Review: 'Spider-Man: Far From Home' flies above superhero overkill
Latest saga succeeds but could have benefited from some space from 'Endgame'
The fallout from "Avengers: Endgame" looms large over "Spider-Man: Far From Home." So does the fatigue. Now, less than three months after April's big farewell to the Avengers, it's time to saddle up and save the world yet again, whether you're ready to or not.
Even Spidey himself, gamely played by Tom Holland in already his fifth appearance as the webslinger, admits he's in need of a vacation. "I didn't think I was going to have to save the world this summer," he laments, and we feel his pain. But in a Hollywood driven by superhero product — "Far From Home" is the third Marvel movie of the year, and at least the sixth superhero movie of 2019 — the signs of wear are showing.
Still, the Marvel machine is slick enough at this point that nothing is going to derail it, and "Far From Home" expertly deploys Marvel's winning mix of humor, action and humanity. But as we settle into our seats for yet another adventure of good vs. evil, pop music tunes and superhero worship, it's with a sigh that we accept this is the world we live in now.
But at what cost? In "Spider-Man: Far From Home," that question is posed early. The film deals with a post-"Endgame" world, where the time-shifting events of that movie have caused a five year "blip" in the timeline, and the world is mourning — warning: "Endgame" spoiler to follow! — the death of Tony Stark. And apparently, it's not just the characters in the movie dealing with the loss of Robert Downey Jr.'s character; at a screening of the film, the in-house audience applauded wildly when Stark's image hit the screen, an alarming commentary on our cultural investment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You guys do know these are just movies, right?
Timely, then, that "Far From Home" takes the idea of fiction vs. reality and plays with it in a self-reflective, meta-commentary fashion. The film's villain, a reveal that comes midway through the film (don't worry, no spoilers here), uses projections of reality to play with people's minds, and they're never quite sure what's real and what's not. The same, clearly, can be said of the audience. We're watching CGI projections of mass destruction, engineered for our entertainment. But what's real, and what does real mean? Is what we see real, or is the world we live in a projection?
It's the closest to "The Matrix" the MCU has ever come, and "Far From Home" is the first Marvel film to hold a mirror up to the audience watching in theaters (and eventually at home, and probably one day in museums and public squares erected in Marvel's honor).
Aside from that, "Far From Home" convincingly deals with the reality of Peter Parker, the 16-year-old kid from Queens who is in over his head with all this Spider-Man business. Parker is headed to Europe for a class trip where he plans to tell M.J. (Zendaya), how he really feels about her, and that's about all he can handle for one summer. There's a believable current of high school-level chemistry running through them: M.J. is dark and weird and awkward, and Parker is weird and awkward and transfixed with her, in an aw-shucks teenage crush kind of way. His goal for the trip abroad is to land a kiss from her while atop the Eiffel Tower.
Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has other plans. He interrupts Parker's trip and warns him of the Avengers-level threat at large: monsters made up of Earth's elements are wreaking havoc across the globe, and he needs Spidey's help to stop a fire monster from laying waste to Prague. He'll be teamed with Mysterio, a superhero visiting from a parallel dimension, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who once nearly replaced Tobey Maguire in the original "Spider-Man" series. (Talk about self-reflexive.)
Parker, who has been entrusted as the heir to Stark's throne, hits it off with his new super-pal, and they bond over drinks (Parker's being non-alcoholic, of course.) After all, there's only a few souls out there who understand the demands placed on superheroes these days, especially one who just wants a little downtime to be a teenager.
So we have a reluctant superhero, a major threat to humanity and yes, questions of power and responsibility. Martin Starr and J.B. Smoove are on board as comic relief, playing a pair of trip chaperones, and Jacob Batalon and Angourie Rice are sharp as Parker's classmates.
Aside from the usual onslaught of special effects — Jon Watts, who also directed 2017's "Spider-Man: Homecoming," is in charge here — there is a lot of hand-wringing about life after Stark and who will replace Stark, whose image appears on walls and murals in the film like like that of a religious figure. Judging by audience reactions, it's another of the film's examples of art imitating life, even if it didn't know it. As Marvel moves forward with its next "phase" of entertainment, someone must be chosen to lead the Avengers into the future. With its blurring of illusion and reality, "Far From Home" suggests that choice will have ramifications both on-screen and off.
'Spider-Man: Far From Home'
Rated PG-13: for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments
Running time: 135 minutes