Following up the biggest blockbuster release of all time is no easy task.
Two months after “Avengers: Endgame” concluded an epic 22-movie saga, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” is here to officially wrap up Phase 3 of Marvel’s never-ending universe and tease what’s to come.
Now that everyone has returned from “The Blip,” we get our first look at life post-Thanos. Unfortunately, that means post-Tony Stark, too. Everywhere Peter Parker (Tom Holland) turns, he sees tributes to Iron Man and his heroic sacrifice. The rest of the world may have lost a superhero, but Peter lost his mentor and father figure.
As if the candlelight vigils and spray paint murals aren’t enough, the movie starts with a ridiculous yet touching in memoriam broadcast on the Midtown High School morning announcements, featuring all the heroes lost in “Endgame,” complete with Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” as background music.
Back at school, Peter’s friend group is reunited at last, and for the most part, it’s unchanged. While a few classmates are now five years older due to surviving Thanos’ snap, the key players, like Ned (Jacob Batalon) and MJ (Zendaya), were dusted away alongside Peter. Because they all disappeared during the middle of the term, Peter and Co. are being forced to repeat the school year, kicking things off with an educational summer trip to Europe.
After everything he’s been through, Peter is ready for some much needed vacation, sans Spider-Man. He’s even worked out an elaborate multi-step plan to create the perfect moment to tell MJ how much she means to him. Ah, young love.
Too bad Nick Fury doesn’t give a damn.
Despite intentionally leaving his Spidey suit at home, Peter receives a surprise visit from Fury, and suddenly the S.H.I.E.L.D. director has commandeered the field trip. There’s no time for romance, the world needs Spider-Man to help stop a mysterious new threat: The Elementals. Harnessing the elemental (get it?) powers of earth, wind, water and fire, these four beings are wreaking havoc across the globe, and the next attack will be in Prague. At least that’s what Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal) says. Beck is a new hero dubbed Mysterio, and he claims to come from an alternate Earth recently destroyed by the Elementals. Fury tasks Mysterio and Spider-Man with taking down these monsters before they can destroy their Earth, too.
Anyone with any sort of background knowledge of Spider-Man knows the truth about Mysterio. Unless the MCU decided to drastically change things, Mysterio is no hero at all. Instead, he’s a scheming supervillain and master of illusion, and in this rendition, he’s hellbent on getting revenge on his former employer Tony Stark and wants to replace him as the next superhero to be worshipped.
This is where “Far From Home” runs into a few issues in its first act. While it’s fair to assume not everyone has that basic understanding of Spider-Man’s history, what is clear is that something is fishy with Mysterio. As a result, the first third of the film is spent slowly dragging along until the imminent twist is ultimately revealed.
Surprise, surprise. Mysterio is actually no hero at all. He’s from regular old Earth and he doesn’t even have any otherworldly powers. What he does have is Tony Stark’s extremely advanced drone-fueled projector system, and that’s how he’s been fooling everyone into believing he’s a monster-fighting superhero. As Beck points out, people will believe anything they see, even if it’s not real and only a digital projection.
After realizing he’s been fooled, Spidey must right the ship and take down Beck before he can cement himself as the world’s greatest hero and destroy half of London in the process.
While “Far From Home” doesn’t live up to the incredibly high standard set by “Homecoming,” it’s still able to channel the same wit, humor and heart that made its predecessor so enjoyable. The driving force behind these charms is the film’s impeccable cast, which reaffirms itself as the most well-cast group in the entire MCU.
For years Marvel, and fans, struggled to find the perfect Peter Parker, and now five movie in, Holland is most definitely the answer. Alongside him, Batalon and Zendaya are the incredibly charming co-stars, enhancing Holland’s character while each adding their own compelling storylines, too.
However, the greatest star of “Far From Home” is Gyllenhaal. Anyone who’s glimpsed social media in the last month has become enamored by Gyllenhaal and Holland’s blossoming bromance, and it carries over on screen. Before the big twist, the two hit it off and it seems as if Beck could serve as Peter’s new mentor, but once Beck’s true motives are revealed, his performance shifts entirely.
Instead of the charming and compassionate hero, he becomes an overdramatic and loose cannon more akin to an exasperated theater director than a menacing supervillain. So, basically, he goes full Gyllenhaal.
After something as high-stakes as “Endgame,” it’s nice to bring things down a few notches with a film like “Far From Home.” We saw it last summer, too, when “Ant-Man and the Wasp” followed “Infinity War.” While some entries in the MCU depend on the series’ overarching narrative, “Far From Home” is an extremely character driven film, focusing on the relationships between its teenage heroes more so than the end of the world. Yes, there are still great stakes, but at the same time, Peter’s relationship with MJ feels just as important as the impending doom.
It’s clear the MCU is in good hands moving forward, as Holland’s Spider-Man looks poised to take the reins and lead us into Phase 4. “Far From Home” is a light, enjoyable summer hit that concludes one era, while setting the stage for the next decade of superheroes.
Star Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.