Jordan King’s review published on Letterboxd:
“The world needs the next Iron Man.”
Before last year, Sam Raimi’s 2002 sequel Spider-Man 2 was the definitive screen outing for our friendly neighbourhood, a sprawling epic whose monolithic dramatic scope was only equalled by its unique iconographic comic book resonance and hitherto unseen in such films performative excellence. Since December 2018 however, Spider-Man as we have known him on screen has been redefined twice, or maybe actually even three times, culminating in what I as a huge HUGE Spider-Man fan may be so bold as to say is the establishing of the best Spidey of the lot, in what may honestly be one of the best Spider-Man films of them all.
But before we get to that one, what has happened since last year to revolutionise one of Marvel’s most beloved and lucrative icons? Well, firstly we had the dazzling Into The Spider-Verse, a multi-dimensional act of mythos deconstruction that utilised several Spideys to web together a contemporary portrait of what the mask means to us in modern times. Not only was the film a visual delight, a creative colour explosion on screen that was only as visceral and vivid as the sharp and nuanced screenplay it boasted, only as eye-catching as it was ear-grabbing - boasting the hottest soundtrack of 2018. No, not only was it all that, with a Nic Cage Spider-Man Noir as the nerdgasmic cherry on top. It was an act of unification, diversification, and outright heroicism that truly convinced viewers young and old that anybody can wear the mask and be Spider-Man if they believe in themselves and in what he stands for. It was euphoric, acclaimed, and - in pop culture circles - not hyperbolic to view as a historic moment in comic book cinema, winning big at the box office and even bigger on the Awards front, a unique feat of fan satiation and critical acclaim.
Secondly, less overtly noticeably but almost as significantly, there was the appearance of a post-snap Peter Parker swinging back into the fray to fight alongside father figure and mentor Tony Stark in this year’s superhero Super Bowl Avenger Endgame. Rising from the ashes, or re-emerging from the dust, we saw Spider-Man on the other side of what in his universe represented death. Separated from those he loved most, frightened in his final moments and portrayed like a scared child in Stark’s arms, Tom Holland’s Spidey came back undoubtedly transformed. Whilst mere moments had passed in his own timeline, returning to Earth to take on Thanos one last time was an act of sealing the deal on his initiation into the Avengers line-up and taking his next step in the coming-of-age tale Jon Watts set in motion with 2017’s Spider-Man Homecoming. And what came in the aftermath, the tragic loss of the one man he truly looked up to and loved like a father, tears and blood slipping onto cold steel as the MCU’s greatest icon and founding father’s time at the top came to a close... well that was nothing if not the heralding in of a bold and brave new era, not only for fans of the franchise, but for what in that moment was reasserted as the face of its latest and (we can but hope) greatest phase. If Spider-Verse showed us that anyone can wear the mask, Endgame reminded us why nobody deserves it more than Tom Holland’s Peter Parker.
And so where are we now that we have all but closed the door on an epic saga that has spanned over a decade and over twenty films? Where is our beloved Spider-Man left in a post-Iron Man world with no other Avengers in sight, classmates returning after five years have disappeared before their eyes, and all new threats to the world emerging from every conceivable crack and crevice of the Earth? Well, somewhat reassuringly given the perplexing state of play in the MCU currently, Spider-Man himself doesn’t know. And the less he knows, the more certain we become that Holland is our new mightiest Avenger and worthy heir apparent to the late Tony Stark.
Picking up mere moments after Endgame’s emotional climax, Spider-Man Far From Home wastes no time sifting through the rubble of what was left behind. The student reporters at Peter Parker’s school tangle with the timey-wimey weirdness of the newly titled ‘blip’ that saw half of their school vanish and come back five years later but no years older whilst the other half cracked on and grew up, and before we know it we’re back with Peter, Ned, Michelle and co as they set off on a field trip to Europe. Whilst the world eagerly awaits the answer to the question of who will be their new Iron Man, the only question on Peter’s mind is asking MJ if she’ll go out with him.
