Swinging Over To Europe This Summer
After the events of Avengers: Endgame, the world is recovering from the loss of certain heroes and the reunion of people who have been missing/dead for five long years; none more so than Peter Parker [Holland] aka Spider-Man. This period is given the simple affectation of “the blip” and it is explained that the students that survived are in their early twenties while the others have returned to complete high school. With this new lease on life and an appreciation that time is a precious commodity, a field trip to Europe is arranged, where Peter intends to take full advantage of the opportunity and confess his feelings to fellow classmate, Mary Jane [Zendaya]. Before leaving, Peter is contacted by Nick Fury [Jackson] who is working with a hero from an alternate version of Earth to stop a host of elemental creatures intent on destroying the world and hands him a pair of sunglasses from Tony Stark (hooked into the entire Stark defence network). But feeling the pressure to be the next Iron Man and missing his mentor, Peter simply wants to enjoy his field trip and be a kid. While in Venice, the trip is interrupted when a water elemental attacks and Peter meets the hero Fury has been working with: Quentin Beck [Gyllenhaal] who the kids nickname Mysterio. With someone to talk to about superhero woes, Peter believes he may have found a new confident.
The true success of this film is that it puts some truly loveable characters front and centre and no matter how they are tessellated, they interconnect marvellously. As with his previous appearances, Holland remains spectacular casting and a great representation of an actual teenager rather than the 70s and 80s idea of what a teenager is. I appreciate there are those who really enjoy previous iterations – I would include myself among their number – but from a description of the character alone (hyperactive, funny, incredibly intelligent, insecure and torn between responsibilities) Holland embodies these traits with amazing ease. I was also quite impressed with Zendaya’s representation of Mary Jane. After the semi-twist reveal at the end of Homecoming, a lot of people were unsure about the direction of the character but this slightly adjusted MJ is still incredibly identifiable as a teenager who is trying to figure out who she is while maintaining an air of cool. In one scene she learns an Italian word and wryly states, “Bo is my new superpower, it’s the anti-aloha. I was born to say this word.” But this increased focus on MJ means less focus on Ned (who was a standout character in the previous instalment) and I missed that friendship dynamic. It’s still present here but is given less spotlight to develop. Introducing Nick Fury to the mix was a nice touch and watching his frustration at being out of the loop for five years, going from knowing everything to knowing nothing, was a nice touch. This allows him the opportunity to keep up the terrifying pretence of an all-knowing super spy as well as channelling irritations at feeling so left behind. Admittedly, I had some initial concerns about plotholes with the presence of Fury, the SHIELD operations and how Beck manages to convince everyone he is a bona fide hero but with all the levels of subterfuge and deception utilised throughout, it mostly works and with the end credit sequence most of my concerns with allayed. Bringing Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan more into the foreground was a genuine pleasure and it’s easy to forget that his character has been around since the first film and Favreau is very deft when given the opportunity to be a bit silly.
Speaking of silly, it’s always been argued that certain comic book characters do not translate well to the big screen for their, for lack of a better word, goofiness. Mysterio, with his emerald body suit, long flowing cape and smoky fish bowl for a head is a prime example but through the combination of a great performance, interesting design and plausible motivation, Mysterio is definitely in the upper tier of MCU villains. It is my belief that there are only a handful of individuals who would be appropriate for this role. To realise a character who has to start out as a trustworthy, endearing, surrogate father figure then to turn into a real threat driven by unhinged malice is an incredibly difficult task but one that, let’s face it, almost every Spider-Man villain is expected to achieve. The only one to date that has really come close is Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2 but Mysterio has been setup perfectly with this version of Spider-Man substituting the whole Uncle Ben angle with dead Tony Stark. But I digress. Gyllenhaal is absolutely perfect casting for someone charismatic and likeable to suddenly make such an alignment shift and ensure that this betrayal resonates with the audience. The only real problem I have with Beck is that he is effectively same as the Vulture in Homecoming and like the rest of the film, exists in Iron Man’s shadow. Again, considering how this Spider-Man has been introduced, he will be inextricably linked to the legacy of Tony Stark and regrettably that means his adversaries will likely also stem from the same place as the MCU has avoided depicting a lot of the origin tropes that we are familiar with. Having said that, there is more than enough by way of difference between these characters and the implications of how we absorb media and news in 2019 (with the constant threat of augmented images, AR technology and questionable, agenda-driven news agencies), Mysterio is a good and interesting choice for the antagonist. I would also add that while Michael Giacchino’s score is far from his best work, his recognisable take on the Spider-Man theme makes a welcome return and the mix of thundering operatic tones and electrical synth work for Mysterio was impressive and fitting.
