Picking up from the events of Avengers: Endgame, the students of Midtown High head to Europe for a school-organised tour. Still dealing with his grief over the loss of mentor-figure Tony Stark, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) finds himself alongside classmates that were five years younger than him before The Snap (here referred to as The Blip). Hoping to take this opportunity to get closer to MJ (Zendaya), Peter vows to avoid all Spider-Man activity while on the trip.
Meanwhile, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) have been tracking a number of – on the face of it – freak weather events around the world. Encountering such an event in Mexico, they are rescued by the man we will come to know as Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). Explaining that the events are due to four creatures known as ‘The Elementals’, Mysterio – given name Quentin Beck – explains that these beings destroyed his version of Earth: introducing the multiverse concept well-known to comic book readers. Fury, Hill and Beck head to Europe to seek Spider-Man’s help, before the Elementals destroy the planet. Meanwhile, Peter struggles with questions of destiny, as he wrestles both with the Stark legacy, and the desire to live the normal life of a teenage boy.
Given precedence within the MCU, it is somewhat strange to see Spider-Man directly following an Avengers film. Phase two ended with Ant-Man and the Wasp, with its sequel following Avengers: Infinity War. On first glance, this positions the character as the smaller scale palate cleanser. Quite appropriate when considering that the central theme of the film is that of whether Spidey is ready to step-up and to lead. We could ask the same of the character for the MCU as a whole: is Spider-Man ready to lead us into a post-Infinity Saga World? The answer is: sort of.
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The instinct to go more comedic after a heavy Avengers films remains a sound one. With a humorous look at camera phone footage of The Snap taken at the school, along with that event’s undoing, Far From Home leans on the school TV channel device used in Homecoming. This ensures the film is effective is providing quick exposition to newcomers to Marvel – and that they are not resting on their laurels in assuming everyone knows this stuff. Where the logo sequence in Homecoming brought back the 1960s Spider-Man theme in glorious fashion, here we get a deliberately syrupy tribute to the fallen Avengers, as created by high schoolers. It is the correct tone on which to begin after such an emotional film last time out. This is clearly closing off phase three by addressing all of these matters, but it begins the process of looking forward for the franchise. Far from an analogue to the positioning of the Ant-Man films, Marvel are paying Spider-Man the ultimate compliment, as he is the sole character definitely big enough to draw our eyes, and our feelings, away from the Infinity Saga.
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Far From Home is, without question, a funnier film than Homecoming. Increased screen-time for Ned (Jacob Batalon), and melancholic teacher Mr Harrington (Martin Starr) ensures this. There is also an entertaining role for JB Smoove (Curb Your Enthusiasm) as Mr Dell, a teacher obsessed with witches and conspiracy theories. It is always risky to take characters out of their natural environments – as seen in dozens of BBC sitcoms – but the road trip allows for the cementing of a terrific ensemble, with MJ, Ned, the teachers, Betty Brant (Angourie Rice), and Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori – once again excelling at the flip-flops between hero worship and disdain, bravado and cowardice) really gelling into a superb cast, and boasting excellent chemistry. With Homecoming having sections out of State, we’ve had little time with this Spider-Man swinging around Manhattan. Despite this, the trip was absolutely the correct decision: it reminds the viewer of Nick Fury’s reach – both geographically, and in the ability to hack in and change a schedule on a whim; it enforces proximity between characters – building chemistry faster than possible in the home environment; it builds the in-universe reach of the character, as well as giving him an appreciation beyond his ‘friendly neighbourhood’ ambitions; it gives set pieces variation in background and colour palette; and it adds scale to a small, personal story.
Tom Holland cements himself as the finest live action Spider-Man we’ve seen. Where we say he is only ‘sort of’ ready to lead, that is simply a reflection of the age and bearing of the character. Holland is 23, Parker is 16. He is not yet ready to be the alpha in this universe. That said, with Sony taking the box office receipts, they will want a film every two years from this character. With several stages of life for the character to go through, the possibilities are infinite, and the scope for growth considerable. Spider-Man is rivalled only by Batman for the best rogues’ gallery – there is just so much to come. On that point, Gyllenhaal (once himself linked with the Spider-Man role) absolutely nails Mysterio. It’s terrific to see a new live-action antagonist for the second film in a role. Hopefully, it will be a little while before we see Norman Osborn. All these things will be welcome – in time.
If there is a nit-pick, the second act drags a little, and Mysterio’s monologue to his team – itself a wonderful call-back to earlier MCU entries: they have really thought through how to connect the dots here – is clunkily written exposition that falls below the standard expected from this studio. That they are confident enough to tell relatively smaller stories – at least in feel – speaks to Marvel having the confidence to play the long game – though they do tease Spidey in his familiar environment (with a familiar foe) at the end of the film. We will have plenty of time for Green Goblin, Doc Ock et al. For now we are watching a terrific ensemble grow around the live action Spider-Man. Roll on part three.