“You’re not a jerk for wanting a normal life.”
Spider-Man has always been the most relatable superhero because he’s the most relatable; at his core, he’s a confused kid who feels like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders, and the poignancy of Peter Parker trying to balance a normal life with greater responsibilities has been the theme that resonates throughout the best of the Spider-Man movies. The idea of a kid playing with a larger world has only been amplified by Spider-Man’s inclusion in the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the personal stakes of Peter’s life feeling all the more nuanced in a world that involves time travel, aliens, and world destroying cataclysms.
Spider-Man: Far From Home gets a lot of things right, but at its core it understands exactly how Peter Parker should fit into the universe without sacrificing the uniqueness of the Spider-Man pathos. Here we find Peter struggling with living up to the legacy of Tony Stark, an honor he doesn’t feel he’s ready for, and at the same time wants to confess his feelings to the girl he likes.
These are the perfect themes for the film; Tony Stark’s mentorship to Peter isn’t the key to the Spider-Man story, but it is in *this* Spider-Man story, and the legacy of Iron Man is only amplified by the inclusion of the supporting characters and world of the Iron Man films. As for the girl, a teenage crush may not be a world shattering issue, but for a sixteen-year-old its everything; this is Peter’s story, and we’re drawn into it because the film treats these kids and their issues with respect.
The film picks up with Tom Holland’s webslinger as he sheds his duties to go on a class trip to Europe, where the appearances of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the enigmatic hero Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) disrupt Peter’s plans to confess his feelings to his crush MJ (Zendaya). I appreciated the way in which the film deals with a post-Endgame world, with an expositional scene at the beginning personally drawing us back into the world from the perspective of a modern high school.
It’s been discussed endlessly, but I really can’t get over how great Tom Holland is in this role. He is the definitive Spider-Man. Holland has always embodied the geeky, awkward joys of Peter’s consistent sacrifices of personal relationships in order to live up to his responsibilities, but in this one we’re really drawn in by his innocence. There’s a naivety and sensitivity to Peter; his inherent willingness to screw himself in favor of others makes him a great hero. His unquestioning belief in the goodness of others represent another key element of Spider-Man- the search for a father figure.
In this film, the father figure comes in the form of Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio. Gyllenhaal, one of the greatest actors of his generation, makes for a great foil to Peter, representing a different sort of mentor who’s also caught in the legacy of Tony Stark. Gyllenhaal takes a lot of chances with the character, and they pay off; Mysterio represents a way out for Peter, and the search for a balance makes for great drama.
The movie is also just hilarious; Marvel movies are sometimes criticized for using humor to undercut drama, but this is an example of how it works well and inform the stakes of the film. It’s hard not to see the John Hughes comparisons made to this film and its predecessor, and the film mines nearly every possible comedic opportunity out of a teenage superhero, with just the right amount references to the greater MCU. Credit is due to the supporting cast; this is a world that feels very lived in, and each young actor is able to take what seems like a one note role and make it three dimensional.
If there’s criticism I have its that there are a few moments in which character motivations could’ve used a few additional scenes to be better realized; while its clear that the filmmaker want to show the quick decision making process that Peter has, a few scenes could’ve used a better build up in order to make the decisions more realistic. There’s also a lack of truly imaginative action; while we get some fun spectacle, a lack of rules regarding the goals of each scene make it hard to follow. Both Far From Home and Homecoming are able to use their emotional connection and humor to illuminate action scenes, but they lack the trippy visuals of Into the Spider-Verse or the creative staging of the the Sam Raimi films.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is a great Spider-Man movie that serves as more than MCU connective tissue, and at the same time is able to raise the stakes for Peter Parker with a jaw dropping ending that changes the character forever. It’s a funny, quick witted romp that delivers, and occasionally coasts, on the affable charisma of Tom Holland. This is such a saturated market for superhero movies, and Far From Home delivers on all the heart and humor that could be found in a 21st Century vision of the character. They’ll probably make Spider-Man movies forever, and I’ll probably keep seeing them, but don’t worry- this is a good one. Grade: B+