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Josh Reviews Spider-Man: Far From Home

While Avengers: Endgame was an epic, enormous culmination to the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, it was actually Spider-Man: Far From Home that was the official end to Marvel’s “Phase Three” of films.  (Kevin Feige just announced an exciting and weird array of films and TV shows that will make up “Phase Four” — I’ll have more to say, soon, about all of those announcements.)  Serving as something of an epilogue to Endgame and also an exciting tease of the shape of the MCU in the years ahead, Far From Home is a spectacular film.  It’s fun and funny and sweet and emotional and action-packed.  I loved pretty much every single moment of the film.  Marvel is sure making it look easy at this point; I strive to remind myself while watching every single one of these films just how difficult and unusual it is to make these sorts of super-hero films be great.  For Marvel to be succeeding film after film after film is simply extraordinary.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is set after the events of Endgame.  The film spends some time exploring the repercussions of the climactic events of Endgame (more on this below), but for the most part it puts the galaxy-shaking events of Endgame aside to focus on a much smaller-scale story.  Peter Parker and his classmates are going on a school trip to Europe.  Peter is eager to leave the responsibilities of being Spider-Man behind, and to just have fun with his friends.  But Nick Fury has other ideas: the spy-master wants Peter’s help combating a new menace from across the multiverse.  Along the way, Peter meets a new ally: Mysterio, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who is stepping into the void left by the death of you-know-who at the end of Endgame, a responsibility that Peter is resisting taking on.

Far From Home is a fantastic film.  Director Jon Watts and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (all three of who returned to the Spidey franchise after Spider-Man: Homecoming) demonstrate a perfect mastery of tone from start to finish in the film.  Far From Home is a very, very funny film.  The script is great and the talented cast are extremely funny.  There are some huge laughs in the film.  And yet, critically, Far From Home is not just a farce.  There are real stakes in the film.  Not galaxy-shaking stakes like in Endgame.  But for Peter Parker and the other characters in the film, the emotional (and, eventually, physical as well) stakes are very high.  And so the audience is engaged with the film right from the beginning.  We care about these characters and are invested in what happens to them.  This is an extremely difficult balance to find, and yet Marvel seems to be able to do it consistently.

Astonishingly, this is already Tom Holland’s fifth film playing Peter Parker/Spider-Man.  He is so definitively the character at this point.  Mr. Holland is so perfect at playing the classic Peter Parker heroism and sense of responsibility, while also allowing this Peter to really feel like a high school kid.

Jake Gyllenhaal is a wonderful addition to the MCU as Mysterio.  I can’t believe this crazy character from the comics, with such a goofy look (that cloudy fishbowl helmet!!) has now appeared on-screen in a movie!!  And as Marvel always seems to be able to do, they made a lot of changes to the character to update it and make it work in the MCU, while at the same time also being very faithful to the essence of the character from the comics.  This is without question Mysterio!  I love the look of the character’s costume in the film.  The costume has all the elements of classic Mysterio, but it it’s been tweaked just enough so that it totally works on screen.  Jake Gyllenhaal is terrific in the role; he’s able to effectively take the audience through the character’s twists and turns.  I love his rapport with Tom Holland’s Peter.

All of the kids in the film are so great.  Zendaya was good in Homecoming, but here she really steps into focus as a very different MJ than we’ve seen before.  I love her interpretation of the character.  I love how weird and idiosyncratic her MJ is.  And I love how smart she is.  (It’s great that she figures out Peter’s secret before he can tell her.)  Jacob Batalon is fantastic again as Ned (though, again, I wish they’d just call this character Ganke, because he is in every way a perfect depiction of Ganke from Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man comics).  I love that Ned got a whole little romance subplot!  That was so sweet and so funny.  Angourie Rice was great as Betty Brant (she had a sort of Millie from Freaks and Geeks vibe); she and Mr. Batalon’s Ned were a great pairing.  I loved Tony Revolori’s Flash Thompson in Homecoming, and he had some great funny moments here too.  (There was a very interesting beat at the end in which we get a peek at Flash’s home life, when no family members arrive to greet him after their trip.  That told us a whole world of information about this character.)

