By Bob Garver
Following “Avengers: Endgame,” the MCU needs someone new at its head. Iron Man and Captain America will not be returning, Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy are off in space somewhere, Ant-Man and Captain Marvel just had movies in the past year, and Black Panther… has a country to run. I can’t really think of a better reason not to make him the face of the franchise going forward. But Peter Parker aka Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is still around, the character has a great track record at the box office, and no doubt some of his mentor Tony Stark’s leadership qualities rubbed off on him. Pinning the MCU on him going forward makes a lot of sense on paper, but judging by “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” it might not be such a hot idea in practice.
The film opens smartly by explaining what happened to the people who were lost for five years between Thanos’s finger snap in “Infinity War” and the undoing of the snap in “Endgame,” which apparently include all the main characters in this film. It’s been an adjustment: grades have to be repeated and apartments have been sold, but things are slowly getting back on track. Peter’s class is going on a field trip to Europe, and he wants to confess his love to MJ (Zendaya), he just needs Spider-Man to not be needed for a while. But wouldn’t you know it, Earth is under attack from element-based monsters (Fire, Water, etc.) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) needs Spider-Man to step in and save the day. Can Peter heed his hero’s calling and still get the most out of his vacation?
At least he’s not alone in battling the Elementals. Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a superhero from a parallel universe where the Elementals have destroyed the planet. He claims to need Peter’s help in ridding this version of Earth from the monsters, but he seems perfectly capable of handling them by himself. Maybe he’s the new top-dog superhero the MCU needs. Followers of Spider-Man lore know that Mysterio is a pretty high-profile member of his rogues gallery, but then again Batman got through a whole movie in 1989 without Harvey Dent turning into Two-Face, so maybe Mysterio won’t be a bad guy here.
The eventual central villain is problematic. For starters, the characters reveal their true colors in a big speech to a roomful of henchmen, giving the scene a strong tinge of “As you know…” redundancy. Also, the scene comes at a time when the film is conspicuously lacking a charismatic villain, because the film practically goes out of its way to make it clear that the Elementals aren’t cutting it. Perhaps worst of all is that the character is yet another MCU villain whose motivation is that they’re mad at Tony Stark for not giving them their due. How many of these chapters could have been avoided by Tony just writing a check?
With all its “American teenagers in Europe” antics, “Spider-Man: Far from Home” wants to be one of those “fun” MCU movies, like “Ant-Man” or the “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Thor: Ragnarok.” That’s fine if the movie can pull it off, but for me, this movie doesn’t. It’s by no means terrible, but I’ve seen other, better movies about teenagers with superpowers (including last year’s far superior “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”) and there’s a whiff of staleness that this movie never manages to shake. The film is getting excellent reviews, so feel free to see it for yourself and say I’m wrong, but after the grand finale of sorts that was “Avengers: Endgame,” this movie doesn’t make me confident that the future of the MCU is in the best hands.
NOTE: Stay tuned all the way through the credits on this one. A mid-credit sequence features one of the most laudable casting decisions of the whole MCU and a bonus at the very end recontextualizes a number of events throughout the film.
“Spider-Man: Far from Home” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments. Its running time is 129 minutes.
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