At this point it’s hard to deny Marvel’s achievements. 23 films. One cinematic universe. Dozens of characters freely and frequently moving through the sub-franchises within and we don’t even bat an eyelid. Marvel has made something truly unprecedented. Yes, the cynics may say that ‘The world doesn’t need another Marvel movie’ and they’d be right. We don’t need it. But we sure as hell want it. At least me and millions of others do, and to still have that level of demand after 23 films is pretty incredible. So let’s talk about the film that serves as the full-stop to Phase Three.
Tom Holland as Peter Parker is unquestionably likable. His iteration of the neighborhood-protector-by-night / bumbling-nerd-by-day hero is a refreshing take. Especially after the horror show of the failed ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ franchise. His youth and naivety is what sets him apart. Where the suit served as a transformative element for Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man, Holland retains his awkward, clumsy character in and out of the suit allowing for a nice slice of levity and fun in the action sequences. At only 16, Peter is still coming to terms with his powers and responsibilities and isn’t ready to be the hero everyone expects him to be, especially after the events of Endgame – and this is the anchor point for Far From Home. He wants the same things all teenagers want and professing his undying love for MJ (Zendaya) is top of the list. Having a good time on his school trip is second and donning the red and blue spandex is dead last. Cue – Jake Gyllenhaal.
As our podcast listeners may know I have somewhat of a soft-spot for Mr Gyllenhaal (to be fair that’s putting it pretty lightly). Basically, in my eyes he can do no wrong. You could say that’s a bit of a problem when it comes to, you know, objectively reviewing films, and you’d be right. But I’m only human guys, I mean come on, have you seen that hair? Anyway I’ll do my best to shed the biases for this next section. Now, for any comic-book fans out there, you’ll already be aware that Mysterio is no good guy. But over the years the MCU has veered further and further from the source material to the point where no amount of comic-book knowledge can help you predict a thing in this universe. They love those curve balls. So when Peter is happily strolling around Venice fumbling over his words with MJ and Mysterio appears out of nowhere to battle a giant water monster (one of four of the Elementals set on consuming the earth), it’s clear that Mysterio isn’t the villain we all expected. In the ensuing scenes it turns out Mysterio a.k.a. Quentin Beck, is from another world (confirming the theory that there’s a multi-verse in the MCU) and he’s come to save this version of Earth from the same monsters that destroyed his own. In fairness some of the exposition around Mysterio and the Elementals is pretty clunky, especially a particular bar scene at the midpoint, but with Marvel’s plots becoming more and more complex it’s somewhat of a necessary evil. Now Endgame is out of the way, is it time they returned to the slicker, cleaner plots like Iron Man? I guess we’ll find out in Phase Four.
The true joy of this film lies in the backdrop of the school trip. Where luckily, most of the film is focused. The profoundly desperate Mr Harrington leading a group of angsty, horny teens around Europe is absolute gold. Zendaya takes more of a central role than in Homecoming and is expertly cast as MJ. She inhabits the sarcastic yet vulnerable teen with authenticity and ease. She’s a pleasure whenever on screen and is yet another fresh take on a classic character. Jacob Batalon returns as Ned, Peter’s relentlessly-cheerful best friend, this time intent on making full use of his American bachelor credentials in Europe. With the addition of a few newbies, watching this lot bounce around Europe being young, care free kids is where the film really sings and it’s this joyful tone that’s been missing from the previous versions of Spidey. But it wouldn’t be a Spider-Man movie without some bombastic action and though many of the set pieces take place in rather on-the-nose European locations, they are a lot of fun. Parker has an improved mastery over his abilities, there’s a definite increase in his fluidity and accuracy when fighting and though he still occasionally drops the ball, he improvises his way out of sticky situations in entertaining and creative ways. This action is certainly a step-up from Homecoming. Marvel do veer toward the trope of ‘mass destruction over a famous city’ in the 3rd act which has been tired ever since the beginning of Phase 2, but they put some interesting spins on the Monsters and, this time, have a few tricks up their sleeve…
Ruling – With the future of this Spider-Man currently up in the air, I sincerely hope this isn’t the last we see of him in the MCU. From the moment Tony Stark drops in in Civil War, Spidey has brought a breath of fresh air and a child-like joy to the Marvel Universe and has gone a long way in erasing the sins of the past. Here’s hoping he can continue to do so!