Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)
Spider-Man went through so many reboots in such a short time that it was ridiculous to expect audiences to stay around for each iteration. The ironic part is that it took years to get one of the most popular superheroes on the big screen, finally arriving with the 2002 Sam Raimi film. After Raimi's trio of films a new shot at the franchise, The Amazing Spider-Man, when down in flames after the second movie. It was to the credit of everyone involved in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that when they brought him back it was in Captain America: Civil War, and not a standalone film.
When that standalone film, Spider-Man: Homecoming, did arrive, it was an enjoyable surprise. We were treated to a film where the makers correctly estimated that everyone already knew the origin story and, in a twist many of the Marvel films, gave us a human villain for Peter Parker to deal with rather than some giant worldwide threat. The humor worked, the characters (even Parker's friend Ned and potential romantic interest MJ) were people that you cared about rather than just plot motivators. Even better, though still a teenager, this version's Peter Parker was much more in the spirit of the comics.
A sequel was announced almost immediately, and as things turned out Spider-Man: Far from Home was put in a position where it had some major expectations. After the success of Homecoming and the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, much was expected from the next live-action film. The pressure did not let up after it was announced that this would be the first movie following Avengers: Endgame, and basically a coda to Phase 3 of the MCU. Although financially successful, there was no way that the movie could live up to every expectation.
Eight months after the Avengers undo the Snap (referred to as the Blip by everyone else), the world is trying to adjust to everyone suddenly being back. While Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and his Aunt May (Marissa Tomei) attempt to get their lives back on track, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) reaches out to Parker through Tony Stark's former assistant Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). Parker, however, wants none of it; his plan is to go on a European trip with his class and reveal his feelings for MJ (Zendaya) once they get to the Eiffel Tower. Meanwhile, his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) just wants the two of them to have fun - but is shortly distracted himself by Betty Brant (Angourie Rice), a classmate that he is sat next to on the plane.
Unfortunately things don't work out as planned. While the class is in Venice it is attacked by a water elemental, and Parker aids a man named Quinton Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), whom the press dub Mysterio. Beck states he is from an alternate Earth where the Elementals rose up and destroyed the planet. Despite Parker's initial unwillingness to join in with the plan to vanquish the Elementals, Fury reroutes the class trip to Pragueto make sure Parker is where he needs to be, and also provides him with a new suit so no one will become suspicious that he is Spider-Man. The fire elemental appears as predicted, and together Parker and Beck defeat it, leading to Parker making the decision that Beck should be the one to have Stark's mantle as the world's superhero rather than Spider-Man.
Problem is, as soon as Parker starts to move forward, MJ discovers his secret, as well as Mysterio's: the attacks were orchestrated by him, and now he has control over all of Stark's assets thanks to Parker handing him control of EDITH, Stark's main control program. Mysterio plans on creating an event in London that appears to be massive in scale in order for his services as the world's next major superhero can be solidified. Of course, he has a bunch of pesky kids he must get rid of first.
I know it would have been copying Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2, but it would have been much better to have someone like Doctor Octopus in the villain role. While the above may seem like I am spoiling too much, the sad fact is that everything is telegraphed long before it happens. We have seen this plot before - supposed friend turns out to be the villain - that it is now as lazy as rewriting the same origin story over and over again. Beck's motivations are convoluted, silly and smacks of the plot of Iron Man 2 as well as desperation. Writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers seem like they really wanted to bring this particular villain to the screen, but had no idea what to do with him. Thus, unlike in Homecoming, we are treated to another bland Marvel villain that's just their so the hero has something to do.
That's a shame, because Jake Gyllenhaal seems determined to make him unique, while he seems hamstrung by the script that was handed him. He gets a nice hammy speech and also a number of lines that make it clear he's much more like the man he hates so much than he believes, and he sells the character. Maybe there was more in original cuts of the film that fleshed him out, but it seems like Gyllenhaal really wanted to have fun with it, while the writers and director Jon Watts were wanting to go too traditional.
Happily, Tom Holland has not lost any of the Joy he has playing Peter Parker, and he, Jacob Batalon, Zendaya and, to a lesser degree, Jon Favreau and Marissa Tomei carry the film. Everything that happens between Parker and his friends, or with him dealing with a budding romance between Aunt May and Happy, is much more entertaining and interesting than his fight with Mysterio. Happily there is a good deal of this throughout, as it is in these scenes that the feeling from Homecoming carries over.
It appears that there will be another Spider-Man film in the future (I know there they are working on another Spider-Verse film as well, which in many ways I am looking forward to more) now that Disney and Sony have come to an agreement. Hopefully that will be before all the cast has graduated from college and settled down to domestic bliss, since the ending hints at much more to come, and hopefully much more interesting a villain in the future. Hopefully the next Spider-Man film will also seem less like an afterthought to the bigger picture when it comes to Phase 4.
Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)
Time: 129 minutes
Starring: Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zendaya, Jacob Batalan, Jon Favreau, Marissa Tomei, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Jon Watts