While Mitch Ringenberg’s stance on Spider-Man: Far From Home remains the MFJ’s official assessment, we reserve the right — when revved up about something we want to say — to launch the Bonus Round, which includes supplemental thoughts from MFJ staffers or contributing guests.
In Marvel parlance, Spider-Man: Far From Home is the end of their Phase 3 run of movies, which started with Captain America: Civil War in 2016 and ends with Far From Home serving as a epilogue to the conclusions wrought by April’s Avengers: Endgame.
Far From Home is Marvel Studio’s worst production since Ant-Man in 2015, and it shares many of that film’s faults: a sense of not embracing the distinction of its hero’s premise; a shaky script that lacks unique villainous motivation; ill-fated attempts at humor in place of pace and character; and a definite sense that parts of the movie were constructed on the fly in a manner adverse to most of the MCU franchise’s fairly formal production. Tonal inconsistencies abound, and ultimately the product feels like a less-confident, less-exciting entry in a storied franchise — pieces of a great movie hodgepodged together into an inferior product.
Most of Marvel’s Phase 3 films have been knockout success stories for the studio commercially and critically. Civil War, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War / Endgame are all best-of-genre superhero movies that present unique worlds, heroes, casts and themes (besides all the bad dads). Spider-Man: Homecoming, Captain Marvel and Ant-Man and the Wasp are no slouches, either, although lesser in my estimation.
Captain Marvel in particular features the same production-related shakiness as Far From Home, but features a thematic wholeness and emotional core that carries it home upon rewatch. Actually, add it to that first list, as illustration of the way I continue to reappraise the movies in this series. I reviewed every Phase 3 movie except for the Avengers duology (which Nick Rogers handled for the site in 2018 and earlier this year, and those reviews are linked above. Some of them I liked more upon re-appraisal (I underestimated Doctor Strange on my first viewing), some I liked less (Ant-Man and the Wasp in particular). However, through the whole of Phase 3, I’ve never walked out of a Marvel Studios movie quite so disappointed as I did after Far From Home, filled with the gnawing realization that the golden age for this franchise might be past.
So it’s a tremendous disappointment that Far From Home feels like a real whiff, leaving a bad taste in the mouth even before a worst-of-series after-credits sequence.
(Endgame and Far From Home spoiler warning. )
At the conclusion of Avengers: Endgame, Tony Stark sacrifices himself, and the post-Endgame world inhabited by Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and all his friends is littered with murals dedicated to the fallen merchant-of-death-made-hero. Cool.
They also remember the effects of Thanos’ Snap (which they annoyingly call “The Blip”), which wiped out half the universe for five years. When the Avengers used the Infinity Gauntlet to bring everyone back, those who died reappeared right where they left (or, as MCU head honcho Kevin Feige confirmed in an interview, the nearest safest location; thanks to some subtle thinking by Gauntlet-wielder Hulk, nobody’s re-spawning in the sky!). Frankly, the best bits in Far From Home are when characters offhandedly discuss how their lives changed after the Snap. Aunt May re-appeared to find new tenants in her home; a dorky kid in middle school is now five years older and Peter’s romantic rival. Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr), the ever-suffering teacher and chaperone for Peter’s class, has a mumbling line about how his wife left him but pretended to have Snapped — easily the best joke in the movie, as Starr continues to kill it in this series.
Stark’s presence also weighs heavily on Far From Home itself, in deleterious fashion. Narratively the movie tries to balance a double-edged sword: With Stark & Peter’s relationship so central to this iteration of Spider-Man, Stark’s absence has to be addressed, but we’ve also had four entire movies about their relationship, including Homecoming, with a villain who hated Stark. Unfortunately that’s more or less the story here, as Quentin Beck / Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) is another disgruntled ex-Stark employee whose plan is to use Stark technology to get what he feels owed.
It’s sort of a poor-man’s Iron Man 3, but in this case we also learn that Beck was behind a previously known Stark invention that alters a nice moment in an earlier film. Making the villain yet another crazed person wronged by Stark for heretofore unrevealed sins of the departed hero’s past after the closure found in Endgame is the first, but certainly not last, instance of Far From Home inadvertently chipping away at characters in a way that lessens their overall stories.
So much of Far From Home feels dangerously “done before,” but it’s not limited to the Stark content. Similar to Deadpool 2, many of the jokes and beats in Homecoming have a staleness to them. Gone is the lightness and refreshing sense of a new take on the character that Homecoming brought to Spider-Man: this feels very much like Homecoming 2, and not in the way Marvel sequels tend to ramp up or change their franchises to make sure things feel interesting with every new story. We get to spend time with Peter’s cast of friends, and they’re suitably great. MJ (Zendaya) is the standout, but even her character feels lost in a story far too big for its own good.
