Following the cataclysmic events of Avengers: Endgame, the physical and emotional weight on Spider-Man: Far From Home’s shoulders to round out the MCU’s third phase and lay the foundations for its future couldn’t be heavier. Fortunately, with the return of Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Homecoming director Jon Watts helming the sequel, this immediate follow-up to Endgame had the key ingredients to succeed as a stand-alone MCU film. There are spoilers ahead so if you’ve not seen the film yet and don’t want it spoiled then don’t read on, but if you have, or you’re just curious, then be my guest.
So where does the MCU go after Endgame? After the retirement of Captain America and the shocking, tragic sacrifice of Tony Stark/Iron Man, who is left to lead the Avengers? This is the issue that Far From Home particularly plays on in order to create the most authentic Spider-Man to date, where Tom Holland’s awkward, humorous yet wholly good Peter Parker finds a responsibility far too great thrust upon his underprepared, teenage shoulders. All he wants is to enjoy his school trip around Europe with his school friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and to finally woo MJ (Zendaya), yet as we all know, great power comes with… well, obviously great responsibility. The result of this responsibility placed on the hero dubbed “the next Iron Man” is the return of Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, who recruits Peter to help fight against the Elementals, beings that use the elements to wreak havoc and destruction on cities around the globe.
Whilst this seems like a run of the mill superhero problem, the crux of Far From Home’s brilliance comes in the form of Jake Gyllenhaal’s superb introduction into the MCU as Quentin Beck/Mysterio. Though in the promos for the film and initially in the film itself Mysterio is a great ally of Spider-Man in the fight against the Elementals and Beck forms a bond with Peter not too dissimilar from his bond with Tony, it is within his big reveal as the film’s big bad that Gyllenhaal absolutely steals the show. Not only is Mysterio the best crafted MCU villain since Thanos in terms of his looks and powers, Gyllenhaal seems to relish portraying the delusional, maniacal personality that has so often defined Mysterio in the comics, which makes the character feel like a role he was seemingly born to play. Equally, the first instance of Mysterio using his projections to toy with Spider-Man is arguably more mind-bending than Doctor Strange, so beautifully executed that any fanatic of the comics such as myself will revel in this first cinematic portrayal of a classic Spidey villain.
As this is a Spider-Man film, there was never any doubt that it was always going to include the boyish, comedic charm so crucial to the character’s design. Tom Holland again proves he’s the best Spidey/Peter to date with another awkward, funny and charming performance, where his chemistry with Jacob Batalon, Zendaya and Gyllenhaal weaves its way into the film to create effortlessly believable relationships with their respective characters, both on an emotional and humorous level. Equally, the punchlines land without fail and cameos from Tony Revolori, Martin Starr and J.B. Smoove make for a number of light giggles. However, one of the key pieces of humour revolves around the blossoming romance between Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), to which Peter’s reaction is both at once hilarious and endearing. Whilst the film relies heavily on its humour, the ability to harness the emotional impact left on Peter after the death of his father-figure Tony is another one of its master strokes, as it allows Holland to tap into a side of Spider-Man rarely seen on-screen, grief beyond the loss of Uncle Ben and on such a young depiction of the character, it truly demonstrates the weight on the shoulders of the web-slinger, which feels like a good metaphor for the MCU on the whole.
In terms of the plot, until the shell-shocking mid-credits scene, it feels like a very safe film, with even the twist that Mysterio is the film’s true villain not being particularly shocking, despite its clever execution with regards to the character’s wider motives and origins. Generally speaking, the film follows the MCU’s dark lighting which at times is a hindrance, however the look of the Elementals, Spidey and certainly Mysterio is a real saving grace to the film’s visual achievements. Mysterio looks like he’s been pulled straight from the comics, and the way his powers are depicted work effortlessly, with the use of VFX sequences serving as a stroke of brilliance in creating an astoundingly good villain. In other places, the VFX does leave a lot to be desired in the film, which is a shame, however the depiction of Mysterio serves as somewhat of a saving grace in this department. Of course the script is somewhat “Disneyfied” so to speak, meaning there’s a few cringe-inducing lines scattered throughout, yet they’re mostly lost in a good screenplay that relies heavily on the actors delivering their lines sublimely. One issue that unfortunately gives the big Mysterio twist away is the film’s pacing, where the threat of the Elementals is extinguished so quickly that it’s rather obvious that Beck is going to be the true villain of the film.
Given the inherent pressure of following a film like Endgame, rounding out the third phase of the MCU and attempting to be its own standalone sequel, it’s safe to say that Far From Home succeeds on all fronts. There are of course issues, such as a simplistic plot that suffers from pacing issues, the usual MCU pitfall of dark lighting and some instances of lazy visual effects, but generally speaking the film is very strong. Holland is great as Peter and has definitely established himself as the best Spidey, the film balances emotion and humour effortlessly, but most importantly, the highlight of the film is Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio. The acting, the look and depiction of his powers have created a phenomenally good villain, second only to Thanos, which given the MCU’s widely documented villain problem, is some achievement. Far From Home is an enjoyable, excellent addition to Marvel’s wide array of films and sets a great foundation for the future, so enjoy and if you’ve any sense you have to stay for the credits.
Words by Elliott Jones