“The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.” – Joseph Conrad
It’s been a busy year for Spider-Man. After a major PS4 game, beloved animated film, and stint assisting the Avengers, he’s now back to another live action solo film.
Not as good as the Sam Raimi trilogy or Into the Spider-Verse but an improvement over Homecoming, Far from Home might bring our friendly neighborhood hero out of his comfort zone, but doesn’t take audiences too much out of theirs.
It’s summertime and Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is going on vacation. With his classmates like best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and crush Michelle (Zendaya), he heads to Europe for a tour of various countries. Touching down first in Venice, his fun time is ruined by a giant water monster on the rampage. But rushing in to help fight it off is Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal).
Shortly thereafter, Peter finally finds himself eyes to eye with Nick Fury Jr. (Samuel L. Jackson), who had been trying to reach him regarding this matter. Through Fury he officially meets Mysterio. Real name Quentin Beck and claiming to be from a different dimension along with that monster, he tells them that there’s more to come.
Much like Peter’s inner struggles in one of these movies, I’m feeling conflicted. There’s certainly some glaring problems that we’ll get to, but it is more fun and weighty than its immediate predecessor. The tension is higher and comedy is funnier. The direction from returning director Jon Watts is stronger – some truly nightmarish scenes are absolute standouts – though noticeable filming goofs appear here and there (boom mic visible, water splashing on the lens).
While monumentally stupid miscastings and mischaracterizations remain monumentally stupid (looking at you, Flash and Aunt May), Holland continues to shine. Facing the fallout from what happened during his last screen appearance and coming to terms with his new place as a hero spawn quite a few big emotional moments which he handles admirably. Equally adept is he at the comedic parts in the character’s civilian life as well as the stresses of being a teenager on top of everything.
However, a number of things are rather haphazardly incorporated. There’s one character who’s introduced as not having been dead the last five years, but somehow he’s still in Peter’s class. That he’s made a rival for the affections of the still underage Michelle adds an element of sleaziness that doesn’t seem to have been intended. Speaking of Peter’s feelings for her, those have come from out of nowhere. Last we saw of them, their interactions were minimal and they didn’t even appear to get along all that much.
And then there’s the whole “MJ” issue. It is extremely obnoxious that they would choose to continually call her this (in fact, not once in this film is “Michelle” ever said) when it instantly brings to mind the Mary Jane Watson character, who this one is nothing like and was never meant to be. Not only does this immediately invite comparisons which won’t turn out favorably for the newbie, but it constantly makes the viewer miss and want to see MJ proper return. It’s really too bad, because on her own this would’ve been a great character and performance that’s getting better (her quips this time are less activist caricature and more Dale Gribble). But as good as she might turn out, chaining her to such huge figure in the mythos is casting a huge shadow from which she’ll never escape.
But a big saving grace is Gyllenhaal. After doing a string of less mainstream and darker fare, it’s a wonder they managed to rope him in for something like this and a great coup it is. Not quite so deliciously bonkers like his turn as Dr. Johnny, but when it’s time for him to cut loose he really delivers. While comic readers will know what Mysterio’s deal is, when watching even they’ll fall under his spell.
There’s other notable supporting players too. Angourie Rice as Betty Brant is fantastic; pairing her with Batalon here was a stroke of genius. The always hilarious JB Smoove is very welcome as a teacher chaperoning the trip and has a good dynamic with Martin Starr as the other grown up. And one truly shocking appearance at the tail end of things is worth the price of admission alone.
Far from Home gets Spidey through what could’ve been a sophomore slump with a great deal of fun and excitement. It’s up in the air who he’ll be facing next (Scorpion perhaps? Kraven? Tarantula?), but I’m very interested to see where it goes and what variation on “home” will be used for the subtitle.