Homecoming felt like a whole season of a Spider-Man TV show crammed into a single movie — full of incident, paced oddly but effectively. Here, the basic premise is that Peter is on a class vacation to Europe while Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Mysterio keep dragging him into superheroics. The European vacation elements don’t mesh nearly as well with the Mysterio stuff as Homecoming‘s super-villain tied into the working-class aesthetic of Peter’s street-level life and concerns. I’m not blind to the themes they attempt to convey with Mysterio’s duplicity and Peter’s struggle to be honest to MJ while carrying Stark’s legacy, I just don’t think those are particularly interesting, insightful, or successfully conveyed.
The stakes here feel considerably lower than those in Homecoming, too, because most of Mysterio’s menace is built out of CGI fakery and an uninteresting grand plan contingent on Stark leaving Peter an absurdly dangerous piece of technology he’d never use — with no failsafes — in a way that makes both Stark and Peter seem stupid to the point of being unlikeable. Gone are the subtle nuances of Vulture’s economic malaise in Homecoming. Here it’s all the same megalomaniacal sort of stuff we’ve seen in past Marvel movies, but ill-fitting to the world of Holland’s Spider-Man. There are certainly themes present about living your own life in the shadow of a legacy, confronting duplicity and embracing honesty, but they’re as inorganic as plot contrivances required to put Peter in a tight spot thanks to Stark’s gift. Honestly, the movie never makes the character’s choices feel natural, and that diminishes both Stark and Peter.
Most diminished, though, is this movie’s MCU guest. Far From Home features Samuel L. Jackson’s largest turn as non-prequel Nick Fury since Captain America: The Winter Soldier in 2014. Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man has always represented the MCU’s proof of concept, but in many ways Fury represents the promise of it. That first post-credits sequence is still the best the series has ever had. Far From Home introduces a Nick Fury who was snapped away for five years, operating on old intelligence networks and, for the first time in his storied career, blind to the world. It’s Fury who recruits Beck to help fight the Elementals, a group of monsters appearing around the world, and who also approaches Peter to ask for help (Thor, Doctor Strange and Captain Marvel are all mentioned as being unavailable; not sure why Peter never asks about Black Panther, who surely could’ve lent a hand).
While recruiting Peter, Fury gifts him E.D.I.T.H, an advanced weapons system owned by Stark (it stands for “Even Dead, I’m the Hero”) and bequeathed to Peter. It’s not really explained why Stark believes Peter needs an army of satellite-controlled killer drones, but they work really well for Beck’s grand scheme to parade around as an Avenger for endorsement money … or something. The story is dumb, but at least it’s fun to see Nick Fury, a character who rarely gets his due, working with a world beyond his control for the first time.
Or is it? The final post-credits sequence calls back to Captain Marvel, revealing that the Nick Fury we see throughout Far From Home is, inexplicably, Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), the shape-shifting Skrull introduced in Captain Marvel. This reveal isn’t additive to our experience with Fury throughout Far From Home. What’s more, it feels like a real last-minute insertion, as Talos’ explanation for when and why he’s imitating Fury doesn’t match up to what we see Fury do throughout the movie. It’s a bad gag and maybe a subtle set-up for the presence of S.W.O.R.D. or Alpha Flight in a Captain Marvel sequel, but that’s doubtful, as we won’t be seeing a Captain Marvel sequel for at least three years.
Most disappointing is that rather than keep with the interesting “Fury who knows too little” we see during the course of the movie, it reveals that Fury still knows Just Plenty, is still the watcher on the wall, having lost nothing after being away for five years. It’s an inelegant reset button, and for a franchise that tends to push its characters forward in ways that are always at least superficially meaningful, this bit is sloppy to the extreme.
Fanboy bitching aside, Far From Home is just generally a mess. The action sequences feels generic and dull, as if the creative team never figured out a way to make Peter actively participate in fights against water and magma monsters in any interesting, kinetic way. Definite points for trying. The Eurotrip elements are hit-or-miss, with some sequences (a sex-joke misunderstanding pitstop) weirdly out of left field, and others (the accidental drone attack) meanspirited and poorly paced. Thankfully the bits with Ned (Jacob Batalon) and Betty (Angourie Rice) experiencing a summer fling are funny.
Gyllenhaal is fun as Beck but working a thanklessly under-conceived villainous role. It’s odd that we finally get a very different sort of foe who sheds the father-figure elements that plague almost all of the previous five films in which Spider-Man appears, but they couldn’t figure out how to motivate him without father-figure issues of his own. Go figure.
Again, Zendaya’s turn as MJ isn’t to be underrated. Her sardonic exterior hides a depth to the character that will hopefully be explored in future installments of this particular Spider-Man series, should Marvel Studios continue producing them. Ultimately the blame for this movie feels like it should rest most squarely on the side of Sony / Columbia, the studio that actually owns the rights to these characters and who want to distribute an entry every two years. Marvel Studios’ Phase 3, if nothing else, displayed that time and care make better blockbusters: most of their movies had three or more years of development, and multiple script rewrites. Far From Home ultimately just feels rushed, cobbled together, a good-faith effort that never comes together and ends with a post-credits bit that just proves the problems were at a conceptual level.