Michelle (Zendaya) catches a ride from Spider-Man in Columbia Pictures’ SPIDER-MAN: ™ FAR FROM HOME.
Review: Spider-Man: Far From Home
Starring: Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zendaya
Rated PG13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments
The 23rd movie in the MCU and the first since the epic fallout of Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home falls short of the giddy highs of Homecoming. It’s a mixed bag, with some trippy plot elements and clever action sequences. Ultimately, it’s hobbled by thin characterizations, most crucially a romance that just doesn’t work.
Far From Home is set in the immediate aftermath of The Blip, which saw half of existence leave the planet, and then come back five years later. Frankly, I found Far From Home‘s snarky tone undermined the narrative strength of Endgame. This movie opens with a cheesy in memoriam for those lost in Endgame set to Whitney Houston‘s “I Will Always Love You.” It’s not just snarky; it isn’t even fresh.
Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is out of the Blip and hasn’t aged five years (which, conveniently, is true of virtually every character returning from Homecoming). With all the saving the universe, and the loss of his friend Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Peter is ready for a vacation. His class from Midtown High in Queens takes a trip to Europe. It’s a good thing Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) packs his Spider-suit for him, because, inevitably, he runs into a considerable malevolent threat. Jake Gyllenhaal makes his MCU debut as Mysterio.
Holland, as ever, is perfect. He is the best Peter Parker ever, plain and simple. Energetic, hilarious and athletic, he’s the one who best captures the spirit of the comics. But Far From Home doesn’t leave much of an impression. This ranks somewhere right in the middle of the Spider-Man canon. It’s nowhere near as good as the best of the Sam Raimi movies, Into the Spider-Verse or Homecoming, but it’s still way better than the wretched Amazing Spider-Man films. Frankly, I’d rank it somewhere near Spider-Man 3. That was a mess, to be sure, but it also had some brilliance in it. Far From Home doesn’t hit the lows of Spider-Man 3, but it doesn’t have the inspired, bonkers Raimi touches that made up for them.
The biggest problem with Far From Home–and it is a big problem–is the love story. Now that we know Zendaya is MJ, this is the entry when the sparks are supposed to fly. The script by Chris McKenna and Erik Summers keeps telling us that MJ and Peter are falling for each other, but I never bought it. I’m not familiar with Zendaya outside of these movies, so I don’t want to single her out too much–she is perfectly likable onscreen–but her performance is stiff as a board. She smirks a lot, and her line delivery is one-note. I don’t want to pin a lot on her, though. The script just doesn’t give MJ much agency, much of an impact on the story.
In a recent interview with the Sunday Times, Holland said he’d be happy to play a gay Peter Parker. Look, this was clearly a good-natured actor responding the only way he could respond to a pushy journalist’s leading question (can you imagine the backlash if he’d said no?). Hey, though. Maybe Peter should do some exploring. Anything. Whatever gives him a different love interest. Because, so far, this just isn’t working. There is never chemistry between our two romantic leads, and with the script leaning on that part of the story heavily, there needed to be.
Sam Raimi‘s Spider-Man 2, still the best superhero movie ever, has a miraculously great love story. It didn’t hurt to have Kirsten Dunst, a phenomenal actress, as MJ. Her chemistry with Tobey Maguire is famed for good reason.
Far From Home didn’t need to match that. It just needed to sell its love story. It doesn’t. There’s also a fauxmantic subplot involving Peter’s friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and classmate Betty (Angourie Rice) that is underdeveloped. It feels totally shoehorned in, like the writers just didn’t know what to do with these characters in this outing so they thought what the hey to get a few cheap laughs. It’s over as quickly as it starts, and it just feels phony and lazy.
There are things about Far From Home that work really well. To describe it too much here would be a spoiler, but a plot device introduced halfway through the movie leads to some proper surrealism and inventive fight sequences. Gyllenhaal is, as always, terrific and chameleonic. He and Holland are both incredibly beautiful to look at, so there’s that. They have more chemistry than Pete and MJ. I don’t say that in a lecherous, longing kind of way. It’s just a statement of fact that these two actors actually have a dynamic between them that’s engaging, playful and interesting, unlike the romantic stuff that never takes off.
Far From Home is going to make an absurd amount of money, but for this casual superhero fan who genuinely adores the best of the Spider-Man films, it was underwhelming.