Film Review | Spider-Man: Far from home. Spidey does the European Grand Tour

Marvel Studios shakes off the dust that settles after Avengers: Endgame with an only slightly more low-key adventure that shoves Spider-Man way outside the friendly neighbourhood

The one thing you absolutely cannot say about the Marvel Studios behemoth is that they don’t think things through. Not only have they successfully commandeered several ‘phases’ of their interconnected superhero universe – built to mimic its comic book counterpart with Wagnerian ambition and thrust in the cinematic realm – but they now return to it like ducks to water, in the wake of the most earth-shattering chapter: this year’s Avengers: Endgame.

The really clever thing – and a sign of true confidence – is that the studio is not anxiously trying to replicate the scale and bombast of Endgame. Instead, as the next step forward they offer up a sequel to Spider-Man: Far From Home; the hero being a world-famous but also famously low-key, urbane variant to the clashing titans that make up the rest of the Marvel pantheon.

With ‘Far From Home’, director Jon Watts and writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers ease us back into a Marvel universe still rebuilding itself after earth-shattering and temporally destabilising events. And while it finds our protagonist strangely averse to cracking jokes, the theme of finding new mentors does fit snugly with Peter’s ongoing journey.

While not quite giving up the Spider-Man game yet, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is keen to enjoy a summer getaway with his peers, as a school-sanctioned trek across Europe feels like just the ticket after the devastating events chronicled in ‘Endgame’. With Venice as their first stop, Peter is more preoccupied with wooing his classmate MJ (Zendaya), even if his rival, Brad (Remy Hii) appears to have a running start on that score, having aged five years since the ‘Blip’ in the wake of ‘Endgame’ and emerging as a chiseled hunk. But when ‘Elemental’ monsters begin to sprout out of the sea, romantic angst is forced to take a back seat. Even more so when it is Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who orders a stop to his adolescent dalliances to help deal with the threat.

Because Peter is among the few heroes left that Fury can turn to in the wake of the scene-changing events chronicled in ‘Endgame’. But another super-powered being is on their side: Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhall), nicknamed ‘Mysterio’ by Peter’s friends… a monicker he subsequently adopts in good humour, all the while taking Peter under his wing. But, as is often the case, all is not as it seems.

Humour is certainly not missing from the characteristically light-hearted take that Marvel has cleverly adopted after they managed to wrest Spider-Man at least partly away from the character’s former and inconveniently binding studio commitments (like its predecessor, ‘Far From Home’ is made in collaboration with Columbia). But annoyingly enough, Peter’s own wisecracking-while-fighting is markedly absent this time around, with the bulk of the obvious comic relief being relegated to his best friend and confidante Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon).

In some ways this is a logical choice as the stakes are higher this time around – Peter is really in no mood to play the superhero game, and is forced into some painful situations as the plot makes its necessary crosses and double-crosses along the way. After all, the domino effect of guilt and responsibility on the mind of someone far too young to deserve such an emotional clampdown was always the backbone of the Spider-Man story on page and screen, and Peter is unlikely to be in the mood to dish out snappy one-liners between punches after he’s forced to take centre stage against his will.

Nevertheless, stripping Spider-Man of his jokey demeanour does feel like a low-effort decision, made in the interest of simply moving things along as the plot gets more twisty and the action more explosive. Coupled with a few choppy framing and editing moves (unforgivable in a production this powerful and expensive), you get a sense that Marvel really were running against the clock with this one… eager to push out their snappy new adventure after the satisfying-but-draining epic that was the Avengers saga.

Still, that’s not to say this doesn’t make for a satisfying piece of superhero entertainment; one which, like ‘Homecoming’, zeroes in on the young adult audience in a way that fits their characters’ trajectories. As it has done elsewhere, Marvel also cannily makes use of first-grade acting talent to polish up its product: Jake Gyllenhall takes to that function with aplomb, giving Quentin Beck a slacker-nerd charm that serves as a more inviting flip-side to Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark – a no less avuncular but far more corporate-aristocratic take on the errant-uncle-as-mentor archetype.

The verdict

Losing some points for hollowing out its hero of characteristic wisecracks while delivering the proceedings with a deflatingly workmanlike direction – even more so than previous Marvel Studios releases – ‘Far From Home’ remains a charmingly entertaining ride that baby-steps its way into the next phase of the unstoppable Marvel cinematic juggernaut.

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