Spider-Man: Far from Home
Who’s super strong and really sticky? Why, it’s your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, coming to terms with his role in a post-Endgame world. From the opening scene involving a sendoff for those who died in the last Avengers film, this is an explicit sign-off to an entire era of Marvel moviemaking, with a new generation ready to take a swing.
But first, Peter Parker wants to go on a Eurotrip with his schoolmates, so he ghosts incessant calls from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), says goodbye to his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), and packs for a trip Far from Home.
When Peter (Tom Holland) and his buddies stop in Venice, they encounter a water monster, a so-called “Elemental” that’s set to destroy the famed city. While there’s plenty of destruction porn at play, the film does well to keep the characters front and center. In the midst of the melee, Parker encounters a mysterious man named Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal) and finds a kind of father figure like the one he recently lost.
From there, the film settles into a nice mix of generally straightforward narrative nuggets. It’s a coming of age tale about Peter embracing the responsibility that comes with his powers set against his desire for normalcy. There’s also the excitement of being away, with grand plans to woo M.J. (Zendaya) atop the Eifel Tower, and learning once again that even the best organized tasks can easily go awry.
What the movie settles unequivocally is that the casting of Tom Holland remains this series’ greatest gift. He’s simply perfect in the role, with the right tone, physicality, and believable awkwardness. What this latest reboot does brilliantly is cast the character in adolescence, making his fumbles relatable despite the enormity of the adventure playing out on grand scale.
As a Spider-Man film, Far from Home is pretty strong, though less fresh and surprising than Homecoming and less deliriously fun than Into the Spider-Verse, but that was likely inevitable. It’s fair to say this is the best second Spiderfilm in a saga. What fuels this one, however, is also its biggest flaw. Required to settle much of the baggage of Marvel’s Phase 3 while setting up the next push forward, the movie loses focus at times.
It’s not as if the filmmakers don’t know this. Peter himself is going through a kind of existential crisis, finding his local concerns overshadowed by larger catastrophes that force him to look at the bigger picture. Narratively, this is extremely effective, as it reflects Peter’s own coming of age and need to embrace adulthood. Similarly, this tension grants the film its greatest plot swings. When decisions are made without the appropriate introspection, the consequences can be disastrous.
While these elements that color the storyline are deeply embedded, they bring a sense that the character is slipping away, becoming little more than a cog in a much bigger engine. The world has widened, and that inevitably makes Peter feel less like a big spider in a small town than a puzzle piece to be laid down.
That may be the point of this film, to give us enough of a standalone story while planting elements that are sure to resonate in the future. This strategy has resulted in billions for the Marvel empire, but it also makes this movie in particular feel less about Peter’s character and more about what he’s now connected to. It’s a sticky web, with lines pulling in many directions. Like the hero, we’re meant to accept the new normal and make the best of it. However, there’s still a tingling sense that the whimsy is gone, and this iconic character is being subsumed by larger storylines.
It’s then refreshing when we get those moments of thwipping and whooshing through buildings, as well as feats of impressive strength. Even more engaging are the moments of vulnerability – whether emotional or physical – that humanize what otherwise amounts to a bunch of pixels dancing around on screen. This again is where Tom Holland shines. The actor allows us to feel the hits. Peter’s young, but already a veteran of both failure and tragedy. Yet he holds onto a refreshingly earnest, youthful zeal to make things right. His lack of cynicism is engaging, and it conflicts with the narrative drudgery that’s sewn into the sequel’s DNA.
The movie doesn’t provide much in the way of grand surprises given how broadly everything is telegraphed, but when the climax finally comes, it delivers enough to enthrall. Going in as cold as possible is likely best. (When isn’t it?) A couple post-credit cappers further move things along, and the film confidently tees up what’s to come over the next several years.
On its own, Spider-Man: Far from Home feels torn between its meta-narrative drives and its more contained story beats. That niggle aside, John Watts’ second crack at the character still offers much to admire. It has visual zip, terrific character moments, and a storyline one can care about. Far from Home may not be a flawless franchise sequel, but it’s not far off from that goal.