There is quite a lot to unpack in this review. It took me two viewings to decide exactly how I felt about this film. Nevertheless, here we are in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s 23rd film, and it does not show signs of slowing down anytime soon.
After the universe-shattering events of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is just trying to take a break from saving the world, and spend some time getting closer to his high school crush, MJ (Zendaya). Traveling the globe on a school trip to gorgeous locations such as Venice, Prague, and London certainly seems like an appealing alternative to defending the world against inter-dimensional beings of untold power. Unfortunately for Peter, his plans are interrupted by just that, as the destructive entities known as the “Elementals” suddenly enter the picture. But, Parker is going to have help from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), head SHIELD agents, and newcomer Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a “mysterious” figure claiming to hail from an alternate Earth in a parallel universe. These catastrophic Elementals destroyed his world and killed his family, but he followed them through an inter-dimensional rift to the Earth we know, willing to do whatever it takes to prevent this world from suffering the same fate as his own.
This movie is exhilarating. It is a pure adrenaline rush, with stupendous action sequences and visuals, outstanding character interactions, and wild twists and turns. The well-delivered humor blends perfectly with the tone and atmosphere of this particular section of the MCU. The high school setting provides an awkward coming-of-age movie feel to the story, and the situational humor is organic and natural. Michael Giacchino‘s score shines brightly and vividly in the ever-expanding palette of this film universe’s music. However, the real standout in the film is Gyllenhaal’s character, also known as Mysterio. Anybody familiar with the character of Quentin Beck/Mysterio from the comics is in for an absolute treat. Translating this immensely complicated character from the panels of Stan Lee’s and Steve Ditko’s legendary comic books to the big screen and Hollywood’s biggest stage seems like a nearly impossible task. Nevertheless, director Jon Watts and the writing duo of Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers churned out an effort for the ages. Costume designer Anna Sheppard brought her A-game as well, with a splendidly detailed rendition of Mysterio’s classic comic book trappings. This is not even to mention the captivating performance from Gyllenhaal, the actor with an Oscar-nomination under his belt. Still, in my initial viewing, I did feel that some plot points and threads regarding this character unstably straddled the line between being overly complex narrative shifts and excellently written surprises. I saw them as incredibly ambitious, but not without their flaws. However, after taking some time to process these events and meditate on their effectiveness, I approached my second viewing with a looser outlook, prepared to go with the flow of the story that the filmmakers wanted to tell. And, I can safely say that some of the biggest issues I had the first time around hardly had a negative impact at all in my second viewing. Whether it was certain moments of unsteady progression and pacing problems in the narrative, questionable decisions made by the characters, or even logic questions (yes, even for a comic book film), they appeared to be integrated more efficiently and evenly on my second watch. There are undoubtedly a handful of nitpicks and iffy moments of hand-waving, but these are fairly easy to forgive in the grand scheme of things.
Perhaps what makes these flaws appear so trivial are some of the other mind-bogglingly well-executed sequences and action set pieces that live up to every bit of hype you have likely been hearing. The hundreds of VFX artists blended their outstanding work seamlessly with the output from cinematographer Matthew J. Lloyd, and editors Leigh Folsom Boyd and Dan Lebental. Claude Paré’s production design, and the supervising art direction from Grant Armstrong and Jann K. Engel finished off these masterstrokes. If you were impressed by the trippy, hallucinogenic nature of many scenes in Doctor Strange (2016), get ready for more of the same.
Yet, what might even take these scenes to another level in Far From Home are the emotional punches they bring to the mix. This is where we get some of Peter Parker’s most poignant character moments and personal challenges. It is difficult to fully describe in detail exactly how this plays out without getting into spoilers; but, it must be noted that one of the overarching themes of this film is his continuous struggle with the balance of a normal teenage life and his alter-ego, the web-slinging Spider-Man. After being snapped out of existence in Infinity War and coming back to life five years later in Endgame, what would a 16-year-old want to do besides kick back and relax, letting the older heroes do the work? But, much to Peter’s chagrin, that is not quite the way the hero gig works. Once you are in this life, there is no easy way out. (Also, actors have contracts, and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man just so happened to be up next in the batting order). The looming shadow of his late friend, mentor, and father figure, Tony Stark/Iron Man, is a heavy load for Parker to bear, and this emotional turmoil in the midst of the still-shaking world around him ensures a richly complex and moving narrative for our protagonist.
Indeed, Parker does continue to make very ill-advised decisions and immature mistakes. Some of his closest friends and even entire cities are put in the direct line of danger thanks to his slip-ups and idiotic misjudgments. This was another problem I had in my first viewing that was much more acceptable on my second watch. Parker’s character arc has been inconsistent throughout his five appearances in the MCU (Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, and now Far From Home). He seems to be learning the same lessons over and over again, finding new ways to make the same errors. Still, after pondering these matters and examining the whole picture, I realized that Parker’s experiences are completely justified within the context of the story. This is a 16-year-old kid who has been involved in his fair share of life-altering incidents in the past few years, the least of which is being bitten by a radioactive spider and receiving super powers. The life of a teenager is unsteady enough as it is, but throwing these fantastical elements into the mix adds an entire new range of volatile possibilities. As a 19-year-old myself, all I have to do is look in a mirror and see that I make the same blunders over and over again, and I am not even busy fighting giant purple Titans bent on shredding the universe down to its last atom. This does not necessarily absolve Parker from all responsibility, but it is not difficult to see how he would be foolish in certain instances. Holland’s command of this role is like nothing we have ever seen before in a Spider-Man movie. Tobey McGuire and Andrew Garfield each brought something unique to the table in their portrayals of Peter Parker, but nothing compares to the dorky, clumsy, and bumbling nature of the character seen in Holland’s performance. Personally, there has never been a character on-screen that I have ever identified with more closely. I always want to do everything I can to impress those I admire, but I am also horribly afraid of disappointing them. Additionally, I would like to think I have some pretty interesting personality traits and characteristics, but that first step of getting to know somebody is an obstacle that I still struggle to overcome. This is Holland’s Peter Parker in a nutshell. I feel myself going through every single emotion with this character. No, this deep-rooted connection is not going to be felt by every single viewer, but it sure as heck reached me on a personal level.
Even still, there are other things in the story for everybody. The innocent teenage romance between Parker and the hilariously dark-humored and deadpan MJ, the quirky side characters of Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) and Betty Brant (Angourie Rice), and the comical additions of Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr) and Mr. Dell (J.B. Smoove) will draw in viewers from all areas of interest. This is basically a coming-of-age action dramedy, which happens to be based on comic book characters. The MCU somehow continues to find new ways to blend these genre mash-ups with relative ease.
Most of the detractive factors and nitpicks present in this film are generally pardonable, considering the insane thrill ride that the rest of the roller coaster gives us. While Far From Home is probably middle of the pack in the MCU from a critical perspective, it is pretty high on the list in terms of entertainment value. If you know what you are getting into from the get-go, you will be greatly rewarded for your time and money.
Post-Script: The mid-credits and post-credits scenes are immensely important to the future of the MCU, and will have die-hard comic book connoisseurs and superhero movie fans literally cheering out loud. You do not want to miss this.
Director: Jon Watts
Writers: Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers; based on the comic books created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Producers: Victoria Alonso, Avi Arad, Eric Hauserman Carroll, Louis D’Esposito, Kevin Feige, Thomas M. Hammel, Stan Lee, David Minkowski, Amy Pascal, Matthew Stillman, and Matt Tolmach
Starring: Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice, Remy Hill, Martin Starr, J.B. Smoove, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Cobie Smulders, and Numan Acar