It’s a post-Endgame universe and Midtown High School is back to normalcy following the “Blip”, the colloquial term for the Snap. Kooky teachers Mr Harrington (Martin Starr) and Mr Dell (JB Smoove) chaperone the class on a vacation across picturesque European cities, which are being torpedoed by extravagant CGI formally referred to as the Elementals.A cloaked expert on Elementals named Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrives and fights back against these monsters every time. Beck’s superpowers catch the sole eye of Nick Fury, who then interrupts Peter Parker’s school fun and tasks him to provide ad-hoc support for the mysterious man, nicknamed Mysterio following an Italian news broadcast on his battle against the Water Elemental in Venice. But just who is Quentin Beck, and will he fill the shoes of Tony Stark?
Far From Home is a sterling coming-of-age film that revolves around 16-year-old Peter wanting the opposite of what he wanted in Homecoming, trying to cling to his youth but being forced to mature and take on greater responsibilities in a world without Iron Man. The spirit of Tony Stark is deeply felt and Downey Jr’s presence is sorely missed. As Happy Hogan says, nobody will ever replace Tony. However, Quentin Beck offers similar levels of stimulation for Peter’s mental health, reassuring him as he goes through a period of self-doubt after inheriting Stark’s glasses.The motivations and backstory for Mysterio are fairly underwhelming but Jake Gyllenhaal is sensational. Beck’s modus operandi gives way to potent personal moments and dazzling set pieces. There’s a Doctor Strange-esque visual sequence that outdoes anything in Doctor Strange. In fact, it’s genuinely one of the most spectacular segments in the MCU’s history.
Beyond this, we follow Peter and his classmates in goofy relationship subplots reminiscent of John Hughes, including Peter competing against another student for MJ’s affection. Despite the clear 80’s inspiration, Jon Watts avoids outdated teen rom-com tropes, applying strong narrative choices that tie into the core Marvel loop of saving the world whilst maintaining the humorous and heartfelt qualities.Samuel L Jackson lends the film gravitas and Holland continues to be the greatest live-action Spider-Man we’ve had thus far, deftly balancing the awkwardness of Peter Parker with the shrewdness of Spider-Man and the struggle with self-confidence in both, having already killed off our memory of Andrew Garfield and surely winning over Tobey Maguire purists by now.And finally, the first post-credit scene is mind-blowing.
In its final moments, Spider-Man: Far From Home muses that people will believe anything. This fairly blatant observation of the not-too-distant future setting of the MCU–a world populated by gods, sorcerers, aliens, etc.–doubles as an on-the-nose critique of our post-truth world. Desensitization and fatigue lend us to a general acceptance of the insane because it’s the new normal. It’s not an entirely uninteresting thesis for a tights and spandex film, if it weren’t also a flimsy excuse for director Jon Watts (along with scribes Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers) to paper over some of Far From Home’s most baffling character decisions. However, not unlike Homecoming, the electricity of this Spider-Sequel’s cast thankfully provides enough smoke and mirrors to occasionally ignore the kinks behind the curtain.
In theory, a solo outing should be a breath of fresh air, but where Homecoming felt a little leaner in scope post-Civil War, Far From Home is forced to reckon with the universe-shattering events of Endgame. It tightens its gaze enough to still feel like a Spider-Man film, but the loose ends of Phase 3 prove cumbersome, and it’s forced to contort several plot threads into a clumsy narrative. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker juggles not only a burgeoning crush on MJ (Zendaya), but also a world devoid of Avengers, and Happy Hogan’s (Jon Favreau) summer tryst with his aunt (Marisa Tomei). That’s all on top of Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) insistence that Peter step up to the plate alongside newcomer Quentin “Mysterio” Beck (the film’s MVP, Jake Gyllenhaal) to battle creatures called Elementals (think of the Titans from Disney’s Hercules). Spidey’s Nick Fury-sanctioned derring-do against the Elementals is the film at its most clunky, leading certain characters to make mind-boggling mistakes out of sheer (and frankly, insulting) gullibility.
It’s a hell of a lot, often bogging the film down. The viewer is forced to perform mental gymnastics that would put the web-slinger to shame in an effort to enjoy the show. In spite of this, Holland is operating at 150% to keep things as breezy as possible. To date, the best iteration of the character, he’s an eminently winning physical performer, and his contrast to Zendaya’s cagey deadpan provides the film some of its best moments. To its credit, Far From Home’s high school romance and teenage pitfalls are wonderfully rendered, even amidst the laborious superhero narrative and digital mush of the action.
As the set pieces and exposition threaten a catatonic state, Jake Gyllenhaal barrels through them, injecting entire scenes with a showboaty freneticism. After a near miss with donning the red mask himself, the actor claims a much-deserved reward by stealing the spotlight entirely. The film plays a little fast and loose with Beck versus his comic book origins (perhaps blasphemy to purists), but with a commendable bit of maneuvering into the MCU, Gyllenhaal nails the spirit of the thing. Not quite in overdrive compared to his bigger performances, he sells it with ease. He skews both bombastic and measured, brandishing everything that makes him one of our consistently undervalued movie stars.
Spider-Man: Far From Home, riding the highs of its charismatic players, and intermittently teasing compelling notions, is–like its hero–somewhat out of its depth. It’s not without its charms, but it tries to excuse the dull spectacle by making it central to the plot, with the gall to tell us it doesn’t matter, because we’ll believe anything.
Spider-Man: Far From Home opens on July 3.