that I thought it was the perfect return for a character in exile, or a breath of fresh air for a hero far more difficult to depict than most would have thought. Homecoming, like Far From Home, gives 70% to Marvel, 30% to Spider-Man. This doesn’t mean the film isn’t exciting, or a bad use of your time; it just means that the relentless name-dropping and casual humor of the MCU has bled into the movie-going subconscious, forever tied to the superheroes whose names the films bear. If that’s what gets you through a hot July afternoon, great. There’s nothing wrong with liking something, but don’t hope for anything different in the near future.