How do you follow up a film like Avengers: Endgame?
Much like the onus placed on Peter’s shoulders following his mentor’s death, Spider-Man: Far From Home faced seemingly impossible expectations upon release. Following close on the heels of Endgame‘s blockbusting success and the critical acclaim received by Into The Spider-Verse, the bar was set ridiculously, distressingly high for the web-swinger’s next solo outing. However, while Far From Home feels much more like an Endgame epilogue than a Homecoming sequel, it still pays homage to MCU films past while furthering the Marvel story in significant and exciting ways.
In the post-Endgame world to which we’re introduced, victims of “the blip” have returned five years later having not aged; while only directly dealt with briefly and comedically in the opening minutes, the consequences are nonetheless felt throughout the remainder of the film. The planet is yearning for the next Iron Man and Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is still grappling with the loss of his father figure – the shoes he feels he has to fill – and his growing romantic feelings towards classmate MJ (Zendaya), which he intends to act on during his upcoming science trip around Europe. Unfortunately for Peter, mysterious elementals have shown up and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) wants Spider-Man’s help to take them down. But he’s not alone… Quentin Beck (played to perfection by Jake Gyllenhaal) – aka Mysterio – a dimension-hopping soldier from an alternate Earth ravaged by the same creatures, is here in an attempt to stop them.
Anyone familiar with Spider-Man’s original rogues’ gallery will have some idea of what happens next however. Mysterio is unmasked as a disgruntled ex-Stark employee, the elementals little more than special effects trickery. Here, the villain is just glib enough to avoid the audience from taking him too seriously, as Gyllenhaal’s knowing performance trades cruel iniquity for friendliness – a kind heretofore unseen from MCU villains – when the time is right. Like most Marvel entries, the film flip-flops between pithy banter and big action set pieces, but the former of these seems especially tight given its leads expert comic timing, often by the courtesy of Peter’s romantic fumbles or sidekick Ned’s (Jacob Batalon) budding relationship with fellow student Betty Brant (Angourie Rice).
That’s not to say that the action in Far From Home is in any way inferior to previous ‘funny’ MCU movies – it isn’t. While it isn’t explicitly spelled-out on screen, Spider-Man’s powers of wall-crawling and web-swinging aren’t much use against monsters of what he thinks are water and fire, so Peter is forced to get creative, and this creativity is the film’s strongest asset. Mysterio’s illusion tech is put on full display in some impressive CGI sequences, rivalling even Into The Spider-Verse‘s levels of dizziness and visual flair. Those who aren’t coming at it from an MCU expert-level perspective needn’t worry however, as the emotions felt throughout Far From Home are at its crux: Peter’s relationship with MJ, his longing for a normal life and, most crucially, the large Iron boots he feels he has to fill. Peter is an audience surrogate in this way, still processing the loss of a favourite superhero.
There’s a brief moment in Far From Home as Happy Hogan, Stark’s number two, watches as Peter fashions himself a new Spidey suit in the way Tony once would have. With little but a flicker of pride, his face says it all: despite the loss of Iron Man, the MCU is in safe hands. Since the release of Iron Man back in 2008 the defining characteristic of Marvel in cinema has been that recognition of small emotions amid epic action, and if that isn’t the keynote of the entire Infinity Saga, what is?