REVIEW: Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Theatrical Release Poster – Sony Pictures Releasing

The following is a review of Spider-Man: Far From Home — Directed by Jon Watts.

Do note that this review includes spoilers for Avengers: Endgame.

Isn’t it crazy that Tom Holland has already played Spider-Man in five movies? Holland hasn’t even been Spider-Man for as many years as Tobey Maguire was, and Maguire only appeared in three films. Even though Tom Holland’s first solo film only came out two years ago, a lot has happened since Tony Stark first took Holland’s Peter Parker under his wing and presented him with a snazzy suit powered by Stark Industries technology. Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame happened. Parker was snapped out of and back into existence, he lost his mentor, and, somehow, five years went by in the blink of an eye for your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

Screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, as well as returning director Jon Watts, were handed a tough job. Their film is burdened by responsibility and an expectation for it to answer fans’ timeline questions after the events of Endgame. How did Tony Stark’s world-saving snap actually affect real life? Did people actually return back to the places they were snapped out of? Those are just some of the questions that McKenna, Sommers, and Watts were expected to answer succinctly.

Thankfully, I don’t think Far From Home is weighed down significantly by that responsibility (there is a caveat to this statement, though, that I’ll elaborate on towards the end of the review). In fact, the writers get this out of the way fairly early on thanks to a few remarks from Martin Starr and Marisa Tomei’s characters and a colossal info dump on the school news network that was introduced in Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming. Far From Home‘s expository info dump in the prologue may be a little bit clumsy, but it refers back to the opening of Homecoming in a great way and conjures up some great laughs thanks to intentionally amateurish High School-video editing.

However, if you expected this film to deal intensely with what happened to the entire world after those snapped out of existence were brought back five years later, then you’ll probably be a little bit disappointed. Because even though they do make a point out of clarifying what actually happened and what effect it had on the students — i.e. Peter, MJ, and Ned now have new classmates like Brad (played by Remy Hii), who was five years their junior at the end of Infinity War and has now become the guy every girl has their eyes on — the film is, for the most part, a story about shouldering immense responsibility while you just want to spend some time being a kid after having saved the world one time too many recently.

Of course, that could describe many different Spider-Man films, so let me describe the plot without being as vague. Just in case it wasn’t clear, Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Far From Home takes place right after the events of Avengers: Endgame. Peter Parker (played by Tom Holland) is struggling with the loss of Tony Stark. The world is desperate for someone to take on the role as the leader of the Avengers. In a Post-Endgame world, who becomes the face of superheroism? Spider-Man is the heir apparent.

While he is still grieving, Parker’s spidey sense is a bit out of whack. Peter isn’t feeling like himself and there are constant reminders of who he lost painted on buildings all over the world. So when Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson) seeks him out, Parker wants nothing of it. Peter Parker needs to be a kid again, he needs to care about High School problems again, and he desperately wants to enjoy a school trip in Europe. But there is no rest for the web-slinger. While he’s just waiting for the right moment to approach and ask out M.J. (played by Zendaya) in Europe, Nick Fury hijacks his vacation.

Nick Fury introduces Peter Parker to Quentin Beck (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who introduces himself as a hero from another Earth in the Multiverse. Beck has made it here for the purpose of eliminating the elemental threats that took his family’s lives and ruined his world. Together, he and Peter are tasked with preventing the very same elemental threats from overtaking our world. However, his school trip provides Peter Parker with challenges that may prevent him from dedicating his full focus to the mission at hand.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is a film made up of two rather different halves. The first half of the film features fairly straightforward superhero action, the aforementioned cute Avengers: Endgame clarifications, and charming European road-trip comedy with a supporting cast that includes the reliable stars as well as winning supporting performances from Jacob Batalon, Martin Starr, Jon Favreau, and Angourie Rice. Spider-Man: Homecoming was at its best when it deftly mixed in these Avengers-level revelations with wholesome and charming high school drama, and the first half of Far From Home is very similar.

One of the worst — but most entertaining — predicaments Peter Parker finds himself in here is when a teenager takes a picture of him undressing in front of a female agent working for Fury. The teenager takes a picture of him and plans to show it off to others as an example of Peter hooking up with some adult woman in Europe, and Peter Parker has to figure out a way out of this situation. It leads to some clever comedy.

