This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Josh Needle’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Alright, here we go...
I have had a really complicated relationship with this version of Spider-Man and my feelings toward his portrayal in the MCU. I initially loved him when he was introduced in Civil War; He was perfect there, but once we got Homecoming, followed by his supporting role in Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame, and we actually started to get to know him and see his story unfold, it became evident that his wasn't necessarily the Spider-Man I know. There's no Uncle Ben, there's Tony Stark. There's no Harry Osborn or Mary Jane Watson, there's Ned and MJ. There was no “With great power comes great responsibility”, there was “If you’re nothing without the suit then you shouldn’t have it.” There was no weight of the world on a young kids shoulders, there were low to the ground stakes for a neighborhood hero. There was no Peter trying to be the best hero he can be, there was just Peter trying to impress Mr. Stark so that he can be an Avenger...
I felt uncertain walking out of Homecoming two years ago, and while I’ve grown to really enjoy that movie a good amount for what it is and what it brings to the table, I still find myself struggling with it on a personal level. I’ll admit that yes, I am one of those “biased Raimi fanboys” people like to make fun of, and I am a traditionalist when it comes to this character, but it’s only because of how much he means to me. I grew up on the 90s animated series, the Sam Raimi trilogy, and every Spidey comic from the 60s to the early 2000s I could get my hands on. There are core elements of the webhead that make him the webhead, and many of them have been nowhere to be seen with this new portrayal of him.
I was about 2/3 into watching this film, Far From Home, before I finally started to get it. I finally started to understand Marvel’s new approach to the character. I finally started to see the seeds of the hero I’ve idolized my whole life starting to grow into the one I’ve been waiting for, and it’s clear now that Marvel is playing the long game with Spider-Man.
Tom Holland’s Peter Parker
Holland has cemented himself as the best onscreen Peter Parker/Spider-Man by far. Do I still favor Tobey Maguire due to my love of his trilogy and the place in my heart it holds? Yes, but it’s undeniable how incredible of an actor Holland is and how real and honest to the spirit of Peter Parker his take is. He pours every ounce of his heart and soul into this character, and it really comes through on the screen.
I enjoyed Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane. I thought Emma Stone was charming as Gwen Stacey. Zendaya as Michelle Jones aka MJ is a breathe of fresh air. She’s a character who feels real, and fits awkwardly beautifully alongside Hollands Peter. Their relationship feels genuine, their chemistry is SOOOOOOOOO cute beyond words, and I adore everything about her. I can’t wait to see both the actress and character grow and evolve.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio
Jakey G gets to show off his charismatic, insane, furious, and sinister sides in one of the most unique and compelling villain roles we’ve seen from any Spidey movie, and his illusion sequences are visually transfixing comic book panels brought to life. I really liked Michael Keaton’s Vulture, but Mysterio is something special.
I never felt the physical, emotional, or larger than life toll being Spider-Man takes on Peter in Homecoming. Maybe that was the point, but it’s a core part of what makes a great Spider-Man story to me. I got that in Far From Home, especially in the second half, most notably during the scene where he’s at his lowest point and talking to Happy on the plane, and during his final battle with Mysterio. For the first time in the MCU, I felt like I was seeing shades of my hero the way I want to see him. There are moments of this film that feel epic, heavy, and triumphant in such a unique way that only the best Spider-Man films have achieved.
The Spider-Man Story
While fun, charming, and entertaining, Homecoming wasn’t a Spider-Man story to me. It was…and I know this makes me sound like a pretentious douche, but whatever…a Spider-Boy story. It wasn’t about him being his own hero, it was about him trying to be like all the rest that already exist. Far From Home sees Peter finally shed that desire. We start to see the man who takes responsibility for his own actions, constructs his own tools and ideas, and relies more on himself to be the hero he needs to be, and his evolution into the iconic wallcrawler begins to take shape.
