Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) by Jon Watts
Review by Courtney Anderson
Since watching Avengers: Endgame in April, I’ve wondered what a post-Tony-Stark Marvel Cinematic Universe was going to look like.
Tony Stark was one of the most important characters in the MCU. Not only was his movie the first official foray into the cinematic universe, but his actions (or lack of action) were seemingly the cause of every bad thing that’s ever happened in the history of Marvel.
According to the rules of the MCU, everything is always Tony’s fault. That’s why Tony always felt the extreme amount of guilt and responsibility that often led to him overcompensating for his past actions. And it’s ultimately why he made the decision to sacrifice his life to save the universe and everyone he loves.
Tony’s death has left a gigantic hole in the MCU, both in a general storytelling/filmmaking sense (they lost an integral character and the fabulous RDJ) and in the sense that the actual characters of these movies don’t know how to move forward with their lives without Tony.
Tony’s death is haunting Peter Parker’s life in Spider-Man: Far from Home. This sequel finds Peter and his friends 8-months post Endgame — or “the blip” as they’re calling it in this movie. Everything has changed in a weird, disorienting way for Peter. He and his friends returned to the same age/grade they were in when they were blipped, but some of his classmates are now five years older. Aunt May is now working with Peter on his Spider-Man adventures, but there’s something weird going on between her and Happy Hogan that Peter can’t quite figure out. It seems like the whole wide world is looking for the next Avengers — the next Iron Man — and their eyes are turning to Peter. And the one person who could help Peter navigate all of these changes is dead.
Peter’s grief and trauma has led him to desperately desiring a “normal” life. He doesn’t want to be a big-time superhero; he barely wants to be the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. Peter just wants to be a 16-year-old kid on an international school trip with his best friend and the girl he has a crush on.
The majority of the first act of Far from Home reminds me of pretty much every other teen rom-com I’ve ever seen, but it specifically reminds me of the Lizzie McGuire Movie. It’s just a bunch of teen shenanigans in Italy, complete with Peter very sweetly buying a necklace for MJ. They’re just being as normal as possible.
But of course that doesn’t last, because Peter is Peter. His trip is interrupted by Nick Fury, a scary ass water monster known as an Elemental, and a fish-bowl-wearing caped crusader named Quentin Beck, A.K.A Mysterio (I would like to note that Jake Gyllenhaal genuinely seems to be having the time of his life playing Mysterio.) Their arrival sends Peter on a journey that forces him to reflect on and reconsider his responsibilities as a superhero and as Tony Stark’s protege.
Far from Home turns out to be a fun, but slightly uneven and familiar journey. I enjoyed that we got to check in with Peter emotionally, both in his moments of grief and in his extreme awkwardness around MJ. Tom Holland is always good as Peter Parker, but he’s particularly convincing in Far from Home. It’s clear that Holland’s gotten very comfortable in this role. The movie also does a good job of selling you on the budding relationship between Peter and Quentin in a short amount of time. Part of that can be attributed to chemistry between Holland and Gyllenhaal, who seem to have had a grand ole time on the press tour. There’s a lot of warmth and humanity in this movie, and I can’t deny that I felt really nice after watching it.
But there are also moments where this film does too much too quickly. This problem is particularly apparent in the third act, which Marvel always reserves for the most action. The pacing — which had been kind of slow in the first act — suddenly kicks up, and everything feels like it’s going hundreds of miles per hour. There were some interesting action scenes that played with the idea of illusion and mental manipulation, but on the whole, a lot of it was loud explosions and gunfire that made my head feel like it was spinning in a bad way.
And although Tony’s influence on Peter’s life/this movie makes sense to me, I think there are times where they rely on Tony too much. At risk of giving a tad bit too much away, I have to say that this ends being one of the MCU films where everything is Tony’s “fault.” It’s a little difficult for me to really reckon with Tony’s presence in this movie. After all, this is the final film of Phase 3, and something as catastrophic as Endgame isn’t going to go away any time soon. But I can’t help but wonder what it means for Phase 4 that the creators of Far from Home — which seems to be acting as both an ending and a new beginning — felt like they needed to use Tony for their story to work.
At the end of the day, I’m still hopeful for the MCU as a whole, and particularly for our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. It’s nice to see Holland and the rest of the cast growing into their own as actors. This movie doesn’t make it easy to protect their future, but it does make me want to tune in to see it.