By now we should all know the phrase (credited to Ben Parker) which governs Spider-Man’s existence. In the five movies in which this current version of Ben’s nephew has appeared, the MCU has wisely avoided giving us yet another utterance of this ubiquitous phrase. As the first film following the massive, world and record-shaking Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home serves as a feature length examination of Spider-Man’s defining statement, even without using the words “power” or “responsibility,” while also wrapping in Tony Stark’s legacy and dropping some huge, mouth-watering hints about where the MCU could go in the future.
In just it’s opening minutes Far From Home addresses one of the major concerns lingering after Endgame through a touchingly earnest and hilarious send-up of high school video production, complete with the tiny details (a visible boom mic, a reporter looking at the wrong camera) that typify the amount of love many of the MCU filmmakers have brought to their projects, especially when given the chance to play outside of the larger universe’s confindes. Yet more than just being funny or explanatory, these few minutes serve to ground Far From Home and the viewer back into the confines of a Queens, New York, high school after the galaxy and time-hopping adventures of Infinity War, Captain Marvel, Endgame and, to a lesser extent, Ant-Man and the Wasp, re-establishing Peter Parker as the “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” before then sucker punching him with a question – rephrasing his thesis: Can he be the next Iron Man?
This question, along with the myriad of tributes posted over every location, makes Iron Man a constant presence. Without ever appearing in person, Stark becomes a ghost following, at times haunting, Spider-Man as he ventures away from his neighborhood on a summer vacation, providing an idea of how the MCU could use Tony Stark far into the future despite the notable drawback of being dead. Yet, even as the world clamors for a new defender, Parker, being a high school kid, just wants to spend time with the girl he kinda likes. Many of the film’s greatest pleasures come not in its big action setpieces but in its little interactions between Peter and Ned or Peter and MJ. The jitters and the jealously of teenage romance are very well captured in Far From Home, even as the plot strains at times to fit them into a superhero narrative. And this is where Mysterio enters.
At this point fans of Marvel should be accustomed to MCU characters not being one hundred percent accurate to their comic book counterparts. Far From Home‘s version of Mysterio, while not completely comic book accurate, is perfect for this particular iteration of Spider-Man by offering a new approach to Ironman’s legacy and Parker a chance to step away from the superhero thing without also violating his unspoken promise. (I’d love to write more here, and did, four times, but anything I say could be considered a spoiler, even if it is the single most obvious development in the entire film). It helps that Jake Gyllenhaal gives some real meat to the character in a performance that is both over-the-top and subtle, everything this representation of the character needs to be, making him a more formidable presence on-screen than he’s been in the comics while not violating the spirit of the character. Similarly Zendaya’s take on MJ is incredibly different from the “Face it, Tiger” version known in the comics or Sam Raimi trilogy. Although it’s entirely possible they could be different people, the MCU MJ twists the character on her head, bringing a masked awkwardness contrasting Parker’s. Despite her fascination with murder and penchant for conspiracy theories MJ provides a much needed sweetness to the film, the heart in which Far From Home derives many of its smaller joys. Both characters could offer comics loyalists much to rage over, but for anyone willing to accept them as different universe versions (this is Spider-Man after all), they are wonderful takes on the characters. It’s also nice to finally see Colby Smulders’s Maria Hill get a chance to do something awesome and Nick Fury to show some uncharacteristic traits. Yet good as the supporting players are they are far from (see what I did there?) the best part of the film.
As much as I personally love the original Tobey Maguire version, after Far From Home there can be no doubt that Tom Holland is the best live-action Spider-Man. Holland embodies Spidey’s contradictions: an awkward kid with the confidence to jump off skyscrapers, a genius uncertain of his every action, a superhero who stood against Thanos yet can’t confess his feelings to a girl he likes. Without the constant quips which have become a stable (or crutch) for the MCU and Spider-Man, this version of the Webhead captures everything which has made him such a great character. Combined with advancements in computer effects which allow the camera to follow Spidey as he shoots himself to the top of a building, webs onto a chunk of broken stone, and then jumps off to slingshot the stone back over his head all in one fluid shot, this is the greatest (live-action) version we’ve ever had of the character. While there are times when too much is happening on screen, this Spider-Man has already done so much that everything we see is entirely believable. Again, spoilers limit what I’m allowed to mention, but the Spidey after Far From Home is vastly different from the Spidey of Homecoming or even Infinity War.
All of this said, I still wouldn’t put Far From Home as the best of the Spider-Man movies. In my opinion these remain as Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 and last year’s Into the Spider Verse if only for the way that these films weave their themes into every aspect of the experience. While the question of whether or not Spider-Man can be the next Iron Man permeates Far From Home, there’s a bit of a disconnect between this being a Spider-Man movie and an MCU movie featuring Spider-Man. The best of the Spider-Man movies seem to craft their stories from within the character himself. Far From Home at times seems to be cramming its big, world-building story beats into Spider-Man’s little neighborhood, creating a story that wrestles as jarringly as Peter’s vacation itinerary. The removal of Spider-Man from his native habitat, the black suit (as shown in the trailer) and the lack of snarky remarks during dangerous situations add to the disconnect between the character and where the film wants the character to go. As gorgeous as the visuals may be – with a mind-blowing sequence about halfway through standing as possibly the best in any Spider-Man movie – not seeing the webslinger swing between Manhattan landmarks makes this feel like somewhat less of a “Spider-Man movie.” This is all necessary to establish Spider-Man as more of an international presence, and a possible successor to Ironman, but it’s hard not to feel as though Far From Home is pushing Spider-Man into what the universe (both in and out of the fiction) wants him to be rather than allowing the character to dictate where the narrative takes him. In other words, it’s debatable whether Spider-Man can be at his best outside of the neighborhood which created him. Far From Home is one of the best Spider-Man movies, but by stretching for a little too much, it just doesn’t reach the dizzying heights the character has previously achieved. He is, at his core, a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
Further, for anyone with a passing knowledge of Spider-Man’s history, there are few surprises in the main narrative of Far From Home. It may not have been possible for any film immediately following Endgame to feel weighty, and something too heavy may not be needed right now, yet at absolutely no time do any of these characters feel as though they are in peril. Far From Home strikes the right tone as a cooldown from the MCU’s Infinity Saga, but with its forced turns, the film doesn’t feel like it could stand alone as the best Spider-Man movies do.
And then come the post-credits scenes. There are two, one for the character and one for the universe, and they are equally jaw-dropping. Once again, I really want to discuss these, but they are the biggest spoilers in the entire movie, so… ugh!
While the future (and in one case, the past, in the most glorious of ways!) is only hinted at, this new phase of Marvel’s continuing film universe has some truly intriguing directions available. So while the fictional world of the MCU scrambles for its next Iron Man, Far From Home indicates that the real world franchise of the MCU will remain as exciting and entertaining as ever.