While I’m certainly not going to pretend that I don’t enjoy being surprised by a well-concealed “gotcha” of the fan-service variety in my blockbuster movies, I’ll also cheerfully confess to a certain level of apprehension whenever major studios enthusiastically embrace the “Don’t spoil!!!” ethos themselves. A solid tactic for shutting down too much discourse over whether or not your narrative actually works is to make everyone feel like they’re spoiling the fun. And yet, there are quite a few cool surprising things in Spider-Man: Far From Home that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling. There’s also one fairly important thing that it’s really hard to avoid if you want to actually review the movie meaningfully.
So here’s a short spoiler free version up front. I really liked this one, and for reference I’m that guy who thought Homecoming was kind of a snooze. It’s obviously better than the two Andrew Garfield movies and now better than the first two Sam Raimi movies. As of now, I’m still of the opinion that Into The Spiderverse is the best Spider-Man movie ever made. It’s worth seeing, and you should stay for the two post-credit scenes, both of which are actually important this time.
SPOILER WARNING BEYOND THIS POINT
Let’s just get it out of the way: Yes, Mysterio is still actually a villain just like in the comics, and yes it all has to do with an MCU version of his traditional “illusionist gone bad” modus operandi. I’m not bringing that up with a sense of some fanboy snobbery and saying “Oh, well, I MIGHT have enjoyed it if I didn’t know what was going on ahead of time” but because Far From Home worked for me in most of the ways that Homecoming didn’t by ensuring I was invested enough in the plot that I forgot to remember that I knew where Mysterio’s whole arc was going. Suspension of disbelief is one thing. Suspension of knowledge is a whole other level.
The story this time picks up after the events of Avengers: Endgame and mainly concerns Peter Parker’s attempts to work out the new realities of his life now that he and half the universe are back from the dead but the same age five years after the Thanos incident and now living in a world where his “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” is one of the defacto top superheroes. Many now expect him to step up as essentially the “new” Iron Man. Yes, we’re doing the overly cute Sony/Disney character sharing meta narrative thing again, and once again it’s laid on a little thick. But at least it gives Tom Holland more actual character beats to work with than Homecoming’s “Spidey needs to prove he deserves to be in the MCU” gags.
Peter finds his school science club’s summer trip across Europe covertly hijacked by a Nick Fury operation battling what’s purported to be an invasion from another dimension by rampaging elemental monsters. He’s aided by Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio, who claims to be a displaced superhero from the same alternate reality and thinks Spidey can be of help in bringing things under control. The whole surrogate father figure thing always works out great for Peter Parker.
Far From Home is essentially the entertaining Washington, D.C. interlude from Homecoming blown up to feature length. That’s a pretty good place to start as sequels go and clearly shows that while this franchise still isn’t quite up to par with the rest of the MCU for scope and drama, and still can’t touch either the originals or the recent animated game-changer in terms of visualizing Spider-Man action. With the exception of two bravura fight scenes involving Mysterio’s illusions, director John Watts’ aesthetic still mostly feels like an expensive Disney Channel sitcom in terms of texture and staging. But Far From Home does know where its strengths are: its characters.
Basically right up to the third act, Far From Home is a teenagers on vacation comedy where one of the kids is Spider-Man. That’s a smart allocation of resources that pays off repeatedly in surprising ways. Holland and Zendaya have genuinely terrific chemistry. Jacob Batalon and Angourie Rice both get more screen time and develop as real characters. Tony Revolori’s Flash Thompson is still a delightful scumbag and Remy Hii as new guy Brad Davis has a lot of presence, which is good because it feels really transparent that they’re setting him up to be important later.
I also like that even though he gets a fair amount of screen and story time, Mysterio isn’t ultimately the most important part of the film. He’s at the center of things, obviously, but the eventual circumstances behind who he is and what’s actually going on reorient what we think the film is about in such a way as to make it both more intense but also smaller and more directly about Peter’s personal development. I was initially disappointed because it seemed like the playing hero angle was building to kind of a self-aware riff on Marvel’s own self-promotion machine. That might be funny but that’s not exactly what they do. I like that they’re instead continuing to lean hard on the idea of supervillains being dangerous even without the costumes and nicknames because they’re still criminals.
I won’t call Far From Home perfect or the best superhero movie I saw this year, but it is a bunch of fun. The first post-credit scene also invites a lot of exciting possibilities I’d previously considered entirely unlikely.