Spider-Man: Far from HomeReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 07/01/19 11:07:02
(Worth A Look)
Although its position as one of the big box-office successes of the summer is, barring some wildly unexpected development, pretty much all but assured, “Spider-Man: Far from Home” arrives in theaters facing a couple of developments that could be considered actual obstacles. For one, it is the first big-screen entry in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe since the release of “Avengers: Endgame” (which feels as if it came out a life time ago, even though it is only just over a couple of months since it debuted) and is therefore the first to have to deal at length with the repercussions of that film, specifically the death of Tony Stark (and if you are bitching that this is some kind of unforgivable spoiler, I would gently like to request that you click off now and never read another one of my reviews again) and the sudden reappearance of half the world’s population after having spent the previous five years in some kind of limbo inspired by Thanos’s version of a Be Best campaign. Then there is the fact that while “Endgame” went on to become one of the biggest movies ever made, the disastrous reception to the first superhero movie to emerge after it came out, “Dark Phoenix,” suggested that audiences might not necessarily turn out in droves for such films in the past. (Of course, the fact that “Dark Phoenix” was an unforgivably terrible film might have had something to do with the poor reception from its fanbase. Finally, there is the possibility that audiences might simply be a little burned out on their friendly neighborhood web-slinger—although there was a time when Hollywood could not launch a Spidey movie to save its life, there have been no less than seven previous feature films starring the character to come out since 2002 (not counting his cameo appearances in other recent MCU entries) with the last one, the truly ingenious and Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” hitting theaters just last December. (Remember what happened when Disney got greedy and elected to put out “Solo” only a few months after the release of “The Last Jedi”?) Spider-Man can perhaps defeat the likes of the Green Goblin and The Vulture easily enough but can his keen senses and strength face up to possible audience apathy?Happily, “Far from Home” never quite gets to the point where that is a threat. Not, it is nowhere near as funny, clever or visionary as “Into the Spider-Verse” (though that could be said about most of this year’s movies) and it doesn’t quite live up to the bar set by the previous live-action incarnation, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017). However, it is there rare superhero movie of late that does not attempt to pummel viewers into submission with the sheer weight of all the stuff going on and instead has the confidence to bring a lighter touch to the proceedings. That is not to say that the film skimps on the big ticket stuff by any means because there is the requisite number of overblown CGI set pieces on display. The difference this time is that a.) the very concept of audiences being lulled into complacency by such scenes actually turns out to be a key to the entire film and b.) even the FX fanatics in attendance may find themselves coming away from the film thinking that the scenes that don’t focus on the pyrotechnics are far more interesting and entertaining than the ones that do.
As I mentioned, “Far from Home” takes place in the aftermath of the events of “Avengers: Endgame” with the half of the population of the world that vanished five years earlier due to what is called “The Blip” having returned from their bizarre limbo and trying to reacclimatize to a society that kept moving on without them for half a decade. As one of those who endured The Blip, Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man (Tom Holland), is one of those trying to get back into the swing of things—this is made slightly easier by the fact that evidently everyone he knew was blipped as well—and is also trying to come to terms with the recent heroic death of benefactor, mentor and unlikely father figure Tony Stark. To add further to the pressure, Peter now finds himself ducking Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who knows that Tony saw the kid as his logical successor—even willing him access to his all-powerful intelligence network controlled by a voice dubbed Edith—but is still in need of a lot of convincing. An impending trip to Europe with his science class offers not only a respite from the angst but a perfect setting to make his increasingly romantic feelings towards sparky classmate MJ (Zendaya) known to her at last. Alas, because he is still an ungainly teenager—apparently no one gets a chance to develop their game while blipped—his initial efforts on the flight over end up with him stuck sitting with his teachers while watching MJ seemingly growing cozy with Brad (Remy Hill), a classmate who did not blip and who spent the last dive years becoming a hunky heartthrob. To make matters even more discomfiting, goofball pal Ned (Jacob Batalon) winds up sitting with standoffish classmate Betty (Angourie Rice) for the duration of the flight and by the time they land in Venice, they are calling each other “babe” and bragging about their eternal love.
