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WATCHING THE MOVIES: Spider-Man: Far From Home

Spidey's back, this time balancing both a hectic summer vacation and Marvel fans' high expectations.

As Sam said in The Return of the King: “Well, I’m back.” So let’s talk about a Marvel film that essentially functions as an epilogue to their sprawling Infinity Saga, an introduction to what’s next, and a fun self-contained film – all at once.

Kevin Feige, the Mad Titan of the MCU, has made it clear that Spider-Man: Far From Home is intended to serve as the final film in Phase 3 – that is, the third act of the studio’s Infinity Saga. And for those of you who don’t see these movies or aren’t nerds, the Infinity Saga is just a nifty way of branding the ten-plus years of story the Marvel movies have been telling.

But Marvel also has to preview what comes next. Following up on their historic success will be a difficult task. And it’s entirely possible that they’ll have to fight again for fans’ attention in this brave new franchise-driven Hollywood they made. So Far From Home has to drop enough hints about Marvel’s future to intrigue both hardcore and general fans.

And to top off these twin aims (both of which have less to do with the film and more to do with fan expectations), Marvel had to create a movie that would do justice to one of the greatest superheroes of all time in Spider-Man. The web-slinger has fans all his own, and though Marvel succeeded in the Spider-centric department once prior with Homecoming, the incredible success of Sony’s animated Into the Spider-Verse and the Spider-Man video game meant those fans now had a high bar for storytelling and execution.

So how does Far From Home do in checking those three boxes: past, present, and future?

Well! It does well.

I know, that was underwhelming. But for a chunk of the film, I was underwhelmed too. To explain why, I need to spoil a few things, so please go watch Far From Home then circle back. (Yes, I do still think you should watch it. It’s a real good time.)

Ready? OK, good. SPOILERS AHOY.

I was underwhelmed for reasons that have little to do with the movie, and more to do with my outside geeky knowledge. A good part of the story depends on the audience believing Quinton Beck/Mysterio (played very well by Jake Gyllenhaal) is in league with Nick Fury and the good guys. Thing is, I and every mildly well-educated nerd know that he isn’t. He’s a master of illusion and deception. So the first part of the movie turned instead into a game of determining what was fake, and guessing at how. This means that several scenes building up Quinton’s relationship with Peter fell flat for me.

Oh yeah, forgot to mention the plot. It’s kinda box-standard sequel stuff on the surface: protagonist from first movie goes to a foreign land to battle bad guys over there. We’ve all seen the trope. But Far From Home doesn’t let the trope carry its story, as a less well-written story would. It has its own aims, even if the movie’s still a coming-of-age story (like every Spider-Man movie, it seems).

Peter’s going to Europe on a class trip over summer break. He needs time to decompress from the consequences of Thanos’s Infinity War/Endgame snap. (Those consequences are hilariously referenced in the movie’s first scene: the people who were “blipped” away came back five years later, but they still have to complete high school.) Dude just wants to chill with his friend Ned and has a romantic plan to tell darkly comic deadpan snarker MJ (hello, Zendaya) how he feels about her.

But Nick Fury has other plans. Quinton’s arrived from another universe, he says, here to save their planet from the Elementals – four massive world-ending monstrosities. And Nick calls in Spider-Man to help. So now Peter has to balance reluctantly helping Mysterio, keeping up with his classmates, and safeguarding his identity. Hijinks ensue.

The plot is haunted by the now-dead Tony Stark (sometimes literally; thanks for the nightmares, Mysterio). And while it’s a stretch that Tony would give such sophisticated tech as E.D.I.T.H. to Peter, a still-young teen who Tony saw more as a son than a peer, it’s touching and makes for some fun moments.

E.D.I.T.H. turns out to be central to the plot too. It’s thematically on point for this film to be shot through with the effects of Tony’s life, a good way to demonstrate how his life and death reverberate. It turns out that, because Tony was a gigantically flawed person for most of his life, his callous devil-may-care-ness affected a bunch of people negatively. And those people got together, led by Quinton Beck, and crafted Mysterio using the hard light illusion tech jokingly termed B.A.R.F. by Tony in Civil War. I really enjoyed the flashback scenes where we realize that the whole Mysterio team was essentially the product of Tony’s mistakes.

The rest of the movie, when it isn’t indulging in typically excellent superhero action, revolves around Peter’s very high-school romance with MJ and his angst and fears about the world’s future without Iron Man. The plot flows well, the script’s funny if repetitive (relying far too much on fish-out-of-water humor), and the characters mostly develop well.

Except Nick Fury. For most of the film, I felt there was something vaguely off about the super-spy. It was only when the end-credits scene rolled that I received an explanation. Revealing Nick and co-agent Maria Hill as the shape-shifting Skrull Talos and his wife raises all the questions. How long has Fury been a Skrull? How are the Skrulls going to complicate things going forward, especially if they’re allied with the aforementioned eye-patch-sporting notorious control freak?

But wow, that mid-credits scene, revealing the return of J.K. Simmons as newscaster J. Jonah Jameson. Now apparently hosting a rip-off of InfoWars, Jameson reveals doctored footage from Mysterio that seems to show Spider-Man’s responsibility for Mysterio’s illusions and destruction. He then drops the bombshell of Spider-Man’s identity on a big screen in the middle of NYC. I’m pumped to see where Spidey’s story goes next, and so glad to see the perfectly cast Simmons again as the constantly annoyed Jameson.

The film’s fun, even if points fell flat for me personally. I would see it again. It executes its three purposes well, ending the first long Marvel era well while satisfying me on its own and keeping me interested for future tales.

RATING: 8/10

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