In the aftermath of the events of Avengers: Endgame, a grieving Peter Parker (Tom Holland) must cope with the death of his mentor as well as a gap of five years between dying along with half of the Earth’s population and being spontaneously brought back to life. Desperate to go on vacation in Europe and lead a normal life, he is instead dragged by former SHIELD head Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to help defeat an inter-dimensional menace with the help of new superhero Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal).
Good luck following the latest Spider-Man movie if you have not already seen Marvel Studios’ two recent Avengers pictures. Sony’s first rebooted Spider-Man picture, Homecoming, was a whip-smart exercise in embedding Peter Parker in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a manner that gave him an independent standing yet linked in non-essential ways to the broader Avengers franchise. This second outing, Far From Home, is almost entirely inside baseball: it occurs in a world that has experienced a staggering level of tragedy and change, stars a protagonist entirely motivated by the events of another movie, and spends as much time wrapping up Avengers: Endgame‘s emotional baggage as it does telling its own story.
I do not note all of this as a criticism, but rather to highlight once again that these Marvel Studios productions are so dislocated from a traditional film narrative that it hardly seems fair judging them in comparison to mainstream cinema any more. These are less motion pictures than comic book series brought to the screen, and in practice that makes them resemble very large-scale television serials over discrete features. You only get three episodes a year, and you have to pay more per episode than anything else you’re currently watching, but structurally they’re more soap opera than film. There is a method to soap opera plotting: every episode needs to begin a story to appeal to new viewers and hook them into the narrative, and every episode needs to provide a story conclusion to satisfy the long-term audience, and in between all of the continuing storylines fill up the middle. It is a proven and addictive formula, and one that Marvel Studios has become very adept at presenting. Far From Home does present its own central storyline, but it also addresses the impact of Infinity War and Endgame as well as open up opportunities for the next stage (called Phase 4) of MCU features. If you are already riding the MCU train, Far From Home is a hugely satisfying instalment. If you’re not onboard, watch the film knowing that you may not fully comprehend the minutiae of the plot.
There is a large amount of comedy, which is a nice contrast to the seriousness of Marvel’s more recent films. At times it threatens to overrun the rest of the film: the two teachers supervising Peter’s class trip feel too broadly drawn in comparison to the standard Marvel fare. When dropped down a notch, however, it’s a surprising delight – especially the interplay between Peter and his classmates Ned (Jacob Batalon), Flash (Tony Revolori), and Betty (Anguorie Rice). As Peter himself, Tom Holland does a fine job with a great amount of character development. With the help of a strong screenplay and great direction by Jon Watts, he has firmly established himself as the best Spider-Man actor to date – no disrespect to the likes of Tobey Maguire, Nicholas Hammond, or Andrew Garfield.
Elsewhere both Samuel L. Jackson and Cobie Smulders maintain their likeable performances as Nick Fury and Maria Hill, and Jake Gyllenhaal comes across as deeply sympathetic as Quentin Beck – a dimension-travelling superhero with the alter-ego Mysterio. Viewers familiar with the comic book version of Mysterio may be surprised at how the character is presented, but it is absolutely worth the watch. The film’s visual quality is excellent, with strong photography from Matthew J. Lloyd and great costuming courtesy of Anna B. Sheppard. Mysterio in particular looks beautifully adapted from the source. The film’s second half includes some particularly impressive surprises and visual effects showcases, and for once the film’s boasts post-credit sequences (two of them, so stick around) that actually feel worth sitting behind for.
This film marks the end of Marvel’s Phase 3, with a fourth sequence of films kicking off with next year’s Black Widow. While debate continues with criticism – including from me – that Marvel Studios are pushing out too much content for this franchise, when the films are as broadly entertaining as this it is difficult to complain too much. If you’re over superheroes, feel free to pass this by. If you still get a kick out of seeing Spider-Man do his thing, this is a top-level effort on a par with Sam Raimi’s much-loved Spider-Man 2.