With a successful vibe achieved, Far From Home builds off of the characterisation and tonality of Homecoming. I will admit that this is both a positive and a negative as it won’t win over any new fans who didn’t get on with this MCU-friendly version but feels like more of the same. Unless you really enjoyed Homecoming, in which case, this will be a welcome treat with the added bonus of feeling more like a Spider-Man solo film than Homecoming – even with all the Endgame/Iron Man fallout – because more agency and development is placed on Peter finding his confidence and stride. But this transition isn’t a seamless on and there are some pacing issues as the story hops from one location to the next but thanks to the production design and location work, each one feels distinct and unique, rather than just a blur of overly similar locales. There is also a lot of loose-end tying that is foisted onto this film’s shoulders and what starts out amusing ends up repetitive. To explain, the film opens with a school news network mourning the loss of the Avengers who gave their lives to bring everyone back. Furthermore, it explains away a fan questions about the five year age gap leaving certain students five years older than others. But this is only one of a handful of clumsy expository info dumps, the other most notable one is Quentin’s toast – which I won’t go into too much detail about to avoid spoilers – which could have been presented in a host of more interesting, novel and inventive ways.
**Spoiler in the last sentence**
Like Ant-Man (for most people; I wasn’t a fan) Far From Home is a palate cleanser, a wind down after a big event before the next chapter launches. After so much to digest over the last few features, it’s nice to take a breather with a light-hearted teen comedy. With that said, while its light irreverent levity makes it a welcome break from universe ending scenarios it also makes it somewhat more forgettable. What’s interesting though is that the most memorable aspect is the giant in-joke that will only really resonate with certain audience members. For example, from a viewer perspective, many of the fight sequences with the elementals come off as a bit samey but the film goes out of its way to indicate this is an intentional choice; acting as both a satire of the action blockbuster industry but also revelling in the hypocrisy. I mean, the very fact that Mysterio’s costume has two versions, one of which is literally just a motion capture suit, is amazing.
Far From Home isn’t exactly forging new territory for any of the genres that make up the Venn diagram of categories it falls into but it performs reasonably at all of them, which is an incredibly impressive feat in and of itself. The real development takes place in the mid-credits sequence which effectively acts as a game-changing cliffhanger development for the next film to deal with.
05 July 2019
The Scene To Look Out For:
Once the film has dispensed with the pretence that Beck is in any way an ally to Spider-Man, Beck reveals both how powerful his technology is and how twisted he can be. Granted, the CGI could have been stronger but every time we enter Mysterio’s world the visuals were interesting, engaging and unique nonetheless. Much like the mind-warping spectral realm work in Doctor Strange, this feels like something that will always be tied to this release and will ensure that my previously mentioned longevity and notability issues are somewhat assuaged.
I am happy that Peter and MJ have good chemistry. I was initially unsure by the end of the first film but they are actually cute together. We don’t get the big sweeping grandiose personal melodrama of individuals in their twenties, instead the backdrop is the melodrama with the simple centre piece of a boy trying to give a gift to a girl and tell her his feelings, while she tries to keep people at a distance but wants to acknowledge she feels the same way. It’s simple, relatable and feels age-appropriate without being condescending; which should mean it will work surprisingly well for a wide demographic.
“Never apologise for being the smartest one in the room”
In A Few Words:
“Far from particularly unique in its content, the real charm of this Spider-Man feature lies in how effortlessly it appears to juggle and keep aloft so many components”
Total Score: 3/5