Two things before we begin:
1. If you haven’t yet seen Avengers: Endgame, you might want to do so before checking out Spider-Man: Far from Home, as the events of Endgame figure very prominently here... and, thus, Far from Home is filled with what would be considered spoilers for its recent MCU predecessor. I offer this to you as a strong recommendation because of my own oversight: unfortunately, despite my love for all things Marvel, I had not yet seen Endgame (I didn’t realize it was a prerequisite) when I sat down for Spidey’s latest outing, so – after weeks of remaining unspoiled – I wound up, well, covered in Endgame spoilage. Alas.
2. Recall, if you will, that I lurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrved Spider-Man: Homecoming. LOVED. IT. It might have been the only full-pie film I saw in 2017. So, I walked into Far from Home with an anticipation level somewhere around 11 on a scale of one to 10. Sadly, the film fell short of my admittedly lofty expectations, feeling like a mish-mash of great elements with lazy storytelling and second-rate villainy instead of a killer sequel. I know it’s not necessarily fair to compare one film to the other, but with so many of the creative forces from the first film returning for the second, I honestly thought it would be another home run. It wasn’t.
Instead, this time around, director Jon Watts creates a mash-up between a summer-vacation comedy a rom-com for teens and a by-the-book superhero adventure, and the result is... middling.
Set several months after the events of Endgame, and repeatedly winking – HARD – at the devoted MCU fans in the audience, the film finds Peter Parker (Tom Holland) still smitten with gal pal MJ (Zendaya) and planning on revealing his feelings to her during their high-school science trip to Europe. Best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and annoying antagonist Flash (Tony Revolori) are also along for the ride, which quickly goes off the rails when hulking elemental beings – aptly nicknamed “the Elementals” (fire, water, et al.) – begin wreaking havoc on assorted European capitals.
Swooping in from the sky is Jake Gyllenhaal as Quentin Beck, a new superhero who sort of looks like a really high-tech version of the Great Gazoo and who says he’s been battling the Elementals in another one of myriad multiverses. Promptly dubbed “Mysterio,” he and Peter forge a quasi mentor/mentee bond and Beck is soon tapped by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to help banish the destructive forces once and for all. All this complicates Peter’s plans to woo MJ, and further exacerbates his ongoing “I just want to be a regular kid instead of having to save the world” angst.
Whereas Homecoming was fresh and crisp and funny and satisfying, though, Far from Home feels a bit clunky and forced. For me, its biggest problem are the villainous forces at play: they feel rather uninspired and meh – there was no deliciously evil Loki- or Thanos-level ne’er-do-well putting the fate of the planet in jeopardy, and the stakes were kind of ho-hum, relatively speaking, as a result. The class-trip plot is fun, and both Martin Starr and JB Smoove deliver delightful turns as the chaperones, but it kept fighting – and not in a good way – with the superhero storyline. Homecoming merged high schoolery and planet-saving seamlessly; Far from Home kind of shoves them together and hopes they gel.
Performance-wise, everyone seems to be enjoying themselves, and Gyllenhaal especially is very clearly having a LOT of fun with his role, which always stays on the right side of being outrageous without being over the top. The cast – including the underused Jon Favreau and Marisa Tomei as, respectively, Happy Hogan and Aunt May – is a bit let down by the film itself, though, which d-r-a-g-s for the first half and then sort of overcompensates (with dizzying battle sequences and all kinds of pointless tertiary characters introduced) in its latter half. I’ve honestly never seen more audience members check the time (or texts) on their phones more often than I did at this screening... and the audience was made up of press and industry folks who’d explicitly been told to keep their phones off! I chalked it up to many of them feeling a bit bored. Nonetheless, it was distracting and, who knows, maybe detracted from my enjoyment of the movie. It’s hard to pay attention to the screen when your brain is screaming, “REALLY?!?!?! Do you need to check it AGAIN?!?!?!” over and over and over again.
In the end, Spider-Man: Far from Home is a bit of a mediocre follow-up to Homecoming, comparatively speaking, and a film that may suffer from trying to be all things to all audience members: a teen romance, a global-destruction epic, a vacation adventure and a superhero story. All those elements are okay on their own, but none are strong enough to carry the film’s action on its own. Unlike Homecoming, this movie didn’t have me smiling from start to finish. Here’s hoping Spider-Man’s next adventure will.
One important note: there are two bonus credits scenes. Be sure to stick around for both!