Review: ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home,’ Comic Relief in Europe

A buoyant comedy, Spider-Man: Far From Home features excellent character development, appropriate stakes, and superhero stuff if you want it. It’s the best live-action Spidey movie since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2.

Whereas Raimi’s installment dipped into bathos to achieve a deeper emotional connection with its post-9/11 audience, director Jon Watts guides the latest adventure through lighter material before reverting to superpowered tropes and heading for the home stretch. This approach proves to be a wise choice after the heavy-handed dramatics evinced in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. (It also reflects well on the decision by the Marvel BrainTrust to allow mellow, newfangled origin story Captain Marvel to unfold in the 1990s, and to be released between the two Avengers as a palate-cleanser.)

Speaking of palate cleansers for the soul, Spider-Man: Far From Home swiftly dispenses with lingering grief over the events in Avengers: Endgame by sending Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and his gang of fellow over-aged classmates off to Europe for a summer vacation. Peter’s main objective is to convert MJ (Zendaya) from his object of attraction into, maybe, perhaps, hopefully, his girlfriend. In a shocking turn from modern conventions, Peter plans to do so with old-school gifts and gestures, rather than sharing intimate photos and/or social media posts.

In this and other ways, the film bows to its long legacy, dating back to 1962 and the character’s creation by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in the pages of a comic book. Not only does the script feature references that have become familiar to superhero movie fans, it also showcases Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio, created in 1964 and here portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal in a standout dramatic performance. Clearly, with an actor of Gyllenhaal’s caliber, the role involves much more than a paycheck, and it is entirely pleasurable to observe how he carefully modulates the character to very good and surprising effect.

The comic and romantic spine of the story belongs to Peter and MJ, so the relaxed chemistry between Tom Holland and Zendaya allows for them to manifest the qualities needed at different stages of the story. Jacob Batalon (as Peter’s best friend Ned Leeds) and the always notable Angourie Rice (as classmate Betty Brant) supply further comic relief as a sort of ‘insta-couple’ once the schoolmates disembark in Europe. A further, though unnecessary, pairing occurs between Jon Favreau (as Avengers assistant Happy Hogan) and Marisa Tomei (as Peter’s young Aunt May), while Martin Starr and JB Smoove play two of the most useless, yet witty teachers along for the trip.

Once the superhero aspect of the story kicks in more fully, Samuel L. Jackson is once again on hand as the supervising Nick Fury, aided by Cobie Smulder as ever-helpful assistant Maria Hill. As usual, far more time than needed is devoted to extended action sequences that have become ‘old hat’ by now, but are an ingredient that is expected, I suppose, by audiences at large.

By that point, I was satisfied by the character comedy and felt content in sitting back during the fights and destruction and disasters, waiting for the inevitable mid-credits and end-of-credits stingers that are intended to tease the next installment in the Marvel series of superhero movies. Spider-Man: Far From Home is at its best, though, when it focuses on the relationship between Peter and MJ, and their friends.

The film is now playing in theaters throughout Dallas.

Advertisements