YIN/YANG REVIEWS: Spider-Man: Far From Home / Jessica Jones (Season 3)
By Derek May:
YIN: Spider-Man: Far From Home
For those thinking that the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) might simply phone it in after the massive success of Avengers: Endgame, think again. Spider-Man: Far From Home is not only a solid and worthy follow-up to 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, not only a successful cap to the “Phase Three” group of films thus scheduled for release, but is likely to go down as one of the strongest and most enjoyable entries in the 21st century stable of superhero films.
Yeah, it’s pretty freakin’ good.
Much of that owes to the successful balance of beholding to the previous MCU films while also crafting a completely original adventure. Unless you’ve been living in a movie bubble, you likely know that Endgame snapped the missing 50% of life back into the universe—albeit 5 years later. That disparity is addressed, if not harped on, in the new film but more relevant is the impact of Tony “Iron Man” Stark’s sacrificial demise to stop Thanos. The world is in mourning, and Tony’s face is literally inescapable. But those closest to him feel his absence most, and perhaps none more keenly than Peter Parker (Tom Holland). The overarching theme of the film is Spider-Man’s ability and willingness to step up and take on a leadership role in the new Avengers. As you can imagine, that’s lot to put on a 16 year old’s shoulders, and the struggle is dealt with in a very honest and personal way.
Beyond that, the film carries on from Homecoming with Peter still very much a teenager relishing his role as a friendly neighborhood do-gooder while also dealing with school, friendship, rivalries, and most importantly, love. If Peter might only offer a moment’s hesitation to face down aliens, super-villains, and five-story monsters, he’s downright terrified to tell the girl of his dreams how he feels. It’s sweet and very much in keeping with the comics, but is really sold by Holland’s baby-faced affable relatability.
All of these issues are expertly woven into a single tableau when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) hijack’s Peter’s class trip to Europe in order to conscript him into helping stop the Elementals, enormous beings of destructive power that have come to our Earth (yes, the notion of a multiverse is suggested here—hey, that’s not a spoiler, it’s in the trailer) along with magical hero Mysterio, a.k.a Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal). Beck and Fury are shorthanded on heroes following Endgame, and so Parker is challenged to choose between his mundane concerns and the fate of the entire world.
These are obviously some huge issues for Peter to struggle through, and so it’s refreshing when Beck becomes a bent ear and ally. The relationship built between Parker and Beck is endearing, and you can feel the real-life comradery between Holland and Gyllenhaal seep through. They play off each other wonderfully, effectively countering Jackson’s harder-nosed approach. If you know the comics, you know it might not last, and there are plenty of beautifully crafted twists that feel completely organic and yet also harken back to the previous films in subtle but effective ways.
Thus, the film understands that the battles must compliment the emotional stakes, and they’ve done a masterful job at designing some revolutionary action sequences that ratchet up the tension directly because of what the characters are all going through. Peter’s journey here isn’t so trite as whether to accept his calling or understand what it means to be a hero. He knows—been there, done that. No, it’s about understanding that he’s his own kind of hero, and his fights become personal even as cities crumble around him. It may seem simple, even obvious, but it’s a tough feat to pull off, and writer/director John Watts mysteriously manages to make the magic work (see what I did there?).
One of my favorite aspects of this new Spidey incarnation is the time taken to flesh out Peter’s inner world, including his school, friends, and intelligence. Peter’s relationship with his best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon), is every bit as awesome as it was in Homecoming, if not more so. The duo aren’t just in it as hero and would-be sidekick, but as two friends navigating the rough waters of teenage relationships. Ned has an amazing little journey of his own here that perfectly encapsulates that era of life. The school trip feels authentic in how each character relates to it, and having been on a few of those myself, I could definitely relate. Actually, even more disturbingly synchronistic was watching Peter lay out his perfect plan to tell Mary Jane (Zendaya) how he feels and of course having a myriad of obstacles completely disrupt it. I recently experienced the exact same thing on our trip to London last month to propose to my girlfriend, with it ending up much the same way it does here (mini-spoiler). We even stood in all the same locales we saw on screen! Shivers!
At any rate, the movie understands that we need to keep the audiences interested in the characters more than the action and does so through the various themes of relationship. Everyone has their pair, from Fury and Hill to Happy and May. And had this been any typical film, we might have been forced into more than one cringe-worthy damsel or lad in distress scenario, but instead just about everyone faces danger very much on their own terms. In fact, this is another surprising strength of the film, its ability to understand and acknowledge an audience’s expectations and immediately subvert them. Several times a character will literally say what the audience is thinking, such as how Spider-Man can be in Europe without immediately having his identity revealed (because people aren’t really that stupid). It’s refreshing and shows a respect to the viewer that keeps them invested and eager to see where the story takes us if not toward the obvious.
This also keeps the tone light and fresh, as there’s something of a wink to the camera without ever breaking the reality of the situation. The movie is funny and heartwarming, but still able to bring a tear to the eye when called upon. It’s every bit the roller-coaster that a summer blockbuster should be, and that’s not by accident. Aside from the splendid work by Watts, co-writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, and guru Kevin Feige, the cast does such an impressive job to effortlessly capture the mood and ingratiate themselves to the audience.
That starts from the top, and Holland seems perfectly at ease in the role after four previous turns. He’s far less awkward than Maguire and more self-assured than Garfield. He’s the first to look believably like a teenager and express more of those angst-ridden emotions. He’s got the physical skills, and you totally buy in that he could be the brainy nerd and the badass hero. But his ability to play through the gamut of emotions is simply breathtaking, as no one aspect ever feels labored or unnatural, unlike some of his predecessors.