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Hero’s journey - ‘Spider-Man: Far from Home’

July 6, 2019
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It’s tough to argue that the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t one of the most monumental achievements in the history of the medium. Regardless of how you feel about the content of the movies – some people just don’t dig superhero flicks – you cannot deny that the unspooling of the MCU saga over more than 20 films is an incredible achievement.

The culmination of that arc was “Avengers: Endgame,” but despite what you might think, that film was not the end of Marvel’s so-called Phase 3.

That honor goes to “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” a film that puts Tom Holland’s excellent Spider-Man front and center once again while also serving to both cleanse the palate and pick up the pieces after the paradigm-shifting events of the previous film. It’s a chance to view the aftermath of what has come before while also laying the groundwork for what comes next.

It’s also a delightful standalone adventure in its own right, a quippy, flippy movie packed with web-slinging action and some first-rate comic beats. In addition, we get our first look at a world still working its way through the everyday logistical chaos left by the Snap – or the Blip, as the kids apparently call it. A first look at a world without Tony Stark.

In the months following the five-years-later return of everyone snapped out of existence by Thanos, life has returned to something resembling normalcy. Peter Parker (Holland) is back at Midtown High; many of his closest classmates, including best friend Ned (Jacon Batalon, “Avengers: Endgame”) and crush MJ (Zendaya, TV’s “Euphoria”), were also Snapped – or Blipped, as the vernacular would have it – so they’re all still in the same class.

Meanwhile, reports of a destructive event in Mexico draw Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, “Shaft”) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders, TV’s “Friends from College”) to investigate, where they encounter a giant monster engaged in a fight with a mysterious new superhuman.

Peter’s still coming to grips with the sacrifice and noble demise of Tony Stark – a task made more difficult by the omnipresence of Stark iconography, memorials and murals scattered all over. He’s got help from his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, “I Hate Kids”) and former Tony Stark consiglieri Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, “Solo: A Star Wars Story”), but he’s still seeking balance between his street-level heroism and the cosmic-level threats he’s been forced to fight … not to mention living as normal a teenager’s life as possible.

Part of that normalcy involves going with his science class on a trip to Europe over the summer. But Peter’s big plans – including telling MJ how he feels – are derailed when Nick Fury shows up to pull him into a mission. He is given a final gift from Tony – control of EDITH, an AI with comprehensive access to Stark Industries tech – and introduced to the new superhero, a man named Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal, “Velvet Buzzsaw”) who has come from an alternate Earth to battle the giant monsters – called Elementals – that ravaged his own world.

Fury gives Peter an out – and he takes it, leaving the mission in Back’s capable hands. But as Peter makes his way across Europe on his trip, the threat of the Elementals proves too large to avoid, not to mention other unexpected threats that might be even more devastating in the long run. Oh, and all the while, he’s trying to protect his identity from his classmates and execute his plan to tell MJ that he likes her.

Alas, this is Spider-Man we’re talking about here – nothing is ever easy. Like it or not, he’s going to have to go ahead and save the day.

Full disclosure: I stan for Spider-Man. I’ve loved the character ever since I first picked up a comic book many years ago. I’m a true believer. And I think that Tom Holland is the best live-action representation of the character that we’ve had on the big screen (“Into the Spider-Verse” is a WHOLE other thing).

But leaving aside my affection for the character, the truth is that “Far from Home” is a heck of a movie. It is asked to do a LOT for the MCU. It has to give us a way into the aftermath of the events of “Endgame” while also elevating Spider-Man to central figure status. Oh, and tell a compelling story on its own merits.

And it does.

A lot of the credit goes to director Jon Watts, who seems to be the steward of Spider-Man’s MCU standalones. He has a clear affinity for and understanding of the character; he has a particular knack for finding the proper balance between the three Hs – humor, heroism and high school. The center of that Venn diagram is where Spider-Man belongs … and where Watts invariably places him.

The action sequences are well-executed and the hijinks are funny; even though the stakes are a little lower, it all still works. There are big set pieces and good jokes, sight gags and Easter eggs. The continued progression of Peter’s journey is fascinating, particularly since Tony Stark’s presence looms over everything (and I do mean everything).

Holland continues to fill the Peter Parker/Spider-Man web-shooters with aplomb; my feelings about his work here are well-documented (including earlier in this very review). Zendaya is low-key hilarious as MJ; her chemistry with Holland is real. Ditto the dynamic with Batalon, whose Ned is a Luis-level tertiary MCU character. Tomei is on fire in every scene as Aunt May and Favreau is delightful as always as the cantankerous Happy. Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice and Remy Hill are fun as Peter’s classmates, while Martin Starr and JB Smoove are having a ball as the trip’s teachers/chaperones. Jackson and Smulders are both old hands in these roles; they obviously made it work.

Meanwhile, Jake Gyllenhaal warrants special mention for his work as Mysterio. While most A-listers who turn up in these movies are clearly enjoying themselves, few are as clearly both a) doing their best to do good work, and b) having an absolute blast. It’s exactly the kind of performance you hope to get in a role like this one. So good.

“Spider-Man: Far from Home” serves as an apt conclusion to the MCU’s third phase. It offers a sense of closure to the world that has been so far and a glimpse forward at the world that is to come while also being a fun showcase for (to my mind) the best character in the entire Marvel Universe. Even far from home, Spider-Man remains close to our hearts.

[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Saturday, 06 July 2019 17:46

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