I was so happy to see Martin Starr (Freaks and Geeks, Silicon Valley) appear as one of Peter’s teachers in Homecoming, and I was delighted that he was back, with even more screentime, here in Far From Home.  And that he was paired with J. B. Smoove (Curb Your Enthusiasm) as a new teacher character added to the mix?  Amazing!  The two of them were so funny.  (Yes, J. B. Smoove was basically playing the same character he plays in Curb, just with less cursing, but he was so funny I didn’t care.)

Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan has been a comedic secret weapon in the MCU ever since the very first Iron Man back in 2008.  I love that they have made Happy such an integral part of the Spider-Man films.  I love the idea of his being in a relationship with May, and he’s a very interesting sort of new father figure for Peter (who is always looking for father figures in his life).  Mr. Favreau is so funny, and he’s also able to beautifully play several important, earnest moments in the film.

Another character from that very first Iron Man is, of course, Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, and it was terrific to see him back for this film, along with Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill (she first appeared in Avengers).  Marisa Tomei is still brilliant as Aunt May (a very different type of Aunt May than the way she was portrayed in the comics).  May doesn’t have as much to do in this film as she did in Homecoming, but she’s great in her few scenes.

One of my only complaints about Endgame (SPOILERS HERE gang, so beware), was the problematic (to me) idea at the end that half of the world’s population lived through five dark years in which friends and loved ones vanished with no explanation, only for all of those people to then magically reappear, the same age they were five years earlier.  That seems to me to open up all kinds of very complicated, difficult questions that I suspected these movies wouldn’t be interested in answering.  Wouldn’t society have almost completely collapsed in those five years?  Wouldn’t people be incredibly scarred to have believed their children/spouses/loved ones were dead for five years, only to have them reappear miraculously alive/unaged?  Wouldn’t some people have remarried?  How horrible would that be to believe your spouse was dead, remarry, only then for that person to reappear?  (I didn’t want everything to be undone/erased at the end of Endgame, but since Tony could do ANYTHING he wanted with the unlimited power of the Infinity Gauntlet, I thought it would have been much smoother to have reset the world and the universe back to the way it had been five years earlier, while still preserving the some/all of the characters’ memories.)

Those are very sticky, tricky issues.  Far From Home almost completely bypasses them, treating it as a joke (with a comedic image of a marching band reappearing in the middle of a basketball game, etc.).  We hear May talk briefly at a fundraiser about reappearing in the apartment that had been hers and scaring the new occupant, but we don’t go much deeper than that.  Even the name that Far From Home gives to Thanos’ snap, “the blip,” feels light and inconsequential, not like the devastating, emotionally wrenching series of events it feels to me like it should have been.  I am not complaining about the choices made here in Far From Home.  I think playing these events lightly, and for laughs, was exactly the right choice for this film.  It’s great to address those events and then move on.  We’re not supposed to think about the ridiculous coincidence that all Peter’s close friends — all the main kids from Homecoming — all “blipped” out so that they’re all now still the same age here in this film.  This is a weakness of Endgame, I think, that the resolution of that film left all of these problems hanging.  (It’s one of the very few weaknesses of Endgame, a film that I loved a lot.)

Other thoughts:

* I loved the sequences in the film in which Mysterio used all of his mastery of illusions to create a crazy, fast-moving web of illusions around Spidey, so that Spidey couldn’t tell what was real and what was fake.  I am so impressed by how powerfully this type of scene, which we’ve seen a number of times over the years in the comics, was so beautifully and effectively brought to life on screen.  Extraordinary visual effects and editing.  Really amazing stuff.

* I loved the way the film explored Peter’s grief over the death of Tony in Endgame, and how hard Peter was fighting against his usual Parker sense of responsibility for everything and everyone.  It’s very human and real that, following Endgame, Peter truly just wanted to be a normal kid again for a while.  I really liked how much of a meal the film made of exploring this aspect of the Endgame fallout.

* Spidey had a number of different costumes in the film, from his “Iron Spider” look in the beginning to the newly-designed black-and-red suit at the end.  I thought all the different looks were effective, though I preferred the more-classic blue-and-red suit Peter wore in the middle of the film (basically the suit he wore in Homecoming).

