MPAA Rating: PG-13
USCCB Rating: A-III
Reel Rating: 2 reels out of 5
(Disclaimer: Spoilers ahead.)
It is debatable whether or not Spider-Man: Homecoming is the best live action version of a Spider-Man film, but Tom Holland’s performance of the webslinger is easily the preeminent interpretation of the character. This probably explains why my favorite Spider-Man narratives are from outside his own franchise, especially Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. The box office smash Spider-Man: Far from Home, Marvel’s second attempt, is entertaining enough, but again this is because of Holland’s performance rather than because of the story. It proves that if an author’s characters are compelling enough, they can survive a mediocre episode.
After “blipping” out for five years between Avenger films, Peter Parker has firmly established himself as New York’s favorite superhero and an indispensable part of SHIELD’s team. Never completely comfortable with the limelight, he is excited to be going on a school trip to Europe with his friends and taking a well-deserved break. He also sees the vacation as an opportunity to reveal his true feelings to MJ (Zendaya Coleman), an oddly charming fellow classmate with a dark sense of humor and laser sharp wit. Unfortunately for him, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) recruits him to help defeat a series of inter-dimensional beings threatening the Earth, even redirecting the field trip to fit his agenda. “I think Nick Fury just hijacked our summer vacation,” he mumbles to a friend. Leading the assault is Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a discount Thor/Doctor Strange hybrid, whose home world was destroyed by monsters of fire, water, air, and wind, fittingly called “the Elementals.”
The strongest development in Far from Home is the budding romance between Peter and MJ. Chiefly, they look and act like teenagers rather than late twentysomethings trying to imitate sixteen-year olds. Parker is short, awkward, and stumbles over his words. He has a good heart but is incredibly insure. MJ seems to like Peter but is aloof and hard to read. Their interactions are filled with the kind of realistic humor I witness as a high school teacher, as there are mistakes made but with pure intentions. Like many teens, Peter struggles with his vocation. He is aware of the responsibility that comes with superpowers and doesn’t shy from his duties, but he also wants to aces his midterms and take his girlfriend to Dairy Queen after football games.
Yet Nick Fury has little interest in letting Peter get though his minor years unscathed. “It’s time for you to step up!” he yells at Peter. This is the mantra of Marvel’s producers as well, who are not content with a simple “good guy vs. bad monster” plotline. Instead, it is revealed that Mysterio is not a superhero but a disgruntled former employee of Tony Stark who used drones and holographic technology to create the illusion of beasties and his own supernatural abilities, similar to Syndrome in the original Incredibles film. He and his minions feel betrayed by the Avengers and want to create their own reality to serve personal aspirations.
This subplot is artificial both in context and content. And it is inserted in the worst way possible: via a long, convoluted monologue by Mysterio (really Quentin Beck) in which he explains his evil scheme. Also transparent is the thematic relevancy. Beck continually asserts his desire to bend the truth through visual trickery, echoing current concerns around deepfake technology and so called “fake news”. It’s an important and relevant topic, but is handled here in a clunky and boring fashion.
Of course, Spider-Man discovers Beck’s true intentions, saves the day, and reveals his feelings (and superhero identity) to MJ, who quickly accepts both. But none of the sloppy second half of the film was necessary for this. It could have easily been done with a more traditional narrative. Is it too much to ask for a “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” instead of one who must always face the political tensions of the times? Far from Home is often fun, smart, and even enjoyable, but its strengths were largely in opposition to its thematic material rather than supportive of it.
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