—THERE WILL BE FULL ENDGAME SPOILERS FROM HERE ON IN.
DON’T WHINE IF YOU’VE NOT SEEN IT – HAVE YOU BEEN UNDER A ROCK?!—
Months after the Avengers restored those snapped away by Thanos in Infinity War, Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) struggles with balancing superheroics, losing five years on Earth and his mentor Tony Stark. On a well deserved school trip to Europe, he nevertheless gets entangled in attacks by the mysterious Elementals, helping out Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and new hero Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) while trying to enjoy the trip and deal with his growing affections for M.J. (Zendaya).
Returning director Jon Watts continues his excellent work from Homecoming, effortlessly balancing multiple plots and twists that will reward multiple viewings. He’s managed to stamp wit and strong characters into these two amalgams of coming of age, superhero and comedy blockbusters. Characters feel fleshed out and relatable, mostly because the humour works and isn’t too outlandish, while more emotional and dramatic scenes have room to breathe before or after action has taken place.
What it does best – credit to writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers plus Watts – is pummel you with running jokes and outright laughs all the way through. Even when things are going badly, there’s a laugh not far away to leaven out tension – exactly what was needed post Endgame.
By the way, it wittily and quickly answers questions you might have had after the epic events of that film. It manages to follow up (in a satisfying way) the legacy of the immensity of the (universe changing) events there, and plants significant seeds for the future of the whole series – all while juggling the multiple, often hilarious subplots.
It’s quite an achievement to have a film straddle multiple genres yet feel loose and fun, but Watts has done that here. What makes this Spider-Man better is that there’s no overhanging feeling of doom like Tobey Maguire’s or Andrew Garfield’s. This Peter Parker has constant bad luck and tragedy to deal with, but is a far more relatable, funny protagonist.
To say more of the antagonists would be to ruin the plot, but the effects are a little disappointing for the Elementals, though their different powers are interesting. The creatures, by their very nature, lack personality, but see the film, as it’s unfair for me to judge something that makes more sense in the moment.
What does work is the use of multiple European locations, taking a very US based hero and throwing him into Prague, Venice and London. The filmmakers clearly went to each city to film, and as a result everything feels more European and international, a welcome change to how US-centric others in the series have felt. The action is quite good but not really that big a deal, though when we have set pieces they are surprisingly far more inventive and interesting (especially in the second half) than the usual CGI fests.
Another mention should go to Michael Giacchino’s soundtrack, which cleverly weaves in his new Spider-Man theme with hints to the Avengers music, some elements marrying the themes together and the dramatic or ominous themes working well amidst everything else. The “needle drops” of popular music are also used well, particularly one right at the start that raised one of the biggest laughs.
As this is a Marvel film there’s the obligatory question of post-credit scenes, and here it is imperative – if you consider yourself enough of a fan that you’ll continue to see films in this series – that you stay until the end. These two are worth sticking around for!
Tom Holland remains the best Spider-Man (in live action, anyway), the young British actor more empathetic, childish and enthusiastic as well as pulling out the dramatic or emotional stops when needed. It’ll be great to see what he does with the material to come – and the same goes for Zendaya’s MJ, a far more interestingly weird, cynical and amusingly realistic sparring partner and teenage crush.
Jake Gyllenhaal made an interesting choice joining the MCU, but once you’ve seen his performance you understand why. He’s loving playing a more complex character than initially thought, providing a kindly mentor role when needed and bringing a haunted bravery to Mysterio’s backstory. By the second act, his performance becomes more interesting and it’s fun to see an actor so often seen as more intense having a bit of fun, which fits perfectly with the tone.
You’re not going to be surprised that Samuel L. Jackson is back on form as a returning Nick Fury, as gruff and bastardly as ever with some acidic quips and cutting interplay with the others. Slightly weaker is Cobie Smulders as Fury’s number two Maria Hill, acting mainly as a smarmy, stony-faced back up but showing the odd hint of character.
Jon Favreau carries the torch between the old and new as Happy Hogan, Tony’s best friend and dogsbody now living in a post-Iron Man world. The actor has an important role bridging that gap and helping out Peter, providing some real heart and many of the laughs alongside a returning Marisa Tomei, blasting away more assumptions about what an Aunt May should be.
Last but certainly not least are the schoolkids and teachers, the comedic centre of the film. Jacob Batalon’s Ned continues to hilariously nerd out about being friends with Spider-Man in a hilarious double act with Angourie Rice, while J.B. Smoove and Martin Starr are pure comic relief as the hapless teachers, barely able to function themselves (like their real life counterparts when coralling teenagers), Smoove’s character’s repeated assertion that witches are to blame for everything that befalls them a particular delight.
Far From Home was a refreshing change from the recent major stakes and gloom this series has been embroiled in, and is an excellent and hilarious breath of fresh air.