Spiderman: Far From Home
Spiderman: Far From Home (Jon Watts, 2019) was the first and, so far, only Marvel film to be released in the wake of the carnage of the events of Avengers: Endgame (Joe and Anthony Russo, 2019). With the Cinematic Universe culminating in this natural end-point, but Endgame grossing record figures at the box office, this point in time becomes a rather crucial fork in the road for Marvel. Of course their output will continue for a long time yet: Hollywood will happily ride a cash cow, no matter the quality of the output, so while the Marvel Universe continues to rake in the billions, it will continue to dominate our screens. On the other hand, if quality begins to dwindle, it is very possible that audience numbers might head for the exits too, especially in a post-pandemic recession. And with attempts at a comparable DC comics cinematic universe further adding to the superhero fatigue, Marvel films will have to remain fresh and exciting if they are going to keep advancing onwards after the success of their first three or four phases. So this is where Far From Home comes in: a movie balancing on the knife edge of either continuing the era-defining success of the franchise, or signalling its coming demise. Let’s see which way it topples.
In my review of Far From Home’s predecessor Spiderman: Homecoming (Watts, 2017), I commended the outstanding performances of Tom Holland in the lead role, and Michael Keaton as the baddie. I must single out two more actors from this sequel for further praise. Firstly, Marisa Tomei is superb as Aunt May, getting an expanded role here that demonstrates how well-liked her character was after the first film. Tomei manages to seem young, hot, and cool, whilst retaining the mature, wise, and motherly aspects that define the character. She is the ideal incarnation of May for fans to adore in all sorts of ways. Then there is Jake Gyllenhaal’s Quentin Beck who turns out to be the villain of the piece. Just like Keaton before him, he inflects the character with humanity, reason and sympathy to sit alongside his twisted actions and motivations. Another great actor pulling off a well-developed villain, and making the movie all the better for it. Beyond even the actor and role, though, what really makes this baddie memorable are the methods he employs to act out his schemes. The use of drones as both weapons and tools of deception is inspired, and takes on an added prescience after the London New Year’s light show that heralded the arrival of 2021. The drones in Far From Home feel so real and so achievable as they wreak havoc on London, and Watts’s film is all the scarier and more relevant for it. It is the perfect demonstration that a superhero film doesn’t need to go bigger or deeper into a fictionalised universe to pile on the danger factor, but that providing a realistic threat closer to home can be even more effective and thrilling.
Another of the ways in which these superhero movies can remain fresh is by emphasising certain distinct elements, and allowing directorial creativity to make its mark on top of their well-crafted formulae. Thus, it is very wise of Far From Home to play on the individual strengths of Homecoming, and give them more room to breathe. This primarily takes the form of kid stuff, the teen drama elements at play in Peter Parker’s personal life. Indeed, the first 20 minutes of the film are entirely devoted to this, as Parker deals with the pressures put on him by his parent-figures May and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), tries to act upon his crush on Mary Jane (Zendaya), and departs on a school trip to Europe with his fellow classmates. All of this adds so much to the film, not only breaking up the relentless intensity of the Marvel franchise (Homecoming did this too, but it works even more successfully here because boy did we need a bit of a breather after Endgame), but also allowing new dynamics and ways of developing characters. For example, the low key interactions between students and teachers in Far From Home injects the film with humour and character, allowing us to get to know a bunch of talented, funny, complicated students who are not superheroes, but are interesting characters in their own right. And by relocating the action to Europe, we get to see that the world exists beyond America, even if we do still only really get to witness destruction in the European cities that Hollywood just loves to destroy – namely Venice alongside London, with Prague thrown in just to mix things up. So while remaining relatively safe, Far From Home adds new eccentricities and details to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, breaking up the possible monotony that could lead to superhero fatigue, and allowing its director, Watts, to leave his own imprint on the film, just as he did in Homecoming, even if he is not quite at the same level as the adventurous auteurs of other Marvel entries such as Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarök ) or Ryan Coogler (Black Panther ).
This adaptability and the need for a point of difference will become increasingly important as Marvel steps into its next phase, and so the fact that the president of Marvel studios Kevin Feige – the sort of showrunner for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as it were – has allowed directors to implement their own styles and creative visions is essential. Spiderman will have to continue to adapt, because the coming-of-age style narrative cannot hold up much longer – Parker must develop as a character, and grow beyond this – but as a unique selling point, it really does help Far From Home stand on its own two feet and shows that superhero films can still make for a worthwhile experience even beyond the plethora of explorations of the genre that we have already seen. Where can Spiderman go next? Well, with the re-introduction of J.K Simmonds’s J. Jonah Jameson in the post-credits sting and rumours that Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield may be returning for the next instalment in the series, it seems the next Spiderman intends to take the best parts of all three of the films I have reviewed in the past few days and combine them into something epic. And, no matter how tired I am getting of the genre, that is a superhero film I can’t help but be excited about.
At time of writing, Spiderman: Far from Home is available to watch on Now TV/Sky Cinema.