SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME. Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, J. B. Smoove, Jacob Batalon, Martin Starr, Marisa Tomei, Jake Gyllenhaal. Directed by Jon Watts. 129 minutes. Rated M (Action violence).
*SPOILER WARNING – THIS REVIEW IS NOT SUITABLE FOR THOSE WHO INTEND TO WATCH ‘AVENGERS: ENGAME’ BUT HAVE YET TO DO SO*
In recent years, Marvel Studios have taken to following their full-roster ‘Avengers’ movies with lighter instalments in their Cinematic Universe, palate cleansers with titles that have shared an unlikely creepy-crawly connection; ‘Age of Ultron’ was followed by ‘Ant-Man’ in 2015, ‘Infinity War’ preceded ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ last year, and now, on the trail of their epic, record-breaking ‘Endgame’, comes the latest instalment in their ‘Spider-Man’ franchise. The need to soothe audiences shaken by the high-stakes events of ‘Endgame’ adds a lot of pressure onto ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’. The success of 2017’s ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’, which blended high-school comedy with solid action and an appealing cast led by Brit Tom Holland in the Peter Parker’s iconic red and blue spandex, only piles more pressure onto this sequel. But who are we kidding? This is Marvel we’re talking about, the studio that has rode an unbroken winning streak for about a decade now; they thrive under pressure like the heroes that populate their films. And wouldn’t you know it, ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ is another slam dunk, building on the high school action-comedy framework established by ‘Homecoming’ in narratively exciting and satisfying ways that get the most from an excellent cast.
Following on the heels of ‘Endgame’ leaves ‘Far From Home’ with plenty of questions to answer. Primarily, how did humanity deal with the sudden disappearance of half of all life, followed by their shocking reappearance five years later? The screenplay by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers covers a few of the mind-boggling possibilities brought about by Thanos’ snap – which they refer to as “the Blip” – in the opening minutes via a student news broadcast at Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) high school, from blipped firstborn children now finding themselves overtaken by their once younger siblings, to the reappearance of blipped people exactly where they disappeared from (regardless of whatever new activity is taking place there).
While the movie mines plenty of humour from these complications, Peter is also grappling with a weightier issue: the martyrdom of Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, who laid down his life to defeat Thanos at the end of ‘Endgame’. The death of his father figure has left an emotional hole in Peter’s life but has also left a superheroic power vacuum on Earth, one which forces of both good and evil are circling. However, with a school trip to Europe looming, Peter wants to forget all about Spider-Man and superhero business; he has love on his mind. Despite regular attempts by superspy Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to contact Peter via Tony’s best friend, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), Peter just wants to use this European vacation to tell his crush, MJ (Zendaya, adorkable), how he feels about her. With the support of his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and best bud Ned (Jacob Batalon, very funny), Peter has cooked up the perfect recipe for a European romance. Not even the presence of bully Flash (Tony Revolori) or love rival Brad (Remy Hii) can ruin Peter’s plan, not that the group’s hapless chaperoning teachers (Martin Starr and J .B. Smoove, both great) would intervene.
Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a superhero movie if Peter kept successfully dodging Fury’s calls. While Peter’s school group is in Venice, a huge water monster attacks the city, leaving Peter to spring into action alongside a powerful but enigmatic stranger who defeats the creature. Finally meeting with Fury, Peter learns that this new hero, dubbed Mysterio by the media, is an interdimensional traveller called Quentin Beck (Jake Gylenhaal, charming). After his own Earth was destroyed by four powerful monsters called Elementals (naturally, they come in wind, earth, water and fire varieties), Beck has come to Peter’s version of Earth hoping to prevent the same result. With the water Elemental dealt with, there’s only the most powerful of the foursome left, the fire Elemental, which is due to appear in Prague in a couple of days. With the resources of Nick Fury and his second-in-command Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) at their disposal, Spider-Man and Mysterio prepare to make a final stand for the fate of humanity.
‘Far From Home’ makes good use of its handsome European locations and director Jon Watts, returning to the franchise after making his blockbuster debut on ‘Homecoming’, mounts a series of spectacular set pieces with confidence and style. Cinematographer Matthew J. Lloyd works well with the visual effects team to create impressive and seamless long takes as Spider-Man thwips through Venitian canals and around a Czech square, and composer Michael Giacchino’s playful but suitably stirring themes give the action a nice blend of fun and gravity. Watts also pushes himself with a few wild hallucinogenic sequences later in the film that evoke the mind-bending visuals of ‘Doctor Strange’. That said, it’s the humour that registers most strongly. Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, scribes with plenty of experience writing for sitcoms, play to the strengths of their cast, from Holland’s wide-eyed innocence to Batalon’s blind confidence. The laughs help ground ‘Far From Home’ in the high school genre, and keep this version of Spider-Man feeling unique from Sony’s previous takes on the character.
Announced as the finale of Marvel’s Phase Three (Marvel Studios divides their films into Phases, generally grouping them under the overarching villainy of an Avengers’ level threat), it’s amazing to consider how many targets ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ had to hit. Yet, despite the mountain that the film is required to climb, it fulfils each brief and makes it look easy. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, regularly thrilling and well-acted. With Tom Holland, it delivers perhaps the definitive cinematic take on Peter Parker, a young whiz kid with the weight of the world on his shoulders but so much more on his mind. It ties up a collection of the many threads left adrift after ‘Avengers: Endgame’, while also developing what ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ already built. What’s more, it wraps up the Thanos Phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while still hinting at what audiences might be able to expect from Marvel moving forward. Sure, Peter Parker’s adventures might take the webslinger far from home, but this instalment lands right on the mark.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out July 1.