Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is probably my favourite MCU character. Chris Hemsworth’s post-Waititi Thor comes pretty close. I think that speaks to my preferences regarding the mega-franchise; where once I expected thematic depth and seismic struggles, I’m now content to sit back and watch attractive actors do their thing.
While much of the post-Avengers MCU films struggled to consistently emulate Whedon’s quippy style, both Holland and Hemsworth proved dab hands at it. They’re each messy – superpowered and charismatic, sure, but also self-involved and indecisive; plagued with all the problems you or I face every day.
Holland’s first solo outing – 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming – deftly coming-of-age comedy with traditional cape-movie stuff, but I mostly remember it for the roughness of Peter Parker. He found a comfortable middle ground between the two poles of the character; he didn’t quite have the perfected quick wit of the sarcastic web-slinger, nor was he mired in the “with great power comes great responsibility” murkiness. Instead, he was a typical teenager: excitable, brash but largely well-intentioned. He spent most of the movie running towards danger – against Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr’s) best wishes – only coming to terms with the gravity of his circumstances in the film’s final act.
Spider-Man: Far From Home, picking up after events of Endgame, flips the script by reframing Parker as a reluctant Spidey. Now, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Hogan (Jon Favreau) have to drag him into action, recruiting him to help save the world from inbound elementals as presaged by new superhero, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). It’s a reversal that probably shouldn’t work, but as with much of the MCU’s loose continuity, you buy it in the moment. Holland makes an easy sell of his reluctance; given the choice, who wouldn’t prefer to hang with Ned (Jacob Batalon) and flirt with MJ (Zendaya) on a European school trip rather than risk life and limb fighting mega-monsters?
It helps that Far From Home, directed by Homecoming’s Jon Watts, instantly establishes the easy comedic tone that buoyed the last Spider-Man outing. After a brief establishing scene with S.H.I.E.L.D. and Mysterio, the film deals with the fallout from Endgame more deftly than I could’ve ever hoped. It manages to grapple with some of the technical questions – Wouldn’t it be weird to have a younger sibling be older than you now? Hey, wouldn’t all sixteen year olds who were ‘snapped’ technically have fake IDs? – without getting all Leftovers with it, and mostly gets the new world out of the way to engage with the ensuing adventure.
The film’s first hour is its most entertaining, marrying goofy high school comedy with thelarger superhero-centric stakes. For example, when Parker is posthumously gifted a pair of smart glasses by Stark – granting him access to a sophisticated satellite defence system – his first move is to inadvertently order a drone strike on a romantic rival (Remy Hill). It’s silly and irreverent, which will surely disappoint hardcore fans hoping for nothing but superpowered fisticuffs, but it’s the perfect tone for this sort of film.
Then the true villain is revealed mid-film – a reveal that won’t be too surprising if you have a cursory familiarity with comic books, but is well-established nonetheless – and the film loses its way a little. It’s not that much is done especially poorly in Far From Home’s last half – I found myself a little bored in some of the later action scenes, and Hogan’s not as endearing a character as they want him to be, but these aren’t new complaints for me.
Rather, the issue is that the film is trying to do so much in its last half that it strains the easy-going tone that made it so appealing in the first place. Parker spends much of the last act separated from his friends and teachers, for example, and they’re such a capable crew of actors that it’s hard to imagine the film would’ve been worse with more time spent in the school context. (Indeed, the best thing about Homecoming was how it brought together the two halves of the narrative, whereas Far From Home keeps them at arm’s length.) Parker’s character is muddied, too. He’s torn between mourning Tony, trying to impress MJ, puzzling out his relationship with Mysterio, coming to terms with his commitment to superheroism…and that’s without even getting into the involvement of Hogan and S.H.I.E.L.D. While the last two Avengers films demonstrated that you could make entertaining films with a couple dozen characters, that’s not what you need in a Spider-Man movie.
While Far From Home isn’t quite as good as Homecoming, my quibbles are mostly that: quibbles. And beyond its entertainment value, it’s nice to see the franchise back to grappling – however tangentially – with contemporary political questions. I’ve decided to tiptoe around the film’s spoilers (which partly necessitates my vagueness in the previous paragraph), but suffice to say questions of the reliability of the media in a digital era are well and truly embedded in Far From Home’s subtext. On the subject of spoilers: make sure you stay for the mid- and end-credits scenes.