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Film Review

Film review: Spider-Man: Far From Home ***

By Preston Wilder

Marvel goes meta in Spider-Man: Far From Home, now approaching the inevitable phase where everything that happens in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) franchise is also a nudge-nudge-wink-wink reference to the franchise itself. “You don’t want any part of this!” cries Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) in the opening minutes, shooting lasers as he battles some CGI monster – and it’s true, we don’t, cutting immediately to opening credits and Whitney Houston singing ‘I Will Always Love You’. The actual battles are fast becoming the most disposable part of a Marvel movie, coming a distant second to the character arcs – if only because the monsters are always defeated, while the character dynamics go on and on.

Then again, nothing lasts forever – and Whitney Houston turns out to be the soundtrack to a high-school video celebrating Tony Stark and the other Avengers killed in Endgame a couple of months ago. Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is tipped to take over – but he, too, doesn’t want any part of this, his lovestruck 16-year-old’s plan being to join his friends on a school trip to Europe, buy something nice for Mary Jane and confess his feelings somewhere romantic, like at the top of the Eiffel Tower. (Mary Jane, by the way, is now ‘MJ’ and – as played by Zendaya – a much spikier package, “funny in a dark way” and not necessarily popular; she likes black dahlias because of the Black Dahlia murder, let’s leave it at that.) It’s a nuisance, because four monsters known as the Elementals are attacking Earth and doing all sorts of damage – but Mysterio, the alien newcomer, seems to be handling it well, so Peter decides to hand over to him as chief Avenger. “It’s clear to me that you’re not ready for this!” says Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), not exactly helping with his gruff manner.

This is where it gets really meta – and also where we get into spoiler territory, though it’s fairly obvious that a twist is on the way (if only because the last Elemental gets vanquished with an hour still to go). Mysterio, it turns out, has been using “illusion tech” – a.k.a. special effects – to create the monsters and establish himself as a superhero, i.e. exactly what Marvel have been doing to all of us for the past 11 years! This is already curious, but his explanation for why he (a disgruntled Stark employee, it turns out) decided to manufacture Mysterio is even curiouser: because “unless you’re flying around in a cape and shooting lasers from your hands, nobody listens”!

Listens? Listens to what? Is the MCU being exposed as mere smoke and mirrors, designed to catch our attention so we’ll ‘listen’ to Marvel’s message? But then what is Marvel’s message? Far From Home does contain a few unexpected digs at fake news, that bogeyman du jour, plus a George Orwell quote and a line about people being willing to “believe anything” in this day and age. Is everyone’s favourite light-hearted comic-book franchise about to get heavy, now that battles with CGI monsters have been outed as a clever ruse?

I guess we’ll see how it goes – but one thing’s for sure: like previous Spider-Mans (but even more so), Far From Home is a film where the fantasy action seems almost irrelevant to the film’s main thrust, which is high-school comedy and Peter as a klutzy teen puppy. Even changing into the Spider-Man suit gives rise to some adolescent awkwardness (MJ discreetly looks away) – and, even though an attempt’s been made to upgrade the action, which now includes some trippy dreamlike sequences à la Doctor Strange, almost everything that’s good about the movie has to do with performance and character.

Come for Spidey saving the world, stay for his well-intentioned “I love Led Zeppelin!” when ‘Back in Black’ comes on (Generation Z, what can you say), or the adorably polite way he offers to lend a hand, if the grown-ups will have him: “Excuse me sir, I can help. I’m really strong, and I’m sticky”. Zendaya’s guarded intelligence and Sam Jackson’s looks of disgust (for a man with an eyepatch, Nick Fury can glower) are the real assets here, just as the Avengers’ personalities ended up being the biggest draw in The Avengers. Maybe soon the Marvel movies will become full-on character comedies, lapsing into cutesy self-consciousness when obliged to feature CGI monsters or other signs of their comic-book origins. We’re almost there.


Directed by Jon Watts

Starring Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zendaya


US 2019             129 mins

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