As the first film since Avengers: Endgame, one that’s set immediately after that deeply-felt, gigantic Marvel Cinematic Universe chapter and whose protagonist shares a special connection with Iron Man, Spider-Man: Far From Home has some heavy-lifting to do from a narrative standpoint. For one, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is still processing his grief over the death of his mentor-father figure Tony Stark. And two, in a world that’s memorialised Stark’s help in saving the universe, Peter is left to wonder how best to honour his legacy. But those aren’t ingredients for a fun Spider-Man movie. Far From Home finds fun in Peter’s growing fondness for his classmate MJ (Zendaya) and his wish to go on a superhero-free vacation, which in turn powers character motivation and the plot.
Though all those ideas are ultimately a part of the whole, they aren’t given equal weightage in Spider-Man: Far From Home. The MJ aspect of the story is really the only constant thing that sort of drives the film, with Peter caught between what he wants and what he must do. And amidst the narrative necessity of the new threat — this is a superhero movie after all — from its introduction to Spider-Man inevitably winning the day, Far From Home doesn’t give itself enough time to properly examine the emotional fallout of the abrupt end of Peter and Tony’s relationship. The only memorable exploration of grief is a conversation with Stark’s close aide Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). Considering the events of Infinity War and Endgame, that ought to be the heart of this Spider-Man film, but Far From Home doesn’t seem to have the answers.
Thankfully, Spider-Man: Far From Home is a lot better in other departments, particularly its action set pieces and the rapid-fire comic exchanges. Bolstered by the powers of new entrant Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a superhero from an alternate Earth who’s described as Iron Man and Thor rolled into one and subsequently nicknamed Mysterio by Peter’s friends, and the dizzying creativity required of a web slinger who usually can’t match his enemies for force, Far From Home launches itself into some arresting sequences. One, in particular, stands out for its ingenuity as it immerses Peter into a nightmarish world that would be reminiscent of the Oscar-winning animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse for some. And it’s how the big climactic battle avoids being generic, even as it pushes itself into improbability.
Its humour chops draw from the same well as other movies part of the MCU, though it distinctly has a teenage flavour to it given the age of its principal characters. As the youngest Spider-Man on screen ever, this new Peter has been written as too eager, largely hopeless, and unfailingly awkward. Holland has been terrific in bringing that version of Spidey to life, which continue to fuel the laughs across Far From Home. His complete ineptitude in executing his plan to impress MJ further expands on those traits, as does his ineptitude in playing with the gadgets designed by Tony, which was also a running theme in its direct predecessor Spider-Man: Homecoming.
The comedy on Spider-Man: Far From Home also benefits off a minor subplot involving Peter’s best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and his new girlfriend Betty Brant (Angourie Rice, from Black Mirror season 5), and the space it creates for small moments, such as those between Peter’s aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and Happy. The film also mines humour from the hilarious twists and turns of the school trip summer holiday that Peter and his classmates go on, his increasingly desperate attempts to hide his alter ego from his classmates, and Peter’s frustration at being unable to have a normal life without being called upon to serve the greater good.
After giving us a peek at Mysterio, Spider-Man Far From Home opens in a post-Endgame world where mankind is eulogising those that gave their lives in an effort to bring back half of all life. Meanwhile, in his Spider-Man costume, Peter is helping May at a Brooklyn fundraiser, where’s he asked by the press if he’s going to succeed Tony as the leader of the Avengers. Forget being the next Iron Man, Peter doesn’t really want to be even Spider-Man right now, at least not on this school trip to Europe. So naturally, he leaves behind his suit and keeps ignoring Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who’s trying to reach him. But Fury doesn’t take no for an answer, and he soon pushes him to join forces with Mysterio and battle the Elementals, interdimensional villains that can turn natural elements such as water and air into weapons.
Because Spider-Man: Far From Home has these new, well, elements — excuse the pun — the returning supporting cast from Homecoming aren’t afforded the same amount of time on-screen. And it doesn’t help that the film essentially skims over some lingering questions that arose out of Endgame — and Homecoming, to which Far From Home is a direct sequel. There’s nary an acknowledgment of May learning about his nephew Peter’s big secret at the end of the first film, except that she seems to be completely cool with it. And save a cursory nod to the fact that some students are now a lot older than others from the same class formerly, and the contribution of a new terminology — the Snap is being called “the Blip” — it doesn’t have anything to say about the five-year gap.
Moreover, the entire first act feels rushed and choppy, and a little disjointed in places, as if someone removed a few pieces from a thousand-piece puzzle. Most viewers will be carried off by the sheer frenetic pace of Spider-Man: Far From Home, but some might have a tingling feeling like not everything’s gelling together as it should. (Almost like Peter’s Spider-Sense, which has a new name in the sequel that’s meant to be embarrassing for the character and piles on the juvenile humour that forms one aspect of high school movies.) There are glimpses of scenes in the trailers that never appear in the final film, which suggest that returning director Jon Watts cut out parts, likely to bring Far From Home down to a reasonable runtime of just over two hours.
From a storyline perspective, writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers — who also worked on Homecoming, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and The Lego Batman Movie, albeit alongside others — weave Spider-Man: Far From Home with multiple entries in the MCU, particularly drawing on the idea that Tony’s actions had unintended consequences and created villains, previously seen in 2013’s Iron Man 3, 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, to some extent 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, and the previous Spider-Man movie itself from 2017.
Having Fury and his right-hand Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) is another way of interlinking Far From Home to the MCU, and the Spider-Man sequel pushes that further in its mid- and post-credits scenes, which reaches beyond the MCU. Additionally, the latter isn’t just a gag as it generally tends to be in the world of Marvel, but rather a crucial part of the film as it upends what the audience has been shown for the past two hours. (There’s a throwaway hint, or two, during the film that some might pick up on.) It essentially turns Spider-Man: Far From Home into one giant fake-out, and it will leave you to reflect on what you’ve seen as you walk out of the theatre.
Though it’s derivative in its approach, Spider-Man: Far From Home lifts itself with the trifecta of on-the-point comic timing which heavily trade on Peter’s insecurities, a sprinkling of CGI-heavy set pieces that are nimble and refreshing, and the sheer wackiness of Mysterio being in the MCU, with the character actor Gyllenhaal donning a fishbowl helmet. He doesn’t get to sink his teeth in during the first half, but the film does give him more to do in the second. As for its misfires, the sheer episodic nature of Marvel movies means future Spider-Man entries — or other “Avengers” chapters — will likely be adding to the emotional core involving Tony. And it’s made poetic by where Spider-Man: Far From Home leaves Peter, whose arc sort of circles back to the first Iron Man film towards the end.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is out Thursday, July 4 in India. There are two scenes during the credits.