Of course, plot and villains and complications and major inconveniences ensue as Peter tries to give the world both Spidey and Parker without letting anyone, himself, or his mentor whose shadow looms over him down. How well he manages it, I obviously won’t disclose, but suffice it to say that the kid we see at the film’s start and the man we see at its close feel a world apart for all that goes between them over the course of a two hour span that passes as if it were two minutes.
Tom Holland is on pitch perfect form having really found his feet as everyone’s favourite web slinger, and watching him effortlessly dance between awkward teenage anxiousness and world endangering threat tackling of the highest whoop-ass delivering order is a true pleasure (my fiancée agrees, whenever she pauses to stop dribbling over Mr H). What Holland does so well is to never undersell one side of the character’s dichotomy to favour the other - as Spider-Man he relies on Peter Parker’s mind to help him and still occasionally struggles to handle any social encounters, whilst as Peter he tries to draw on a little bit of the power both mentally and physically Spidey has given him to find the strength to just be normal - or at least as normal as anyone who doubles as an Avenger whilst courting Zendaya can be. Talking of Zendaya, herself and Jacob Batalon also really come into their own second time around, with the former’s social stiffness and penchant for morbid fact sharing offering on the surface a great source of comic relief that is underpinned by a genuinely sweet emotionally vulnerable core, and the latter dropping just a little out of the limelight to give the series’ romance time to blossom without losing the ability to snatch a cackle with a goofy look or a geeky reference.
My main man, man crush, and all-round love of my life and reason for breathing Jake Gyllenhaal crushes it as Mysterio here, building a great rapport with Peter and somewhat filling Tony Stark’s gaping absence whilst withholding much greater depths that unfurl as the film progresses. He embraces both the utter seriousness of the MCU and the complete gleeful insanity of the capes and superpowers pantomime it represents, concocting in the process a performance by turns scintillating and side-splitting, rendered genius by the 100% gung-ho commitment to both sides of that particular coin. If we are to spend more time within Mysterio’s magical world yet, consider my ticket already sold several hundreds of times over - he’s on absolute motherfucking fire here (sorry for the language kiddos).
But without deviating into merely Point, Evidenve, Explaining how each technical facet of this film works, how each cog in this now expectantly smooth working machine grinds through the gears, I think it is easier instead to just go with my gut from here.
Spider-Man Far From Home packs its emotional punches tightly, reflexively dealing both with the very real sense of grief that the events of Endgame have inflicted on both the in-text universe and the real fan base, but also with the problematic nature of trying to pedestal new icons in the stead of ones whose footprints are far larger and weigh far deeper in the foundations of Kevin Feige and co’s cinematic universe. It does this with grace and, mercifully, great humour, Watts displaying once more that John Hughesian gift for communicating with the specific pains and trials, peaks and pitfalls of adolescence with scenes that speak to real human experiences, incisive wit, and galvanising vigour.
Further, Far From Home doesn’t simply rest on the laurels of its predecessor and replicate a formula, which would’ve worked just fine in all honesty. It is a challenging film, willing to bait and switch several times for maximum dramatic impact and characteristic development, and in a sheer level of viscera it at times reaches some truly eye-widening levels of visual invention and symbolic imagery, totally outstripping the bizarreness of Doctor Strange and reaching some seriously Dali-esque levels of eccentricity and surrealism. Again, I have to bite my tongue so as to avoid spoilers, but at the bridge of the second act the film almost entirely changes shape in the most exquisitely executed of ways, and I can only imagine that being in a packed out theatre the reactions to events that occur around that point will be truly wild.
In a couple of weeks time I’ll post some more spoilery thoughts and review content for definite as there’s a hell of a lot to unpack here, but having feared burnout following Endgame I left Far From Home with my mind and heart ablaze with new hopes and hype for all that is yet to come. The world wasn’t really looking for the next Iron Man, it was looking for its first Spider-Man, and 129 minutes after taking my seat tonight, I felt the weight of Robert Downey Jr.’s absence dissipate entirely. The future is webbed, I can feel it in my Peter Tingle.
OH. AND THE POST-CREDITS? THE MOST EXCITED I HAVE BEEN IN A CINEMA SINCE I SAW ANAKIN AND OBI-WAN THROW DOWN ON MUSTAFAR IN 2005. I SQUEALED!