With all of this going on, it may almost come as a relief to Peter when Venice is suddenly attacked by some kind of water-based creature that begins knocking down bridges and buildings left and right. With his costume—helpfully packed by Aunt May (Marisa Tomei)—back at the hotel, Peter has to figure out how to stop it without giving up his identity when help turns up in the shape of a mysterious figure, dubbed Mysterio by local news reporters, who swoops in and defeats the creature. Later that night, Nick finally catches up with Peter and explains what is happening. He was fighting one of a group of four alien beasts known as the Elementals that are based upon the four key elements of nature. (The all-important fifth element appears to have sat this invasion out.) As for “Mysterio,” he proves to be someone from an alternate universe named Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal) who has been chasing the Elementals throughout the multiverse since they destroyed his home world. Now there is only one Elemental left, it is heading to Prague and Peter is needed to help save the day.
I’d tell you more but if i did, the Marvel goon squad will almost certainly take me out in an exceptionally gruesome manner. Suffice it to say, there are any number of plot twists throughout and while such developments will probably not come as a shock to too many viewers, what is surprising is that the various twists are not just thrown into the mix in order to randomly pull the rug out from under them. The biggest twist of them all turns out to be the way that director Jon Watts and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers have devised a storyline for their state-of-the-art superhero spectacular that also serves as a mega-meta exploration of that entire style of filmmaking and the dangers inherent with supplying undiscriminating audiences with nothing but increasingly expansive but otherwise empty visual thrills. Again, I cannot even hint as to how the film goes about doing it without getting someone annoyed but suffice it to say, it demonstrates conceptual ambitions that may not entirely pay off in the end—suffice it to say, the explanation for what is really going on is sure to only inspire additional questions that the film doesn’t quite know how to answer—but which nevertheless serve as a rare instance of a film using its all-but-guaranteed box-office success as an excuse to try something new.
And yet, as was the case with “Homecoming,” the best parts of “Far from Home” are the ones that don’t involve Spider-Man saving the day and whatnot. The first 45 minutes or so preceding the first big set piece might actually be the most entertaining stretch of the entire film as Peter’s hapless attempts to make his feelings towards MJ known come across like the best John Hughes movie that he never quite got around to making himself thanks to the witty screenwriting, the down-to-earth direction and, best of all, the pitch-perfect performances by Holland, who continues to solidify his position as the best of all the web-slingers to grace the big screen, and Zendaya, whose droll delivery allows her to steal virtually every scene she is featured in. The film is also generous in the way that it spreads the wealth around and gives the supporting cast plenty of moments to shine—Rice and Batalon are absolutely hilarious in the way that they chart the goony goofy romance between their characters, as are Marisa Tomei as Aunt May and Jon Favreau as Happy, Tony Stark’s former right-hand man whose duty looking after Peter is complicated by his own growing feelings towards Aunt May. In fact, you could have made a movie just about these characters in which Peter never put on his Spider-Man outfit once and it would have been a delight. And while there may be certain dramatic issues regarding his character that the film cannot adequately resolve, the casting of Jake Gyllenhaal proves to be genuinely inspired for reasons beyond the performance, which is good, thanks to audience memories regarding his own decidedly uneven relationship with blockbuster filmmaking as a whole (having lost the chance to take over the role of Spider-Man in “Spider-Man 3,” he went on to star in the embarrassing “Prince of Persia”) and the fact that there are moments when, depending on the camera angle, he does in fact bear a striking resemblance to the late, great Tony Stark.
Of the most Spider-Man films, I suppose that I would have to mark “Far from Home” as the least of them, though not by very much—it inevitably lacks the surprising freshness of “Homecoming” and the astonishing originality and audacity of “Into the Spider-Verse” and things grow a little less interesting in the final third when the special effects pretty much take over the proceedings entirely. That said, it is pretty much the most sheerly entertaining of all the big-budget superhero brawls to emerge this year—a film that is a genuinely giddy and eminently likable wonder in its best moments and which remains more or less watchable even during the lesser stretches. Most importantly, this is a film that is trying to do something a little different rather than give viewers another helping of empty spectacle and it is all the more winning because of it—even those who are virulently against the domination of superhero stories at multiplexes these days will find themselves coming out of this one eager for more.Speaking of that, “Far from Home” contains two additional sequences spread out during the end credits. Without giving too much away, I can say that the first of them is a knockout that starts off as being just an amusing goof and then winds up spinning the entire franchise into a potentially new direction with a particularly inspired development. As for the second, I confess that I personally did not quite get it but it seems to kick off the next phase of the MCU in grand fashion. In other words, while I highly recommend “Far from Home,” I really recommend that you hold off hitting the washroom until all of the credits have finished rolling and the house lights have gone up. You can thank me later.
|© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.|