‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ Review: It Ties You to Your Seat
Playboy critic Stephen Rebello reviews Tom Holland’s latest installment as the Marvel web-slinger
Look, I’ll admit right at the top that I don’t need an MCU superhero-movie fix every couple of months, especially considering how satisfying I found the last one, Avengers: Endgame, and that was only released in late April. I’ll also confess that as much as I enjoyed Spider-Man: Homecoming, and as much I flat-out loved Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, I’m not sure how many Spider-Man flicks and changes of actors playing him we need until we’re just, you know, done?
So, I didn’t exactly drive pedal-to-the-metal to catch Spider-Man: Far From Home. But then, up pops the movie, and damn if the whole thing—the direction by Jon Watts (Spider-Man: Homecoming); the witty, zingy dialogue and plot twists nicely set up and paid off by Ant-Man and the Wasp screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers; those vivid performances by Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Marisa Tomei, Zendaya—didn’t pin me into my seat and make me break out in a big grin.
This is a movie that knows who Peter Parker, especially as played by the winning Holland, is: a melancholy, overexcited Midtown High School 16-year-old juggling everyday teenage existential crises, all the while this weird, wonderful superpower courses through him. He’s got it bad for MJ (Zendaya, getting the deadpan charm and the deep hurt just right). His aunt sort of gets him but can’t help making him cringe with her own love affairs and her well-meaning but embarrassing comments, like describing her nephew’s deeply intuitive spider-sense as his “Peter Tingle.”
And the movie never lets us forget that Thanos has obliterated half of all humanity and that, post-blip, Peter is in deep mourning for a certain blazingly charismatic buddy-mentor-father figure who didn’t survive Avengers: Endgame. Plus, we’re told from the jump that the World Is Not Right, especially when residents of Ixtenco, Mexico, report how a “cyclone with a face” has decimated their entire town and that Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) needs Peter to swing back in action; Peter tries to avoid him by ignoring his phone messages.
Fortunately, Holland is the right guy for the job—and the role. Unlike previous Spideys, Holland nails the gawky, earnest and vulnerable stuff, but unlike them, he’s got a joyous, smart-assed comic imp inside him that helps sweep us along on his adventures and brings us inside them. The plot has Peter and his chatterbox nerd pal (the terrific Jacob Batalon) about to fly off with their fellow students on a European science trip, which Peter sees as his chance to evade his Spider-Man burden and to open his heart to the sharp, smart, emotionally guarded MJ. Except she and new guy Brad Davis (Remy Hii) are already throwing off cheesy romantic sparks.
Now, sure, this whole section of the movie is strictly teen-com, coming-of-age stuff, but it’s done with such flair, lightheartedness and sideways, snarky laughs that it just wins you over. The letdown occurs when the superhero stuff begins to kick in. As the high schoolers explore Venice, Italy, we learn that Tony Stark has bequeathed Peter his tinted specs that put Peter in touch with a formidable, super-powerful “Edith”—think Siri, only one that can dispatch drones and gives its wearer direct access to a zillion-dollar intelligence and weaponry system.
It’s Tom Holland who most makes Far From Home the definition of fun, good-hearted summer-movie escapism.
Out of the Venice canals rise these crashing waves of a massive, shape-shifting, typhoon-like water monster—one of the so-called Elementals consisting of earth, wind, fire and air—and, just like that, the fabled city takes a beating. Who will save the world? Who will rise to become the next leader of the Avengers? Three guesses. All the big CGI stuff is as showy as we’ve come to expect in movie after movie. But it’s all the same in these things—trashing international landmarks; heroes and villains getting slammed back and forth; yada, yada, yada. No matter how many webs and Spidey’s throwaway, half-heard quips get slung, the action stuff still feels like a slog and doesn’t measure up to the inspired pop and crackle of what’s around it.
These scenes seem so disconnected from the rest of the movie that you sit there waiting for the clock to run out. Or I did, at least. Fortunately, the chaos introduces us to another superhero warrior battling the Elementals—Quentin Beck, dubbed “Mysterio,” a greenish, fishbowl helmet-wearing magician dressed as a superhero and played by Jake Gyllenhaal with infectious glee and more than a whiff of mystery. Faster than you can say “father surrogate,” he and Peter band together to save Prague. And no, Mysterio can’t hold a candle to Iron Man, but he makes a fun sparring partner for Peter Parker. Spider-Man: Far From Home is filled with twists, reverses and whizbang gimmicks, but it’s Holland who most makes it the definition of fun, good-hearted summer-movie escapism.
Tom Holland helps the joyful film stand out amid the superhero glut
'Far From Home' is not free of the genre's somewhat-predictable tropes