Spider-Man: Far from Home review: 'More than enough charm and wit to get away with its structural shortcomings'
Experts say that watching screens all the time and googling everything is destroying our recall.
Scientific proof is provided by the Spider-Man franchise, which has allowed Sony to essentially remake the exact same film series three times in the space of less than 20 years without any of us noticing.
We’re all so dim from our smartphones and internet searches that the 2012 remake of the 2002 original seemed almost fresh, but by the time a 2014 follow-up came around, even we began to smell a rat. Wasn’t this sequel a remake of a sequel?
After that, Spider-Man number two Andrew Garfield was unceremoniously kicked to the kerb, but just a couple of years later Spidey 3 (Tom Holland) turned up in an Avengers spin-off and was given a Spider-Man reboot of his own. Annoyingly, Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) turned out to be very good indeed, retelling Spidey’s origins story as a kind of cross between a John Hughes film and High School Musical.
It was fun, and Holland gave us a winningly gauche Peter Parker whose enthusiasm often exceeds his competence. He’s a superhero trying to find himself, and in Far From Home he takes his trainee crime-fighting routine on tour.
The film takes place in a post-Avengers: Endgame world, where Peter’s beloved mentor Tony Stark is no more, and those who disappeared in the ‘blip’ have safely returned. In the wake of Stark’s death, Peter is keen to take a break from his crime-fighting alter ego, and is hoping to declare his love to classmate MJ (Zendaya) on a forthcoming high school European tour.
In his corner is his puppyish best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), but there are rivals for MJ’s affections, and meanwhile Peter’s getting annoying voicemails from Avengers boss Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). He ignores them, but when he and the class arrive in Venice, Fury appears in person to issue a dire warning.
Terrifying creatures called Elementals have attacked and destroyed a town in Mexico, and are now bound for Venice, which happens to be the first stop on Parker’s school tour. Fury wants Spider-Man to help stop them, and introduces Peter to Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), an affable superhero who can channel vast amounts of energy through his hands and says he’s from a parallel universe.
Poor old Venice, already awash with boorish Chinese and American tourists, is in for a pasting, and as the tour rolls on to Prague and London, Peter will have a hard time juggling a growing workload and his tentative wooing of MJ.
In some ways Spider-Man: Far from Home is a film treading water, offering familiar comforts in the wake of the catastrophes served up in Avengers: Endgame. Its core idea - that Peter Parker has been orphaned once more by the death of his flashy mentor Tony Stark, and is looking for a new surrogate dad - is developed pretty nicely, as various candidates are considered and dismissed.
Nick Fury’s way too grumpy, and Quentin Beck says all the right things but seems to lack substance. He could do worse than Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), Tony Stark’s right hand man, and the new head of Stark Industries. He can definitely be trusted, but Peter is confused by the fact that he’s taken a shine to his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).
What this film does well - even very well - is manifest Peter’s teenage angst and the intricate dynamics of high school politics. Holland is excellent as the brave but unwise Peter, who still resents the idea that being a superhero might prevent him having a normal life. And Zendaya is a perfect foil for him as MJ, a clever, slightly awkward girl whose clumsy response to Peter’s advances seem totally convincing, and real.
Less convincing is the overarching superhero plot, which is simultaneously grandiose and tedious, in spite of some mildly clever twists. It seems an odd complaint, but we don’t really get enough of Spider-Man in the action scenes, which reduce him to a web-spinning bit player. But in between the CGI set pieces, Far from Home is very funny, nicely picking up the threads of Spider-Man: Homecoming’s glibly humorous tone. When Ned is trying to sell Peter on the idea of being free and single ladies’ men on the school tour, he declares confidently that “Europeans love Americans”. Parker looks at him doubtfully, and mutters quietly “really?”.
Far from Home has more than enough charm and wit to get away with its structural shortcomings, but neither this nor Homecoming is the best Spider-Man film I’ve seen. That would be Into the Spider-Verse, the Oscar-winning 2018 animation that gave us a gritty, urban, multi-dimensional Spider-Man awash with vivid colours and existential angst. Next to that, Far From Home seems pretty tame, and safe.
(12A, 129 mins)
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