Scalding Hot Takes: Spider-Man: Far From Home
I’m a bit of a Marvel completist, in that I’ve seen every movie in the Marvel cinematic universe with the exception of the more or less universally beloved 2017 blockbuster Spiderman: Homecoming, which found the steady, solid professionals over at Marvel taking over and correcting course following the fascinatingly, maddeningly bonkers insanity of 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which made the requisite fuck-ton of money (over 700 million worldwide box office gross) but was too ridiculous and idiotic to be sustainable as an ongoing series.
So the big-money franchise was handed over to Marvel to the delight of critics and audiences alike. The Spider-Man series, which has been rebooted twice in the last seven years alone, not including the Oscar-winning animated multi-verse spin-off Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse needed a fresh start. That’s exactly what it received in Homecoming.
Why did I miss one of the most beloved and successful entries in the Marvel film canon? Dunno, honestly. I guess I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. It’s certainly not for lack of interest or desire. Spider-Man is my superhero-obsessed four year old Declan’s favorite super-hero. The Lizard is his favorite super-villain, followed closely by Man-Bat.
Spider-Man is up there for me as well, but for some reason I’ve seen all the movies the Marvel machine has cranked in the aftermath of 2008’s game-changing Iron Man but this one eluded me so far despite getting very good reviews, benefitting from great buzz and featuring the always terrific Michael Keaton as the villain and the universally lauded young British scamp Tom Holland as the fresh-faced new Man of Spiders.
Despite not having seen the debut entry in the latest iteration of Spiderman I was nevertheless mostly able to follow the action of its just released sequel Far From Home, a motion picture about a young man whose heroic efforts to steal a smooch from mega-crush MJ (Zendaya) during a class trip to Europe is interrupted periodically by the demands of being a teenage superhero in a post-Snap, post-whole buncha dead superhero universe.
Which superheroes are dead? Super Grover. Stripperella. Howard Stern’s Fartman. Spike TV’s Gary the Rat. I’m not really sure if he’s a superhero or just a six foot tall rat, I just know that he’s no longer with us. RIP Gary the Rat. Those are about the only ones I can tell you without getting into spoiler territory.
This should lend the proceedings a funereal air. The “Blip” as it is called here and The Snap elsewhere, was a cross between a holocaust and The Rapture but Spider-Man is an iconically, canonically fun character, a wisecracking teenager who can cling to walls like some manner of man-sized spider and, like all teenagers, is mostly concerned with getting laid. Peter’s life is a comedy and a tragedy, a goof and a romantic and familial melodrama. It’s a tough tonal tight walk the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies walked expertly and the third one botched. Far From Home is similarly adept at juggling raucous comedy with action and spectacle with emotion.
Tom Holland is just as adorable as advertised as Peter Parker and the Spider-Man. He’s a genuine kid, an ingratiatingly scrawny youngster as opposed to the annoyingly miscast Andrew Garfield’s 30 year old, strapping male underwear model take on Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s oft-rebooted web-slinger.
Far From Home finds Peter Parker blowing off Samuel L. Jackson’s eternally apoplectic Nick Fury and the world of dreary responsibility he represents in favor of going to Europe with best friend Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon), love interest MJ (Zendaya) adorably misguided chaperones Roger Herrington (Martin Starr, giving the proceedings a bit of a Freaks & Geeks flavor) and Julius Dell (J.B Smoove), bully Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) and the rest of his class so he can court MJ and enjoy life as a charming young man without constantly having to do superhero shit.
MJ is a bit of a Daria type in this iteration, the cool, gloomy goth dream girl who sees through the bullshit of the straight world and is invariably the smartest, hippest mind in the room. She’s too brainy and quirky for her own good or the dispiriting universe of high school yet she has a certain fondness for doe-like Peter all the same.
