Thursday, 4 July 2019

Review: Spider-Man - Far From Home (first-pass)

Spider-Man: Far From Home (first-pass / 2D / THEMATIC SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 129 mins / Dir. Jon Watts / Trailer

Well, we're barely half-way through the year and already on to the third entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with Jon Watts' Spider-Man: Far From Home landing in cinemas before Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame have even hit the Blu-ray shelves.

We're in the post-Endgame timeframe, as the world adjusts to life without the heroes they lost fighting Thanos, as well as the odd fact that everyone who disappeared in 'the snap' has returned, albeit five years younger than those who were spared the cull - adressed early in the screenplay and referred to in-universe as 'the blip'. Young Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is still having to balance student-life with being an on-call Avenger. With an imminent school trip to the cities of Europe, Peter hopes to take a back seat from the costumed life and catch the right moment to tell classmate M.J. (Zendaya) that he's grown increasingly fond of her. But naturally a superhero can't go on vacation in much the same way that Hercule Poirot can't book himself into a Travelodge for the weekend and expect peace and quiet.

And so, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Coby Smulders) enlist the web-slinger to assist the multi-dimensional newcomer Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). Beck has come to Earth 616 (ie, the reality we know from all previous movies) from his alternate existence, Earth 813, after it's destroyed by four power-hungry entities known as the Elementals. These aeons-old beasts are attacking major cities with little-to-no warning, and the remnants of S.H.I.E.L.D. need all the help they can get.


Now, perhaps the strongest card played by the movie is how much surface resemblance it bears to its predecessor, Homecoming. The high-school aesthetic eases us gently back into the levity, and a lot of flippant laughs serve to mask more deadpan humour behind. This is a film very much made for people who bought into Parker's pre-Thanos adventure, and viewers who struggled with certain aspects of that will find little to change their minds here. Those aspects are slightly amplified if anything. Of course, Homecoming's strength lay in how self-contained it managed to be in such a sprawling wider narrative. Far From Home has more threads to pull together in that respect, but still manages to do so with its own voice.

But it's not just a disposable action-jaunt. Peter spends the film struggling to form a romantic relationship while people around him breeze in and out of theirs. He's also sorely in need of a mentor-figure, and the shadow of Tony Stark looms over the story and its characters (in a good way).

The title 'Far From Home' is a callback to the 2017 movie and a descriptor for the 2019 sequel, as well as being a nod to The Wizard Of Oz. And much like that classic, there are themes here about identity, responsibility, trust, social-conditioning and most notably Fake News™. In fact, that latter is presented far too boldly to hold the mantle of subtext, feeling both entirely fitting yet painfully on-the-nose. But it's woven into the fabric of the movie and runs throughout (stay until the end of the credits - obviously).


Holland does well in the title role, by now embedded as Parker for a new generation of cinema-goers, and is supported well by an extensive cast returning from both Homecoming and the wider MCU. Sam Jackson illustrates that irritated Nick Fury is the best (and the funniest) Nick Fury. There's another layer to this performance, but that can't be discussed without minute spoilers, which we aren't doing here. On the newbie-front, Jake Gyllenhaal is on predictably solid form and deliberately hard to read. But the most pored-over casting choice in the next few weeks will be the one*1 who seems to suggest that the live action Spider-Man universes may well be pulling together in much the same way as their animated counterpart. Exciting stuff.

Marvel continue to soar in regard to choreography, cinematography and spectacle, and a fantastic nightmare-type sequence means this is arguably the most visually ambitious entry to date. Michael Giacchino returns on score-duties, capitalising on his fantastic work from the last outing, yet not adding too much to the overall soundscape. But his work retains the identity of Homecoming without being just a rehash, and that's not to be sniffed at.

The expansion of the mythos is on slightly looser ground however, with the Elementals bearing more than a passing resemblance to Spider-Man's 2007's antagonist, Sandman, and one particular character's backstory seeming to riff on Jim Carrey's 1995 Riddler. The well can only go so deep obviously, but if you were going to deliberately evoke a pair of superhero movies from years past, would Spider-Man 3 and Batman Forever really be on on that list?


Make no mistake, Spider-Man: Far From Home is an imperfect film, but I love that imperfection. It's easy to make something which looks gorgeous but feels empty, and while this never quite reaches the heights of Homecoming, it's still a two-hour joyride in every sense.
Outstanding work and I grinned throughout.

The business-end (not spoilers, but highlight-to-read anyway):

• Is there a Wilhelm Scream? I dunno. Didn't hear an obvious one?
• Is there a Stan Lee cameo? There isn't, those days have now past.
• Is there a mid-credits scene? There is - stay for this.
• Is there a post-credits scene? There is - stay for this.

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
MCU movies, but the other Spider-Man flick, in particular.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It is.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It is.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Let's not get carried away.
Although this is still fantastic

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Well I LOVE the movie, so only you know if that's likely to happen.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Mace Windu is in this.
What's more, he can apparently make references to Star Wars references. Very meta.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 I won't name the performer in question this time, but I imagine that by the time this review goes live it'll be all over the internet anyway and you'll know exactly who I'm talking about. Because there's no such thing as accidental casting in a movie aimed in no small part at geeks who obsess over every last detail. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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