* I cannot express how happy I was when Mysterio referred to the Earth of the Marvel Universe as Earth 616.  What a beautiful, geeky comic book reference!!  Unlike in DC, where the main DC universe is usually referred to as the “Prime” universe, I have always loved the Marvel idea that our universe isn’t any more important than any other universe in the multiverse.  It’s not universe #1, it’s #616 out of many thousands/millions/etc.  (The idea of the Marvel Earth as the 616 was created by Dave Thorpe in Captain Britain comics several decades ago; it was then used by Alan Moore when he took over Captain Britain, and by Chris Claremont in X-Men.  More info can be found here.)  Coming after the amazing Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, I was so happy to see the multiverse concept referenced here in a live-action MCU film!  Of course, in the end, we learned that Mysterio wasn’t actually from an alternate universe… but with the title of the next Dr. Strange film now announced as being Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it looks like the MCU will soon be exploring this multiverse concept further, in a big way.  (Does that mean that Mysterio just made up the idea of the MCU Earth being the 616?  Maybe so, but forget that: in my heart, the MCU is confirmed as the 616!!)

* I really enjoyed the way the film handled Mysterio’s character.  For long-time comic book fans like me, we know that Mysterio is a villain.  But the MCU has surprised us before (such as by making the Skulls good guys in Captain Marvel), so it was conceivable to me that Mysterio in this film would be a hero.  I enjoyed the way the early part of the film played Mysterio as completely heroic and above-board, with no hint of subterfuge.  That was fun for me, as I was wondering as the film unfolded how this would all play out; whether Mysterio would wind up being a hero or a villain in the end.  And I think for people coming in with no knowledge of the character, Mysterio’s reveal was a surprise.  (The only thing that tipped the film’s intentions, for me, was the lack of any other clear villain.  The “elementals” didn’t feel interesting or unique enough to be the film’s only villains, so I assumed that it would have to ultimately be Mysterio.)

* When Mysterio revealed his true plan, the film briefly stepped into a slightly awkward scene of exposition.  But at the same time, I loved all of the connections to previous Marvel films!  I adore the idea that it was Beck who invented the holographic system we saw Tony demonstrate in Captain America: Civil War (and I love how angry Beck was that Tony renamed his system “Bart”!).  And I was so happy and surprised to see the scientist who worked for Obadiah Stane in the first Iron Man film back here!

* While I didn’t expect Liz (Laura Harrier) or her father Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), from Homecoming, to reappear in this film, I was a little surprised that there wasn’t even a brief mention of Liz by any of her friends/classmates here.  I also do hope that a future film will someday follow up on the Homecoming stinger and Toomes’ knowledge of Peter’s secret identity.  (Though maybe that is moot now, following this film’s mid-credits sequence??  Speaking of which…)

* The mid-credits sequence in this film was one of the best “stingers” in any Marvel film!!  (SPOILERS AHEAD, so beware!!)  I was BOWLED OVER in joy and surprise when J. K. Simmons reappeared as J. Jonah Jameson!!!  Mr. Simmons’ extraordinarily perfect portrayal of J.J.J. in the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films was one of the best aspects of those films.  Jameson and the Daily Bugle have been mostly absent, both from the rebooted Amazing Spider-Man films and also from the rebooted-again MCU Spider-Man films.  It’s great getting the Bugle and J.J.J. back — I love this version of Jameson as an angry on-line commentator — and having J. K. Simmons back in the role is just too perfect.  I love this so much.

* I also loved, by the way, the final post-credits stinger, in which we see that Nick Fury has actually been in space the whole time, while his Skrull friends Talos and Soren from Captain Marvel (played by Ben Mendelsohn and Sharon Blynn, both reprising their roles from Captain Marvel) have been impersonating him on Earth.  That was great!  What is Nick doing off in space?  (I assume this will connect to the Captain Marvel sequel that surely is coming somewhere down the line.). Also: how long has Nick on Earth been a Skrull??  (Remember the online theory that there was evidence in Avengers: Age of Ultron that Nick was a Skrull???  Has Nick been a Skrull for most of the previous times we’ve seen him on-screen???)

I loved Spider-Man: Far From Home!  This is another brilliant success from Marvel, and a triumphant ending to the MCU’s “Phase Three.”  We’re entering a lot of new territory with the new films and characters being announced for “Phase Four”… I can’t wait to see what’s next…

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