Director: Jon Watts
Stars: Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zendaya
Let’s talk for a little bit about eyewear.
In the DC universe, spectacles serve a very powerful function, and one might argue that without them Superman would be nothing. They are – incredulously – the key to his disguise. Without his specs, he would not be able to live as his alter ego Clark Kent. They maintain his anonymity and are therefore powerful. In a sense they are his protection, and by extension the protection of those around him. A line of defence.
A pair of glasses become fundamentally important in Spider-Man – Far From Home. A pair of hand-me-downs from Tony Stark to Peter Parker (Tom Holland), these specs hold the power of an orbiting weapons platform; a piece of kit called E.D.I.T.H (a genuinely funny acronym). The glasses themselves symbolise responsibility. It’s time for Peter to have a crisis of confidence. Holland’s fifth outing, then, might finally be his coming-of-age story.
The glasses feel strange to Peter, like a child putting on his father’s suit; he’s not quite there yet. But what he needs to learn – what so many of us try haphazardly sometimes – is how to ‘fake it til you make it’. How many of us feel like kids playing at being grown-ups…?
So again, there’s an element of disguise to glasses, and disguise is a running theme in this movie.
Somewhat annoyingly, the events of the last two Avengers films are now referred to as ‘the blip’ (c’mon, ‘the snap’ is better). Life on Earth is carrying on. Life in Queens is carrying on. Peter is back at school and he wants time off from being a superhero. And who can blame him? A school trip to Europe seems like the perfect opportunity to unwind, not to mention get closer to MJ (Zendaya).
But wouldn’t you know it? Cataclysmic superhero shit just doesn’t take a break, and Peter finds himself dogged by Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), who needs his assistance with a yet another global crisis.
A new character, Quentin Beck aka Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), is rather shadily introduced to the franchise. He’s from another dimension. Neat. I mean, if time travel is allowed now, why the hell not? Beck quickly becomes the latest surrogate father-figure for Peter to latch on to, and the two of them fight side-by-side, trying to stop some evil monsters from destroying the planet. But all is not as it appears to be. While Peter struggles to maintain his secret identity, identities around him are shrouded in secrecy.
The lightest and liveliest of the Marvel strands, Jon Watts’ Spider-Man Homecoming was also slyly woke, tapping lightly at the cultural zeitgeist. In that movie kids going to protest was, y’know, the norm. We live in times worth getting worked up over. Far From Home pushes more boldly in this direction. Here – and again this weaves into the theme of disguise – the topic of ‘fake news’ gets a surprisingly thorough work-over. What it is capable of. Who benefits. How susceptible we have become. It’s unexpected that this movie arrives so well armed, especially as it is dressed up in the appearance of a lighter, less consequential instalment in the gigantic MCU.
Even that’s on-theme. Appearances here are deceiving.
For the first hour, Far From Home feels the superhero fatigue that Marvel are coming exceedingly close to conjuring. The storyline involving Mysterio and beasts from another realm feels under-cooked, foggy, and nowhere near as fun as the exploits of Peter and his friends. Watts conjures the easy-going spirit of flicks like Euro Trip and though the script doesn’t crackle as brightly as Homecoming‘s, Far From Home still has the pleasant feel of a no-stakes summer blockbuster.
Come the second hour, however, and the disguises start to slip. As facades fall, the pressing social commentary presses harder and Watts navigates his hero through some of the series’ most imaginative VFX tricks since Doctor Strange. The growing sense of ‘becoming woke’ fuels the movie to a satisfying – if not world-changing – conclusion. And it of course lays the foundations for instalments still to come. Far From Home feels good, but not spectacular. Which is to be expected, considering.
You see, after a barnstorming season finale in which they vanquished the latest Big Bad, the heroes of either TV’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer or Angel (arguably the two shows most influential on the MCU) tended to enter a kind of muted reset mode. The first episodes of the following seasons were about taking a breath, repositioning the characters, regrouping for the next big arc.
In short, very few seasons followed a big blow-out with a firebrand show-defining return. Nobody’s favourite episode of Buffy is ‘Lessons’.
With that in mind, Spider-Man – Far From Home is in an unenviable position; very quickly following-up the all-conquering Avengers: Endgame. It also, keenly, feels far too soon for Marvel to be pushing on regardless. But here we are. The relentless churn is unstoppable at this point.
As such Far From Home serves a bit of a thankless purpose. Nevertheless, there are clearly Big Plans Afoot. For the first time in a very long time, the infamous post-credits sequences (there are two of them) seem genuinely important to the progression of the story, and it seems well-worth your time sticking around for both. At this point Marvel expect you to have seen everything. They assume you’re an uberfan, and they’ve got the box office receipts to prove it. Still, a little boning up on Captain Marvel might steer you well.
Be like Peter Parker; do your homework.