Only Marvel would follow the blockbuster to end all blockbusters with a lightweight teen vacation flick. The stakes have rarely been lower. The primary concern? Seeing the hero get his girl. What chutzpah to be so old fashioned. It’s audacious as a feat of mechanical regularity above all else. Indeed, give or take the odd surprise, Far From Home is pretty much business as usual. Almost dull even by the initial trick climax. Those hoping for boundaries to be furthered will be disappointed. And yet, this isn’t dull. It’s far from it. If some feel undersold, many more should be pleased to learn that the studio’s still got it – even if ‘it’ has long since felt inessential.
For all somewhat lost, this second Spider-Man offering for the MCU is the first successor to Avengers: Endgame, that mind-boggling conclusion to a decade of meticulous build up and eliminator of three franchise stalwarts. Having barely survived the vainglory of Thanos himself, Peter Parker (a finely maturing Tom Holland) opens here ready for a break. The death of his erstwhile mentor – Tony Stark – has clearly scarred beneath the surface, compounded by the heavy weight of expectation that comes with a world in need of the new Iron Man, and five years as dust is an all too present memory. Not that Peter is alone in the struggle to move on. The world shivers in recall of what they call ‘the blip’, whilst half decade age gaps have sprouted between they dusted by Thanos and those who remained: ‘my younger brother is now older than me…’
Such recalls tease an admirable continuation for the franchise and intriguing junction to futures unknown. Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is no longer our own but a fractured mirror world, albeit one here equally tormented by fake news. That said, don’t expect an excess of psyche here. Darkness has only a transient presence in Marvel’s brand of superfare in any case but Sam Rami’s Spider-Man 3did much to prove that existential crises do not sit well with the adventures of their kid hero from Queens.
Instead, a new foe looms and new cities must yet be destroyed. When gigantic supernatural beings – Elementals – begin to wreak havoc across the globe, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson – great) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) recruit Spider-Man for the job of world-saving, whether he likes it or not. Joining the fight, twinkly, extraterrestrial newcomer Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal – also great) may well know more than he’s letting on. As might Peter’s razor sharp, darkly deadpan classmate and would be love interest MJ (Zendaya). A pair to watch.
Much like Homecoming before it, the pervading sense with Far From Home is that this superhero blockbuster could quite happily pass on the action, were it not contractually obliged to devote the final act to just that. Lively camaraderie between Peter’s classmates retains that familiar John Hughes tone, warmth and humour, whilst ramped up are notions of paternal guidance. Of the varying men vying for the role of Peter’s new father figure within the film’s two hours, perhaps Stark’s former handyman Happy (Jon Favreau) wins the most touching arc. Helpfully, he also does much to bridge the techno void left by Stark, gifting Peter neat gadgets as and when required. Strong VFX realise these well but shine brightest in a sequence most apply termed Marvel’s trippiest since Doctor Strange. Far From Home never scrapes near the electric creative highs of Oscar-winning Into the Spider-Verse but makes admirable grasps in the right direction.
On reflection, Far From Home proves to be a smart and entirely successful move. Sure, the ingredients for super-action are here but this is barely a blockbuster by any conventional definitions. And it works, really it does. With all stakes eviscerated, the franchise can breathe easy, flex it’s muscles and have fun with the dearth of expectation. Front and centre – ever more so – Holland continues to charm and impress by equal measure. Much like Downey Jr. before him, Holland commands his role and promises ongoing signs of development. How quickly his Peter’s enthusiasm has faltered. With a monumental mid-credits twist set to change everything, this friendly Spider-Man has emerged from the ashes to a neighbourhood that’s only getting bigger.