Coming in hot on the heels of AVENGERS: ENDGAME, there was always the risk that SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME would wind up as an underwhelming afterthought, withering in the shadow of it’s record-shattering big brother. Thankfully, Spidey’s latest outing dodges these pitfalls by delivering a charming teen comedy, another outstanding villain, and some of the best visuals seen in an MCU film to date. Like a small mint after a heavy meal, FAR FROM HOME proves itself the perfect epilogue to the Infinity Saga, and a fantastic Spider-sequel in its own right.
After the trauma of being dusted out of existence, only to be brought back just in time to see his latest father figure die, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is so ready to hang up his spider-suit for the summer, and just be a normal teenager on his class trip to Europe. His plans to romance MJ (Zendaya) are derailed, however, when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) hijacks his summer vacation and ropes him into fighting a group of elemental creatures. Fury introduces Spider-Man to Mysterio, AKA Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), an enigmatic soldier from a parallel dimension, who lost his world to these Elementals. While initially it seems that Peter may have found a new bearded mentor and friend to replace the one he lost, it soon becomes clear that there’s more to the Elemental threat than first appears, and that Mysterio may not be quite the hero he pretends to be.
The mid-film reveal will come as little surprise to anybody familiar with Mysterio’s comic book history, but it still makes for a compelling twist – even if Syndrome did kind of do it first in THE INCREDIBLES. Writers Chris McKenna and Eric Sommer achieve this by burying the reveal beneath Peter’s emotional journey, re-framing all the events leading up to the twist as his dealing with the pressures of being expected to take over from Iron Man. This status quo also helps to sell Mysterio’s plan, as he swoops into a world that has just lost its two greatest heroes, and takes full advantage of their fears to brand himself their newest caped saviour.
What’s more, the through-narrative of misinformation, illusions and not trusting what you see could not be more relevant in this current era of fake news and unchecked dishonesty. Mysterio’s gripes about being the smartest one in the room but still being ignored, due to lacking in the capes and lasers department, bears strong resemblance to the way in which experts and scientists are often challenged by unqualified conspiracy theorists – a point which is further underlined by J. K. Simmons’ glorious post-credits return as an Infowars-style J. Jonah Jameson.
Gyllenhaal’s magnetic performance easily rivals Michael Keaton’s sinister turn as the Vulture in HOMECOMING.
Continuing the tone established in SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING, teen comedy is still the name of the game here, only this time it’s sharing space with the emotional fallout from ENDGAME. While this is mostly played for laughs (see the PowerPoint video-tribute to the fallen Avengers), Tom Holland delivers some great dramatic acting, most notably in the touching scene with Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) on the jet. As for Spidey’s supporting cast, Zendaya’s MJ gets a lot more room to shine this time around, and the awkward teen romance that she and Peter share is completely adorable and hits a lot of the right beats for the genre. Ned (Jacob Batalon) may not get as much to do as he did in HOMECOMING, but his summer relationship with Betty (Angourie Rice) makes for a hilarious subplot, with both actors bringing some big laughs with limited screen-time.
Much like Batman, a Spidey film is only as good as its villain, and Mysterio is without a doubt one of the best that the wall-crawler has ever faced. Gyllenhaal utilises his unique ability to switch seamlessly between charm and menace to great effect. In the beginning, he so encapsulates the heroic Tony Stark replacement model, even longtime fans of the character will be tempted to buy into his story. It’s when the penny drops, however, that the real fun begins. Letting loose the unhinged mania that he has perfected in films such as DONNIE DARKO and NIGHTCRAWLER, Gyllenhaal chews up the second and third acts with a mesmerising glee, in a magnetic performance that easily rivals Michael Keaton’s sinister turn as the Vulture in HOMECOMING.
And then there’s the look of it all. Mysterio is one of those comic book characters that seems impossible to translate to the big screen, with his gaudy outfit and giant fishbowl helmet being too ridiculous to appear in live-action. Costume designer Anna B. Sheppard must have taken this as a challenge, as the end result is not only a bold and innovative redesign of the classic outfit, but also one that blends elements of existing MCU heroes’ looks, including Thor, Iron Man and Doctor Strange, helping to sell the idea of Mysterio as a replacement for the disassembled Avengers.
Spidey is also looking fantastic here, with his two new suits folding nicely into his MCU wardrobe, and the different Elementals make for some incredible spectacles, especially when Peter goes inside the Voltron-style combo that attacks London and sees all the drones at work. The best of the bunch, however, is the extended illusion scene that takes place midway through the film. As Peter discovers Mysterio’s true nature, both he and the audience are catapulted into a dizzying showcase of the villain’s true power. From the moon-head Mysterio throwing MJ off the Eiffel Tower, to the zombie Iron Man crawling out of his grave, this illusion sequence is an exceptionally faithful adaptation of Mysterio’s comic book aesthetic, and features some of the most outstanding visuals in the MCU to date.
FAR FROM HOME offers some of the most intriguing and game-changing teases for future films that the MCU has ever seen.
As with all films released into what is now just the most expensive TV show in history, FAR FROM HOME will inevitably be judged on how it relates and contributes to the MCU at large. To that end, it offers some really interesting connections to past flicks, and some tantalising teases for the future. Following on from ENDGAME, the film of course has to deal with the fallout of half the planet being snapped out of existence. While the handling of the big event (here called “The Blip”) is pretty irreverent, it does lead to some great comedy, with a particular highlight being Mr Harrington (Martin Starr) recounting how his wife pretended to blip as an excuse to leave him.
It’s also great to see Happy finding a new MCU home after the death of Tony Stark. His relationship with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) allows for plenty of step-dad awkwardness, and him watching Peter make a new suit echoes all the way back to the first Iron Man film, tying the whole Infinity Saga together nicely in a big sentimental bow. The notion that Spidey will be the heart of the MCU from here on may have been soured a little by the falling out and subsequent making up between Sony and Disney, but FAR FROM HOME still sets up the future nicely. From a more traditional scene of Spidey swinging between Manhattan skyscrapers, to the bombshell post-credits of Jameson revealing Peter’s identity and Nick Fury’s S.W.O.R.D-looking space station, FAR FROM HOME offers some of the most intriguing and game-changing teases for future films that the MCU has ever seen.
That’s not to say that FAR FROM HOME is perfect. Despite Mysterio’s visually unique illusions, the third act still boils down to the familiar Marvel battle with a disposable CGI army. Also, criticisms levelled against HOMECOMING, that the villain felt like more of an Iron Man foe due to his connections to Tony Stark, are perhaps even more applicable here. While it is natural for Peter’s emotional arc to centre around his grief and the pressure to step up as an Avenger, when the villain’s motivation also connects to Stark, the iron shadow begins to loom a little large, and threatens to draw focus from Spidey. Thankfully, this is held back by the excellent relationship built up between Mysterio and Peter in the first two acts, which helps the inevitable betrayal feel more personal, and ultimately keeps this feeling like a Spider-Man story.
Now two-thirds complete, the Spider-Man Home trilogy has continuously struck a tone that is vastly different from any of the wall-crawler’s previous outings. With FAR FROM HOME, director Jon Watts balances the acrobatic action with a heartfelt teen comedy vibe, delivering a Spidey that is tangled in the twin webs of superhero problems and teen melodrama. This commitment to the essence of the character means that even though he’s not swinging around Manhattan, Spidey still feels incredibly authentic. In other words, you can take the friendly Spider-Man out of the neighbourhood, but he’s still gonna do whatever a spider can.
Verdict: 4.5/5 Paddles