What doesn’t work:
The Endgame Fallout
I like humor. In fact, I love it. I think Marvel movies can be very funny, I think a lot of things in this movie are very funny, and I get that Marvel has created something of an identity with using humor to tackle serious situations and exposition... but this was too much. The fallout of Endgame should have been something we got to feel the weight of and see the traumatic effects it had on people, not a gag. Is it funny? Sure, in the moment, but I just can’t buy that this is how people would deal with it.
Yes, I read the title, “Far From Home.” Yes, I knew the movie was going to be set in Europe going in. Yes, I know I shouldn’t let my purist ideas of Spider-Man overtake me. That being said, I just can’t shake off the feeling that Marvel/Jon Watts don’t realize the significance that New York City has to Peter/Spider-Man. It’s as synonymous with him as his web swinging or wall crawling. NYC is supposed to be as much of a character in Spidey’s world as MJ and Aunt May, but we’re two movies in and it’s barely been utilized. Give us a fight on top of the empire state building, have MJ and Peter walk through Central Park together, show me New Yorkers high fiving Spidey in the street I don’t care how you use it, just USE IT!!! I get that they want to make these movies different from the previous films, but that doesn’t mean we need to get rid of everything that DID work in them. The ending gave me hope for the future, but I should have been left satisfied with what we have now.
This is probably the thing I was most disappointed by. As you likely know, I love …or I guess loved… Tony Stark, and I adored his relationship with Peter. However, I haven’t been overly fond of just how much influence he’s had on his heroic arc. I like that Peter grew to idolize Tony, and I like that Tony saw the next great thing in Peter, but what I don’t like is how every struggle Peter has faced has been so easily overcome using Tony, whether it be his tech, his ideas, or Tony himself (well, at least in the last film). What I also don’t like is how every challenge that Peter has faces has also been caused by Tony.
Who pulled Peter into the Civil War conflict? Tony. Where did Vulture come from? Tony. Where did Mysterio come from? Tony. What’s next? Are Rhino and Dock Ock going to be former Stark Industries partners that got screwed over? Is the Green Goblin going to be formed by some Stark weapons accident 10 years ago somehow? Is Kraven going to be revealed to be Tony’s long-lost half brother? Sure, it makes logical sense in the world that’s been established to have so many villains arise from Tony’s mistakes, but why is that the ONLY villain that Spidey can have? He should be cleaning up his own messes, not Tony’s. I have a feeling that the next film will move away from this finally, which fits with the themes of the film, but I still don’t feel it was the right decision here.
The Post-Credit Scene
I know…I know… I KNOW. Just, hear me out, okay?
Don’t get me wrong, in a bubble, this scene is AMAZING. First, the JK Simmons as Jameson reveal? FUCK. YES. I’m so glad he’s back, and I can’t wait to see him return, follow it up with Peter’s identity getting revealed to the world, and you have one hell of a post-credit tease for what’s to come! That being said… in context, it just doesn’t work, at least until I see where they go with it. The JJJ stuff is great, but it’s the Peter’s identity thing that bugs me. We FINALLY get to a point where we’re going to start getting somewhat of a more traditional Spidey, and by all means should see that in the next film, but it’s still early on in his career, why the hell would you pull that card now? It’s as big of a mistake to me as doing the death of Superman two movies into his franchise, which I also hated. Why are you blowing your load so early???
On top of that, after seeing how little of an affect it had on Aunt May after she learned his secret in Homecoming, I’m left expecting this to either A) not have any major consequences, turning Spider-Man into just another MCU hero with no secret identity, or B) it will be reversed by the end of the next movie. Hopefully I’m wrong, but I doubt I will be.
So, here’s the deal.
They’re taking their time to build and evolve this new Spider-Man, one who was born into and raised by a world with other superheroes, and letting him grown into the iconic Spidey in real time. It’s the exact same thing that Zack Snyder was trying to do with his Superman. I don’t necessarily LOVE the approach, but I’m going to give Marvel the benefit of the doubt, because 9 times out of 10, they usually prove my doubts to be unwarranted. We’re not QUITE there yet with the Spider-Man I want to see, but if Homecoming was stepping up to the plate, then this was a solid hit to first base. I just hope we don’t have to wait TOO long before we finally get that home run.