Jake Gyllenhaal stands out in this lighthearted sequel that slings webs around its predecessor
And we’re back. It’s been two months since Avengers: Endgame wrapped up ten years of plotlines, culminating in arguably the most satisfying action scene in blockbuster history and the deaths of several iconic characters. Despite the stakes and climatic nature of Endgame, though, MCU overlord Kevin Feige has been very vocal in letting us know where the MCU’s “Phase Three” really ends. And it’s here, with Spider-Man: Far From Home, a humorous and lighthearted follow-up that should have collapsed under the weight of Endgame but somehow manages to carry fans through to the next era unscathed.
Endgame left us asking so many questions over the state of the “post-Blip” universe, after all, it seemed fair to assume Far From Home would struggle to depict a world in which half the population vanished for five years. But the film’s best and most immediate decision is to basically make a joke of it all. This approach – signalled by the tongue-in-cheek memorial montage that kicks off the film – might irritate those who go in seeking more thorough explanations, but it’s a narrative dodge that feels matched to the film’s breezy tone. Do we really need to get bogged down in all the details anyway?
There’s one major hangover from Endgame that can’t be avoided. In the wake of Tony Stark’s heroic death, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is struggling to find his place in the world. In a bid to distract himself, he decides to put the superheroics on ice to make the most of a summer vacation to Europe with his classmates, where he also plans to confess his feelings for MJ (Zendaya). That’s until Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) turns up to hijack Peter’s good time and introduces him to a mysterious caped crusader named Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), who claims to be from an alternate dimension.
This is the first Spider-Man film to take place outside New York City, and boy does it feel good to get out. As the gang hit up Venice, Prague, Berlin, and London, Far From Home finds a comfortable middle ground between road trip comedy and superhero blockbuster. And whilst the film’s first act skirts incredibly close to formulaic, nothing is quite what it seems. Just when you think you know where Far From Home is headed, director Jon Watts shifts gears, spinning the story into unexpected territory. To explain what happens would be to spoil the fun, but let’s say Far From Home has a great time – and conjures some seriously weird and creative action sequences – blurring the lines between what’s real and what’s not (Incredibles fans might recognise a familiar plot point).
Tom Holland, still the best Spidey ever, is effortlessly charismatic from start to finish, and it’s his performance that holds this strange hybrid together. His Spider-Man is a juxtaposition of confident and awkward, and Holland knows exactly how to play it. It helps he’s in good company: Zendaya, reprising her role as MJ, has attitude and wit in equal measure, whilst best friend Ned provides welcomed comic relief. All that, and the film still somehow has time for Happy Hogan and Aunt May without feeling too overstuffed (admittedly we could have lost 15 minutes of runtime, but that’s nitpicking).
Far From Home’s most valuable asset might just be Gyllenhaal himself, though, who in recent years has made the transition from leading man to world-class character actor. Here, a dramatic narrative shift at the movie’s mid-point gives him yet another opportunity to chew the scenery until his heart’s content. In the space of two scenes Mysterio goes from serviceable to unforgettable.
I was one of seemingly few who felt Spider-Man: Homecoming was a bit of a missed opportunity – a middling entry in the MCU canon. Far From Home seems to have taken its cues from Mysterio, though, in that it ultimately proves to be far more interesting – and a whole lot weirder – than it first appears.
By: Tom Barnard
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