Spider-Man: Far from Home

Spider-Man: Far from Home ★★★½

With a great conclusion to a twenty-two movie saga comes great expectations for the movie following the aforementioned conclusion to a twenty-two movie saga. Endgame tied a neat - if somewhat paradoxical - bow to the first three (four?) phases of Marvel’s universe of superhero centered motion pictures. Spider-Man: Far From Home, the sequel to Tom Holland centered live-action reboot of the arachnid-themed comic book character, has to - due to a reported beef between its two parent studios, Sony and Marvel - bear the unenviable burden of being the next movie in MCU’s well-oiled pipeline without so much as a change in seasons since the fourth Avengers movie played to packed houses.

This presents a unique challenge to the filmmakers who have to not only live up to the continuingly growing scale and evolving stakes of the franchise but also stay faithful to the more intimate roots of the friendly neighborhood high-school student turned savior of the day. To their credit, director Jon Watts and writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers approach this conundrum by making it the central thesis of their film; they in effect create two distinct story threads within a single overarching narrative whole, placing Peter Parker in both of those threads and letting the resulting discord form the movie’s primary dramatic tension.

On one hand, Far From Home is a charmingly awkward, hilariously sweet, and delightfully romantic coming of age tale revolving around Tom Hollands’s Peter Parker and his teenage cohorts’ attempts to reignite their young lives after the devastation wrought by Thanos’ snap (which has now been rebranded as the Blip). It is a story of a kid on the precipice of adulthood, looking to forge relationships and find his place in the larger social circus that is being an adult human. Having already help thwart the extinction of half of all living beings, Parker now looks to win the affections of the Zendaya’s socially reclusive MJ; the latter proving to be a decidedly more perilous task than the former. Helping him along this journey is the ever-reliable Ned, who is himself ready to transition into manhood. And as if all this wasn’t enough of a hormone-fueled hellscape, our protagonists must navigate the treacherous waters of their post-pubescent years while country-hopping across the continent of Europe as a part of a school field trip.

Constantly in the shadow of some of the world’s greatest monuments to love, Parker gainfully endeavors to get into MJ’s good graces but is always held back by his own social ineptitude. Now, usually, when aesthetically gifted Hollywood actors portray a lack of luck with the opposite sex, it comes across as only a little less unbelievable than a hammer-wielding god of thunder dropping down from the mythological realm of Asgard. But Tom Holland manages to overcome that hurdle with almost consummate ease. He fully embodies - in fact practically emanates through the screen - a painfully palpable discomfort around the girl on whom he has a major crush bordering on profound devotion. Matching Holland each step of the way is the multitalented force of nature Zendaya. Here, she takes the foundational attributes of her character’s personality established in Homecoming and stretches them far beyond the archetypical caricature of an emotionally distant teen girl. She represents the universally relatable struggle of adolescence; a deep desire to break out of your - often self-imposed - shell, exposing a vulnerable center necessary to connect with the rest of this planet’s population. Her clumsy interactions with Tom Holland create a perfect storm of shared embarrassment, making it easy to root for their - let’s be honest, inevitable - coming together.

But before that can happen, Holland’s Parker must suit up in the familiar red costume to face a suitably threatening evil entity; otherwise a Spider-Man movie this will be not. So, naturally, coinciding with our hero’s travels across the pond are a series of strange catastrophic events - across various European capitals - in which the very fundamental elements of life rise up - as if possessed by a roided up humanoid spirit - causing considerable havoc. Fortunately, Spider-Man has some much-needed help in the form of Quentin Beck, Jake Gyllenhaal’s enigmatic, fish-bowl helmet donning, cape wearing, laser-beam shooting super-powered being who literally appears out of nowhere, avowing to take care of the aforementioned elemental threats. At first a much-welcomed relief, Mr. Beck’s presence soon becomes a cause for concern; his true intentions shrouded in a cloud of mystery.

To those amongst us well versed in the comic book lore, the movie’s stunning visual eccentricity will not come as a major surprise for that is a part and parcel of the character of Quentin Beck. A much greater surprise - that of the more pleasant variety - is the growing confidence of Jon Watts who, together with Marvel’s inimitable team of special effects artists, displays a command of modern tentpole filmmaking that belies his humble indie beginnings; there are a couple of sequences in Far From Home that are veritable treats for the old eyeballs.

Stunningly designed and brilliantly realized, these - almost entirely computer generated - scenes would have made the movie one of the most innovative action flicks of recent times were it not for the aggressively telegraphed plot lines aided by frustratingly convenient deus ex machinas, needlessly convoluted backstories, and extremely bland exposition that even a typically charismatic Gyllenhaal couldn’t fully redeem. Apart from a kaleidoscopic encounter between two characters about halfway through the film and a similarly blinding conclusion to the third act, most of the big, bombastic super-hero-ey stuff is little more than empty calories; devoid of any real substance and only tolerable in small doses, with prolonged exposure causing a minor headache and an urgent desire to return to the cute shenanigans of Tom Holland, Zendaya and company.

In many ways mirroring Peter Parker’s internal conflict, who’d rather be wooing MJ than fending off another global devastation; which, if intentional is a level of metatextual genius that would make Charlie Kaufman blush. But alas, the movie definitely means for the audience to associate with Peter’s emotional and ethical quandary in a more straightforward manner and as such needs the spectacle to be just as captivating as the sentimentality rather than allowing the former to descend into a cavalcade of increasingly outlandish plot twists thus being comprehensively lapped by the latter.

Which, to be honest, is just as much as a function of the effectiveness with which the Spider-Man: Far From Home’s young cast brings to life an incredibly beguiling group dynamic as it is of the blunt predictability of its more fantastical components. Whatever the case, ultimately, the latest incarnation of this iconic part of American culture is an immensely satisfying human story bogged down by an action extravaganza that does not quite reach its full potential.

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