MJ is the the kind of contrarian who loves the black Dahlia because of the legendary murder but also due to her obsessive love for late-period Brian De Palma films. The ten minute monologue she delivers about how the controversial filmmaker “only really found himself creatively with 2002’s Femme Fatale” and “is doing the freshest, most vital work of his career now” seemed out of place, and also wrong, and, to be honest, a little self-indulgent.
Peter Parker’s super-heroic quest to get a little something something going with MJ are complicated by the introduction of Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), an enigmatic caped, domed creature of mystery who presents himself as a new superhero battling powerful Elementals representing the forces Air, Water, Earth and Fire.
As Far From Home opens, Peter is still reeling from the loss of mentor and supportive father figure Tony Stark as well some of the most beloved and powerful Avengers. The wily Mysterio initially seems like someone who might be able to fill the Tony Stark-sized and shaped hole in our plucky protagonist’s heart and soul as a professional older brother, someone the talented but inexperienced superhero will be able to both learn from and fight evildoers beside.
I like Mysterio because he is basically a Scooby-Doo villain in the Spider-Man/Marvel universe. He’s a deceitful con artist who pretends to be a superhero when he’s really a super-villain. Almost all of his villainy involves complicated holograms designed to create the illusion of fear-inducing monsters. Finally, Mysterio inevitably would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for that meddling kid superhero.
Mysterio even looks like a Hanna-Barbera creation. The penny-pinching animators would certainly have appreciated the cost-cutting possibilities of a character with an upside down fishbowl for a head who never has to change facial expressions or talk convincingly because he has no face or lips.
Jake Gylennhaal plays Quentin Blake/Mysterio as a bit of a Steve Jobs surrogate, a fussy, egomaniacal tech genius who is also a demanding, perfectionist showman/performer for whom no detail is so insignificant that it cannot be obsessed about or the cause of a major eruption. Mysterio embodies something new and refreshing in the world of big-screen baddies: the super-villain as rage-choked illusionist whose extraordinary powers are at once very real and elaborate sleight of hand from a master magician able to trick a world that, frankly, should know better, that he’s a hero worth believing in rather than a threat.
Peter trusts Mysterio so much that he sees him as Tony Stark’s true heir and gives him a pair of fantastical magic glasses with the power to do great good and great harm depending on who is wearing them. Yes, magic glasses. As MacGuffins go, that’s impressively stupid, only a notch above magical basketball shoes but thankfully Far From Home does not make the mistake of taking itself too seriously.
Like Jobs, Mysterio is an exacting manager who angrily demands, and gets, the best out of his employees, a boss to a crew of disgruntled former employees with a grudge against Tony Stark and Stark Industries and a powerful hankering for revenge.
Far From Home distinguishes itself from the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by really leaning into its teen-sex comedy elements. There’s something wonderfully sly and subversive about making a MCU movie about a teenager who just wants to fuck off for the summer and try to get laid who is continuously bullied, manipulated and tricked by a grumpy authority figure into realizing his destiny.
I appreciate that Far From Home feels more like European Vacation But With Spider-Man than a follow-up to the epically gloomy Endgame. In a post-Avengers world, we’ve been conditioned to expect a flurry of superheroes and super-villains in every comic book movie and while Nick Fury and several other staples of the Marvel Cinematic Universe make their presences felt this feels self-consciously modest and self-contained as opposed to the intimidating, epic bigness of Endgame.
Far From Home’s modesty is attributable partially to its roots in the teen sex comedy, that most modest of subgenres. The superhero’s destiny is to save the world from evil. The teen sex comedy protagonist’s ultimate mission in life is to get laid with the woman of his dreams. Peter Parker nimbly and nobly juggles these two objectives over the course of Far From Home.
This winning follow-up doesn’t feel as radical, mind-bending or fresh as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. What does? That’s setting the bar almost impossibly high but it’s a charmer all the same that proves that not every Marvel movie has to be a magnum opus or an all-time team-up: some of them, like Far From Home can just be a good time at the movies featuring characters we know and love in nifty new iterations.
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