Very mild spoilers follow.
Time and again, Spider-Man: Far From Home proves itself as, more than anything else, a hormone-heavy superhero film with a phenomenally-portrayed villain. It’s also a story about a lost, grieving superhero who now must make his own choices and rise above his failures. But that’s shoved aside more often than it should be. And while the movie’s actual theme may concern the malleability of belief, what seems to take precedence for director Jon Watts is the examination of Peter Parker as a teenager. And that’s honestly how these movies should work.
At the same time, though, it’s a film so invested in Parker’s hormone-fueled struggle that it neglects some of Spider-Man’s actual grief over Tony Stark’s death. The heart-to-heart on Happy’s jet underplays how heavy Peter feels after Tony’s passing. That may not seem like a pressing issue when everything else works so well, but it swept aside a developmental hurdle which would have refined and defined Peter in a more satisfying, more sensical way.
The atrophying emotion Watts tries to cram into the film’s final act crumbles under the weight of everything he built in lieu of a stronger, punchier emotional resolution. That’s not to say the film lacks emotion completely; there are fleeting moments of genuine tenderness that elevate the film when they happen and bog it down when they’re inevitably swept away.
Far From Home may tear Spidey away from his Queens haunts, but what distances it from Homecoming isn’t its European setting. It’s the scale.
Rather than focus on a small-time purveyor of cosmically-powered weapons, the sequel’s scope widens. That doesn’t automatically equate to quality, but the grace and tact with which Spidey’s latest outing handles its more consequential plot absolutely does. Courtesy of Jake Gyllenhaal’s Quentin Beck/Mysterio, the ante is upped and the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been in Peter’s solo adventures.
Spider-Man: Far From Home confidently retrofits Mysterio’s origins for posterity, creating a villain cursed with hate-fueled ambition reminiscent of Syndrome and big-screen Vulture. But even with echoes of better villains on his side, Mysterio ranks among the mid-tier MCU antagonists. Gyllenhaal himself, though… he’s great. It’s one of the few instances where the writing almost doesn’t matter because the performer elevates the part with near-sublimity. If it hadn’t showcased Gyllenhaal’s magnetic turn as the formidable illusion master, the film likely would have botched the portrayal.
The film uses Beck’s manufactured grandeur to deliver both obligatory spectacle and welcome surprises, which is exactly how it should have handled a live-action Mysterio. In that sense, he’s perfect. And tonally appropriate. He’s not particularly interesting, but hell can he put on a show.
Contrasting starkly with the amusing Ned/Betty Brant dynamic, the outcome of the Peter/MJ relationship feels organic and earned. None of that “Baaaaabe” bullshit. Just awkward exchanges and tons of unclear communication. So, basically, most teenage relationships. Some of these budding romances blossom, but we all know they likely won’t last. It all ties back to Gyllenhaal, who even after his defeat, impacts these friendships in interpersonally catastrophic ways.
But Watts doesn’t include these plot points because they need to happen. He includes them because the characters want them to happen. He throws in obstacles and setbacks aplenty–particularly in the form of classmate Brad– but ultimately gives them what they want. He allows both characters to tell him what they want and agrees to give it to them–with the frustrating caveat that their friendship will be constantly threatened and heartbreakingly short-lived.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is another smashing success from Columbia Pictures and Marvel. Aside from some missed opportunities to properly and consistently convey emotion, the film accomplishes its goals with aplomb. It’s relentlessly funny, genuinely sweet, and charmingly content with ultimately letting Peter have his cake and eat it, too. He’ll throw it up later, but that doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy the moment.
The next film promises heft and heartbreak, but for now, let’s celebrate seeing Peter get what he wants. It doesn’t happen often and it likely won’t happen this way again.