Of course, Parker and Beck have to fight the elemental threats in the meantime, but the first half of the film really is an appropriate sequel to Homecoming as it cares deeply about relationships that were formed in Homecoming or have developed since then. Jacob Batalon’s character is reduced to a recurring joke with Angourie Rice’s character, but those two characters are so much fun together. This first half also features a side of Gyllenhaal’s character that you may not have been expecting to see, which is a touching camaraderie with Peter Parker that is really effective.

The second half of the film is very different and the moment in which the film changes completely is fairly easy to spot as it features a grand speech and deep Marvel Cinematic Universe-references that no one could have predicted. Comic book savvy audience-members won’t have a hard time predicting the villain of the film, but everyone will be happy to learn just how well the character works. There is an extended sequence in Berlin that is mind-blowing in the best possible way, in that it is the kind of scene that comic books perfected and were made for, but which you may have always feared wouldn’t work on the big screen. The visually dazzling but CGI-heavy sequence put a great, big grin on my face, and I loved every minute of it.

One of the things that has previously bothered me slightly about Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the lack of focus on the spidey sense, Spider-Man’s ability to intuit danger before it happens. I think, in moments, they have played fast and loose with this ability in the previous films, and they even do it a little bit in this one, and, in certain moments, I felt a little bit cheated by it. But this, ultimately, leads to a terrific action sequence in London that made up for my mild frustration. Some of the minor action beats in the film are reminiscent of previous films in the connected universe, and some of the abilities of a new character are fairly Doctor Strange-like. But Watts and his team do a great job of making these abilities feel unique.

Performance-wise Spider-Man: Far From Home improves on Homecoming insofar as it expands upon Zendaya’s character and thus allows for a more nuanced and believable performance from the young actress, who was fairly one-note in Homecoming. Tom Holland continues to prove how great of a young actor he is and how perfect for the role he is. His Peter Parker is incredibly endearing. I’ve already mentioned some of the actors and actresses who give memorable supporting performances, but theirs are all dwarfed by the performance given by Jake Gyllenhaal.

Gyllenhaal is one of the finest actors of his generation, and it is refreshing to see him in this kind of film. It is difficult to discuss the layers to his fine performance in a spoiler-free review, but I’ll do my best to tiptoe around any details. In Far From Home, Gyllenhaal gives an intentionally affected and strained performance in the first half of the film. Whereas he loosens up and becomes more intense in the second half of the film. To reiterate, this is by no means a case of an actor struggling with the material. Gyllenhaal seems to have understood the character completely, as he puts on the heroic affectation when applicable while appearing unsimulated, uncontrolled, and fervent when it is appropriate. Gyllenhaal’s performance and the way they showcase his abilities will bring new fans to the character, as well as give great pleasure to those who already harbor a love for Mysterio.

I should say that this film does feature some frightening imagery that might make the youngest superhero movie fans a little bit upset. These occur in the last half of the film in some of the most frighteningly phantasmagorical sequences we’ve ever seen in a Marvel movie. These sequences alone are worth the price of admission, but, again, they may upset young audience members. I would also caution against leaving the film after it cuts to the credits. Sure, audiences should know by now that Marvel movies have more to say in their post-credit codas, but I still see people heading for the exit now and again. If you leave Spider-Man: Far From Home without watching the mid-credits scene, then you will be robbed of two of the most genuinely surprising moments in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, and if you skip the final post-credits scene then you will miss a scene that recontextualizes the entire film.

My one major issue with the film, other than the fact that it in no way, shape or form stands on its own and is thus dependant on deep Marvel movie knowledge that some audiences may not be expecting, is that it feels a little bit busy at times, especially in the part of the film spent in London, which did, admittedly, feature its own jaw-dropping sequence.

However, I will also say that it is totally fair to criticize this film for almost being as much of an Iron Man movie as it is a Spider-Man movie, even though Iron Man isn’t in this movie at all. This is the caveat that I spoke of earlier in the review. I think one of the fears about Homecoming was that the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Tony Stark would overtake the Peter Parker-specific events of Homecoming and I don’t think it did, but it definitely feels like more of a problem here, even if I didn’t really mind all that much, ultimately, as Happy Hogan has a certain scene late in the film that satisfyingly really tapped into a connection between Parker and Stark.

Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Far From Home is an essential epilogue to the third phase in Marvel’s daunting but amazing connected universe of films. Far From Home succeeds in following up both Spider-Man: Homecoming and Avengers: Endgame in a satisfying way with arguably the most nightmarishly phantasmagorical scene in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far. Far From Home earns great laughs, features great action as well as a message about deception and gullibility that is perfect for our time and the characters that the film makes use of and, in one case, perfects.

8.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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