I kinda wish Tony Stark would just stay dead.
As much as I loved the first Iron Man film–it’s still one of the best of the MCU films due to a focus on building a character rather than building a franchise–his lingering presence in the Avengers mythos often brought more problems than solutions. And he downright colonizes the MCU Spider-Man films; upon a rewatch of the mostly delightful Spider-Man: Homecoming, I was increasingly annoyed by how much of the film is fancy tech and Stark worship. Though buried and gone after Avengers: Endgame, Stark’s digitized presence and legacy still permeates Spider-Man: Far From Home to the point of distraction. Steven Greydanus has written a brilliant review analyzing this Starkian takeover of Spider-Man; I’ll devote my attention to other aspects of Far From Home and attempt not give Stark another word in this review.
Following the events of Endgame, the characters in the MCU are living in a post resurrection world, where friends and loved ones have returned after 5 years of being ashen memories following “The Snap” in Avengers: Infinity War. Calling this event “The Blip” (who comes up with these names?), Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and his classmates MJ (Zendaya), Ned (Jacob Batalan), and Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) are preparing for a school trip to Europe, where Peter hopes and plans to finally tell MJ how he feels about her. For all the enormous cosmic stakes of the other MCU films this year–Captain Marvel and Endgame—Far From Home is wonderfully down to earth and endearing, a story about a boy who likes a girl and wants to know if she likes him back (spoiler: she does!). I think Holland is the best iteration of Peter Park we’ve seen on the big screen (though not necessary the best *Spider-Man,* as that goes to all the Spider-folks from last year’s perfect film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse). He imbues the teenage Parker with a likable awkwardness and truly feels like a “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” in his desires to just make sure New York City is safe.
But his holiday plans are interrupted by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and a new threat: elemental CGI monsters (more of these?!) from another dimension are going to destroy the world (again), and all of the other Avengers are somewhere on their own vacations or missions (though, sadly, the four on-Earth black characters of Black Panther, War Machine, Valkyrie, and Falcon-turned-Captain-America are just passed over and ignored in the listing of Avengers who could help). Thankfully, there’s another bearded white guy to help save the day: Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a soldier-scientist from the same alternate dimension, who looks and acts like an Avengers Mashup; one character even observes that he’s like Iron Man, Thor, and Doctor Strange all put together. Beck–who later goes by the moniker “Mysterio” after Italian news channels give him the label–is winsome and powerful, and the adolescent Peter seems to find a new superhero pal/mentor.
The first half of Far From Home is boilerplate MCU: unreasonably huge stakes, CGI-saturated punchfests, and plenty of Nick Fury quips. But a midpoint reveal turns the entire film upside down and wonderfully deconstructs the earlier half, examining just why these films can feel so weightless and inert in both narrative and aesthetic. In this, Far From Home offers one of the more interesting and self-aware critiques out of any of the MCU films, pointing a discerning finger back at itself and its massive franchising, as well as our post-truth era of Fake News and false idols. There are eye-popping visuals akin to some of the better mindtrips of Doctor Strange, and the takedown of billionaires exploiting others is less than subtle. Between Homecoming‘s Vulture and Far From Home‘s villain, these MCU Spider-Man films are trying to say something interesting about the American class system and capitalist economics. Whether that message comes across effectively is uncertain; when the franchise has devoted so much attention and money into worshiping He Who Shall Not Be Named, it’s hard to take such criticisms seriously. Still, Gyllenhaal is especially great in his role here, and seems to be having a blast in every single scene. Zendaya is outstanding as the beautiful dark-humored MJ; there are a few throwbacks to the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films in the end credits, so be sure to stick around. And I truly love Marisa Tomei as Hot Aunt May Who F*cks. This time, she’s in the know about Spider-Man’s true identity and able to be truly supportive of Peter, even from a distance (and her chosen term for Parker’s “spider sense” power is hilarious). There’s enough good to outweigh any earlier tedium, and I’m wondering if it was director Jon Watts’ intention to make the first half feel so bland in order to set us up for the memorable second half.
Far From Home may not be the *best* Spider-Man film–that remains Spider-Verse, closely followed by Spider-Man 2–but it’s perhaps the one most fitting for our media- and CGI-saturated era. Humorous, heartwarming, and often exhilarating, it’s a film about transitions, about letting go of an idolized past and embracing an unknown-yet-hopeful future–a world without Tony Stark. Peter is repeatedly asked (and asks himself) if he is to be the next Iron Man. And while the Stark tech stuff still persists, I’m grateful that by the film’s thrilling finale in London, he’s simply allowed to embrace who he is: Peter Parker, aka, Spider-Man. Multi-verse or no multi-verse, he doesn’t have to be anyone else.
IMDB Listing: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6320628/