Talking about a Spider-Man film in 2019 is like walking into a minefield. No matter what you say, there are groups of fans- each with their favorite versions of the iconic web slinger- ready to tell you why you’re wrong. It’s with great reluctance, then, that I discuss the wall crawler’s latest film, Spider-Man: Far From Home. It’s with even greater reluctance that I inform you that it’s a breath of fresh air that left me wanting more of this universe’s Spider-Man.
Following the events of Avengers: Endgame, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is relieved to put his Spider-Man persona aside and relax for a few weeks on a class trip to Europe. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) have other plans. They forcibly introduce Peter to Quentin Beck/”Mysterio” (Jake Gyllenhaal) , a superhero from another universe who’s here to combat monstrous creatures from his world known as “Elementals”. Peter begrudgingly accepts as he struggles to balance fighting inter-dimensional beings with trying to impress his class crush, MJ (Zendaya).
For much of the first half of Far From Home, director Jon Watts recycles much of what worked in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Once again the cast and crew are a John Hughes-esque gallery of delightful personalities. The returning MCU characters are as good as ever, yet they mostly sacrifice the spotlight to the younger characters. Jacob Batalon’s Ned Leeds is the ultimate goofy best friend character, Tony Revlori makes for a suitably snotty Flash Thompson, and Angourie Rice gets to a lot more to do this time around as Betty Brant. They all have remarkably smooth chemistry that makes the majority of scenes in this section a breeze to watch.
The clear standouts of the supporting cast are Zendaya and Jake Gyllenhaal. Although most of the details of his character are left unspoiled, Gyllenhaal gets to soar to campy, over-the-top heights directors rarely let him go to. Meanwhile, Zendaya has a snarky charisma to her that bounces very well off of Tom Holland. How does Tom Holland do? Do you really need to ask that question? He’s the perfect leading man- a funny, charming, and commanding presence that imbues Peter with all of those qualities. Peter Parker/Spider-Man is the type of hero everyone can get behind.
What many may not be able to get behind is the storyline. Screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers lean a little too heavy on the Homecoming model of tying Peter’s arc to a wider Marvel storyline while he tries to balance his tasks with his personal life. It works because Watts is a gifted comedy director and it’s always lightweight fun, but the first half of the film feels almost disposable in that way.
Enter the second half. In a bold sequence, the tone of the film to that point swerves upon the reveal of new information. This information moves the conflict away from universe-building to instead tell a story much more personal to Peter.
Jon Watts and the writer propel Peter through a twisty-turny narrative that finds new ways to test his resolve. After the lackluster action of Homecoming, Watts puts Spider-Man in some truly intense situations involving surreal landscapes that echoes what worked so well in Doctor Strange. There were several scenes where my jaw dropped due to just how much the film resembles the out-there imagery of some of my favorite Spidey comics.
Moreover, for the first real moment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Peter is forced to reckon with what it really means to be a hero. He must contend with the people he’s putting in danger, the responsibility he owes to the public, and the sacrifices he’s going to have to make in his personal life. No matter how far the superficial aspects of this adaptation of Spider-Man have strayed from the comics, the film hammers home what rally makes him stand apart of the other Marvel heroes.
By the time the film reaches its explosive climax, I found myself way more on board than I expected. I was invested in Spider-Man again. The best superhero movies make you forget you’re watching a film and let you get lost in these larger-than-life stories. For over 2 glorious hours, I was enamored by the story of Peter Parker. Spider-Man: Far From Home is a proper introduction to Spider-Man for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For the first time, I’m excited to see where Spidey’s story in this universe goes.