This is a spoiler-free review for Spider-Man: Far From Home, but some plot elements featured in the trailers are discussed.
If there’s any franchise left in Marvel’s stable capable of batting clean-up after Avengers: Endgame, it’s the Spider-Man series, whose first Marvel Cinematic Universe entry, Spider-Man: Homecomingleft fans, me included, thirsty for more adventures with young Peter Parker and his high school pals. But director Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Far From Home received some unexpected extra-universal competition from what many now consider to be the definitive version of Spider-Man put on screen, Sony Pictures Animation’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and that is a doubly-difficult act to follow. Both of those comparisons are unhelpful here, but Far From Home feels slight in the same way that Ant-Man and the Wasp did in the wake of Infinity War — sure, it’s nice, it’s fun, it’s a good time at the movies, but is this really it? It’s a nice Fernet Braca meant to help us digest all of the world-shattering events of Endgame, and viewed in this light, Watts’ film is more than up to the task of showing us how Marvel’s Earth has changed in the wake of the Avengers’ costly victory over Thanos and entertaining us. But its enjoyable nature has a bit of a downside, in that some of the characters get sidelined in favor of some easy gags.
But let’s recap a second: at the end of Endgame, we left Peter Parker (Tom Holland) in the hallways of his high school, embracing his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalan) after several huge battles and a five-year stretch as a bunch of dust on Titan. Now, Peter’s just looking forward to getting back to the grind of being a Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man — after, that is, he gets back from Europe, as he’s going on a little trip with his science class to experience culture and the arts or something. But almost as soon as they set foot in Venice, some weird shit starts to happen: A giant man-like figure appears out of the canal, made entirely of water, and begins wreaking havoc, destroying buildings and sinking boats. Peter doesn’t have his costume on him, but he still leaps into action to try and help evacuate the area or stop this Hydro-Man from destroying the area. But out of the sky flies a fishbowl-helmeted hero, Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), who will later be dubbed “Mysterio” by Peter’s classmates, and he puts a stop to the creature. From there, Peter’s recruited by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) to help Beck, a visitor from another universe entirely, fight these giant monsters, called “Elementals,” who threaten to destroy the world as we know it. But Peter just wants to be hanging out in Europe with his friends and his crush, MJ (Zendaya), and his superheroic responsibilities just be too big of a burden for him.
The visuals are even stronger here than they were in the previous film, with the scope expanding nicely to match the globe-trotting plot. Watts has grown significantly stronger as an action director since Homecoming, as the reception that followed that film’s nigh-unwatchable final fight between Spidey and the Vulture may have influenced this one’s look. A majority of the action takes place during the day, and, for the most part, the staging is clean and clear, with the emphasis on the Wall-Crawler’s acrobatics. This fluidity also applies to Mysterio, who takes to the skies atop a cloud and shoots beams of green energy out of his hands — a fantastic and interesting fusion of Iron Man’s and Dr. Strange’s power sets, all wrapped up in Thor’s costuming. It’s a visually interesting jumble whenever Gyllenhaal is in costume and on-screen, and that goes doubly for the creatures he’s fighting. The Elementals are massive in scale, wreaking havoc on a level only glimpsed in the Avengers films, formidable and interesting foes to which our heroes must rise to the test. But Far From Home’s commitment to being the “funniest” movie in the entire MCU has a weird way of undermining the stakes, as a single action sequence, such as, say, a night-time fight between Molten Man, Mysterio and a black-suited Spider-Man, is perpetually broken up by gags that break up the rhythm of the scene.
Now, I have never been a person to bitch about humor in a Marvel movie, and I don’t ever want to be the kind of killjoy who demands that all superheroes have to be serious and brooding, but the yuks here are a bit much. Are things funny? Sure! As with any MCU film, there are some good jokes spread all throughout, all of which I can’t really tell you about, but there are just so many of them. It’s almost-averaging a gag every minute here, and it comes dangerously close to pushing the whole endeavor straight into camp territory (also not a bad thing!), even though you can tell Watts is still trying to tell a meaningful story about inheriting responsibility. This tonal imbalance is a problem that defines the film through much of its first hour, where absolutely everything is potentially the subject of a joke, but eventually the action winds up taking over. And, honestly, I don’t want a dour on-screen Spider-Man — the character’s humor, the dad jokes he tosses about as he’s beating up costumed criminals — all of that is what makes Spider-Man one of our greatest superheroes. Spider-Verse and Homecoming both were able to take this humor and use it to enhance the characters and their heightened melodrama within this little world, but Far From Home uses it as a crutch, something to toss in when Watts is worried that the audience is getting bored.
But, as mentioned, the tone does even out at around the hour mark — a pivotal moment that is sure to remind others of a few other Marvel movies — and from then on, Far From Home resembles the new Spider-Man as we’ve come to know him. It’s almost funny how perfect Tom Holland is for this iteration of the character, and his supporting cast is as endearing as ever, with Zendaya playing up the Ally Sheedy-style of MJ (and providing most of the film’s best one-liners, too) and Batalon providing some level of silly wisdom. Gyllenhaal is once again absolutely fantastic, toeing the line between charismatic hero and brilliant goofball (think Velvet Buzzsaw, not Okja here), and Mysterio, if not the deepest character in the MCU, is most definitely one of its most memorable. If anything, it’s the other franchise intruders who feel a bit out of place: Jackson and Smulders have a hard time adjusting to the film’s tone, with the former leaning a bit too hard on the “you’re a pussy” shit that made Shaft so interminable, but there’s a solid arc there for them that develops over the course of the film. Happy Hogan’s return is, well, kind of cool, I guess, but the Aunt May shit wears kind of thin after a little bit (We get it! Marissa Tomei is super attractive! The character makes all the old men horny and it makes Peter feel weird! Jesus!).
So, yeah. That’s about as good as I can do without giving away so much of what makes Far From Home a weird little coda to the Infinity saga. There’s a lot in the back-half that is both incredibly satisfying, entertaining and frustrating, but I can say without a doubt that Spider-Man fans are going to really enjoy this installment, even if it might not be as good as what they’ve grown accustomed to over the last couple of years. More importantly to Disney shareholders and superfans, it offers an interesting preview of things to come for the MCU, though those expecting a full preview of Marvel’s upcoming slate will have to wait for Comic-Con.