(2019—Director: Jon Watts)
— by Renard N. Bansale —
(out of 5 stars)
“Aw, I love Led Zeppelin!” — Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) to Harold “Happy” Hogan (Jon Favreau)
Potential spoilers below
Of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) offerings from 2017, the Jon Watts-directed Spider-Man: Homecoming is the one whose legacy I’ve observed wavers the most between positive and negative. Fans continue to fondly remember the colorful Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, even if its more flamboyant compilation soundtrack (compared to Vol. 1) and meme-able moments (“I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!”) aren’t enough to distract from its splintered family drama. Of course, Thor: Ragnarök arguably remains the MCU’s most radical and hilarious character revampments. Homecoming, meanwhile, has some questioning certain elements: Should it have skipped the loss of Uncle Ben? What’s with de-aging Aunt May, now in the form of Marisa Tomei (following Sally Field and, before her, Rosemary Harris)? Does “Spidey-Sense” not exist yet? And overall, does the journey of this new Peter Parker (Tom Holland) match with the command of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) for him to settle for being a “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man,” especially in light of what was to come?
Regardless, all these areas of contention either had no effect on or outright supported my judgment that Homecoming as one of the best superhero films of 2017. The consistent laughs and touch of age-accurate immaturity of Homecoming’s high school atmosphere, coupled with Peter meeting his homecoming date’s father in one of 2017’s best scenes, raised the movie to the level of Spider-Man 2 and above the visually-stimulating yet narratively-frustrating Into the Spider-Verse a year later. Since then, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man has contributed—no, sold—one of Avengers: Infinity War’s most gut-wrenching moments (scene and audience reaction). Beyond that, and somewhat to the detriment of said gut-wrenching moment, Spider-Man was poised to cap “Phase Three” of the MCU with a Homecoming follow-up, subtitled Far From Home, to follow the behemoth that was Avengers: Endgame.
And my goodness does Far From Home close the MCU’s Phase Three on a high note.
First off, both Homecoming and now Far From Home are the MCU’s models for meshing superhero action with a different subgenre. In this case, that subgenre is family-friendly high school comedy (with a touchy joke or two added in). Homecoming emphasized the Peter and Vulture dynamic a bit more than the high school comedy, which gets incorporated into manageable segments. Many jokes hit while a few others missed, giving the film some extra moments to breathe. Far From Home dispenses with weaker jokes, continuously pushing its story forward and pivoting from high school comedy to superhero action in picturesque European locales with confidence.
That confidence naturally to when the movie appears to poke fun at its own cinematic universe. The tragedy of Infinity War’s “dusting” provides Far From Home with a priceless comedic opportunity in restoring dusted characters. While fans debated on what to dub the “dusting” event (e.g. “The Snap”, “The Decimation”), the morning news of Peter’s high school settles on the comparatively non-threatening “The Blip”. Matching word choices from that to Peter’s re-introductory conversation with Ned (Jacob Batalon) help smooth over Peter’s somewhat sudden attraction to M.J. (Zendaya). Pairing post-puppy dog “guy in the chair” Ned with Betty Brant (Angourie Rice, who recently anchored the delightful Ladies in Black) and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) with Harold “Happy” Hogan (Jon Favreau, whose Lion King remake arrives soon) serves two suitable objectives: The film gets to comment on the amusing impermanence of high school and summer flings, on top of giving supporting characters more material. Elsewhere, there’s the narcissistic yet plot-pivotal live-streaming of Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) on the student side. Teacher-side, there’s Martin Starr as Peter’s bumbling academic decathlon teacher who continues to accept his misfortunes, while fellow chaperone J.B. Smoove connects superhero activity with witchcraft “as a man of science”.
All these high school comedy shenanigans, however, would amount to little without the players involved in the apparent dire threat at hand—the webslinging Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson with Cobie Smulders (both with a welcome connection to Captain Marvel from earlier this year), and MCU newcomer Jake Gyllenhaal as Quentin Beck/Mysterio. It’s a major struggle to talk about their mission (see “Extended Premise” below) because of how it brilliantly unfolds. I will say, though, that Gyllenhaal commands his role with instant charm, fitting into it like a glove. You watch him with a captivating mix of surprise, distrust, outrage, and awe—not just around the midpoint, but especially during the insane Berlin Europol scene. Many props to the special and visual effects crews (led by Janek Sirrs, Joseph Pepper, and Andy Williams) for delivering that scene to perfection.
After Toy Story 4, I was not expecting to come across yet another excellent offering of mainstream cinema so soon. In fact, going by a pound-for-pound assessment, I might actually prefer Spider-Man: Far From Home over the colossal Avengers: Endgame. Far From Home manages to just exceed Homecoming while also taking full advantage of the context of Endgame, capping off the MCU in 2019—undoubtedly one of the franchise’s strongest years to date.
Up to bat now for Disney is Jon Favreau and his photorealistic CG remake of The Lion King…
(P.S. Keep an eye out for a mid-credits scene and a post-credits scene.)
Parental Note: Spider-Man: Far From Home has been rated…
• PG-13 by the MPAA “for sci-fi action violence, some language, and brief suggestive comments”;
• 12A by the BBFC for “moderate fantasy violence, threat, sex references,” and “language”;
• A-III (Adults and older adolescents) by the Catholic News Service for containing “frequent stylized combat, mature references, including to pornography and prostitution, at least one mild oath, as well as a couple of crude and a few crass terms”; and
• -1 (“Caution is advised for older pre-adolescents”) by Movieguide for being “moderate” on violence and language (“some foul language and a crude joke that’s repeated”), and “light” on sex and nudity.
Extended Premise: Following the events of Avengers: Endgame, Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) returns to his New York City high school, which has planned a two-week summer trip to several European cities. For Peter, this is an opportunity to take a break from his “friendly neighborhood” superhero occupation, move on from grieving over Tony Stark/Iron Man’s death, and to finally confess his feelings toward classmate M.J. (Zendaya). However, at a fundraiser coordinated by his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), Peter is warned by head of Stark Industries security Harold “Happy” Hogan (Jon Favreau) to stay in contact with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). In Europe, Fury finally manages to reach Peter and recruits him for a peculiar assignment: As Spider-Man, he must assist Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) in defeating the Elementals, a group of supernatural entities composed of air, earth, water, and fire that destroyed the Earth of Beck’s reality in the multiverse. Failing to topple these monsters would not only mark the end of Peter’s European vacation, but also the end of his own world.
Renard N. Bansale once aspired to become an astronaut, before he found his passion in film discussion, criticism, conducting script-reading sessions of feature film screenplays, and annual Oscar tracking. Hailing from Seattle, WA, Renard graduated from JPCatholic in 2016 with a B.S. in Communications Media (Emphasis in Screenwriting) and is currently pursuing his M.A. in Theology online at the Augustine Institute.
For more movie reviews by Renard, click here.