*Spoilers for Avengers: Endgame
Literally and metaphorically, the gargantuan shadow of Avengers: Endgame hangs heavily over Marvel’s follow-up to their record-smashing spectacle – Spider-Man: Far From Home. By design, it’s a smaller and bouncier movie, but one given a cloud of genuine sadness by the palpable absence of Tony Stark, who snapped himself to death in order to end the threat of Thanos for good. The problem is that the movie isn’t interested in any of its myriad tones for more than five minutes.
Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is grieving the loss of his mentor figure, but hoping that a school trip to Europe will allow him some respite with best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and MJ (Zendaya), on whom he is hoping to make a romantic move. His trip is interrupted, however, by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who is seeking Peter’s help to deal with the arrival of some big, CGI beasties in Europe. Peter is not alone, though, and is aided by Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal) – a powerful hero from a parallel Earth.
There’s a little bit of a last day of school vibe to Far From Home. The big exam of Endgame is out of the way and no one can be bothered to do anything, so Mr Feige has wheeled out the big TV set and put on a battered VHS copy of Chicken Run. Everyone knows that the real work starts next year with the first movie of Phase Four and so there’s something curiously detached about this film, which seems to exist in a weird world that acknowledges consequences should be felt, but wants to keep all of the MCU’s powder dry.
Fortunately, Tom Holland remains a great deal of fun as Peter Parker. His energy is infectious and he’s entirely at home with the goofy aspects of Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers’ script, which leans even more into the high school comedy genre than Homecoming did back in 2017. There’s a sense, though, that his Spider-Man has been pushed so far into the world of cosmic concerns and universe-level stakes that this sort of knockabout material feels odd. When Nick Fury quips that Peter has been to space, it’s difficult not to agree with him. This guy isn’t just a “friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man” any more.
But Far From Home is at its worst when it interrupts its goofy comedy with action set pieces. One of the most interesting developments of the last few years of MCU films has been the diversity of its action, from the MMA-inspired combat of Black Panther to the hand-to-hand carnage of Captain America: Civil War and, of course, the space opera bedlam of the most recent Avengers stories. Far From Home, however, deals in sludgy CGI nothingness that couldn’t be more insipid if it tried – and sometimes it feels as if it is trying.
Director Jon Watts is obviously more at home with the comedy, and there is certainly fun to be had in the burgeoning relationship between Peter and MJ. Zendaya, however, is far better than the reductive ‘outsider’ caricature MJ is given, in which her entire character is reduced to watching “depressing” movies and being fascinated by grotesque true crime. Meanwhile, Homecoming standout Jacob Batalon gets a bizarre romantic arc with The Nice Guys scene-stealer Angourie Rice that is an unnecessary distraction that is one of many chaotic elements introduced to pad the absurdly elongated running time.
The main new addition in Far From Home is, of course Jake Gyllenhaal’s Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio. It’s difficult to delve too deeply into his character without attracting spoilerphobes from all corners of the multiverse, but it’s fair to say that both Gyllenhaal and the Mysterio character deserve better. Imaginative scenes in which the full extent of his abilities are revealed really stand out for their Doctor Strange-esque, Ditko-inspired flair and creativity, but Beck is a character who never makes any real sense, despite Gyllenhaal attacking the role with everything he’s got.
Far From Home is at its best when it recalls previous MCU highlights. Scenes that draw explicit parallels between Peter and the departed Iron Man elicit real emotion and there’s a joke about Captain America’s shield that gets a big laugh. Other than those occasional notes, however, this is a movie entirely uninterested in the MCU’s utterly fascinating lost five years – referred to here as ‘The Blip’ and subsequently ignored after an entertaining early recap sequence.
It would be wrong to write off Far From Home as a complete and utter failure, but it’s certainly the most disappointing MCU film since Iron Man 2. Tom Holland’s webslinger is a bulletproof pillar of the franchise going forward and, with one of the most exciting mid-credits scenes in the MCU to date, there are good things to come for Spidey. There just aren’t many of them on display here.
Dir: Jon Watts
Scr: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Cast: Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zendaya, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice, Martin Starr, J. B. Smoove
Prd: Kevin Feige, Amy Pascal
DOP: Matthew J. Lloyd
Music: Michael Giacchino
Run time: 129 mins
Spider-Man: Far From Home is in UK cinemas now.