‘Far From Home’ puts Spider-Man front and center of MCU

Worst secret identity ever. Images courtesy Sony Pictures Releasing.

7/10 Is Spider-Man: Far From Home good as an individual, stand-alone movie? Eh, who cares.

After going toe-to-toe with Captain America, being shot into outer space and turned into dust by a weirdly hot wannabe-nihilist with a scrotum on his face, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) briefly puts down the mantle of Spiderman to go on a school trip abroad, where he hopes to hit on his weirdly hot wannabe-nihilist classmate, MJ (Zendaya). His romantic ambitions are held back by giant, elemental-themed monsters from World of Warcraft that just keep showing up wherever he goes. The elemental monsters are easily defeated by Magic Man from Adventure Time (Jake Gyllenhaal), and Parker has neither the interest nor the realistic ability to help, but SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) insists on keeping him around, telling Parker he’s “the new Tony Stark.”

Spider-Man: Far From Home takes the question of where the MCU will go in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame from a narrative and marketing perspective and explores it from a more intimate and cinematically pleasing character perspective. The franchise has just shed Robert Downey Jr., who for 10 years was the star that powered it as Tony Stark. Holland is his anointed successor on the media junket, and it is expected that he will be the face of the Avengers franchise for years to come. Parker is Stark’s anointed successor within the narrative, and in Far From Home, Parker’s primary struggle is with the loss of Stark as a mentor figure and the expectations of this literal and figurative inheritance.

This shift might seem akin to a television series shifting focus to lesser characters after a star leaves or its primary will they/won’t they is resolved, but this has been Spiderman’s rightful place all along. When the wave of excellent ‘90s cartoons helped comics broach the mainstream, it was Spiderman and the X-Men – soon to be joining the MCU themselves – who led the way on Marvel’s side of things, and when Marvel first burst into theaters at the turn of the millennium, it was still Spiderman and the X-Men leading the charge. You could argue that the MCU has been hamstrung up to this point, with the two most popular associated properties each cut off from the franchise for several years.

Far From Home leans heavily into its metatextual implications and turns into one of the more interesting MCU offerings. Separate from Parker’s struggle to accept Stark’s duties is his struggle to carry them out – he’s entirely out of depth against the elementals. Fury and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) seem to have latched onto Parker, in their own ways, as methods of grieving Stark, and Fury’s insistence that he be involved in the fight stems not from Parker’s abilities, but from Fury’s desperation for some degree of familiarity. At one point, the concept of “an Avengers-level threat” is explicitly discussed, referring to the idea the MCU franchise has nowhere to go but down after the cosmic forces dealt with during Endgame.

Memories fade in and out of my mind/The little people get left behind/So whateeever!

The marketing team did brilliantly with Far From Home. With Stark’s death a major plot point and a major spoiler for a movie that came out only a few months ago, they were essentially afforded the opportunity for completely different marketing campaigns before and after Endgame’s release, and even then, there are major twists in Far From Home that they kind of had to lie to everyone’s faces about.

It’s a hell of a stunt and an interesting reflection on how advertising and social media interact with viewing a movie these days, but I’m not sure that it serves the film itself well. With the plot built on a massive lie, there are two key moments where the movie screeches to a halt while Magic Man exposits for several minutes, and they serve as Far From Home’s two biggest weaknesses. Gyllenhaal works as hard as he can to sell both speeches – though he’s not working as smart as he can, in an energetic but mostly nondescript performance. Given that he’s talking about things that never happened, there are a lot of limitations, but the bottom line is you need to find a better way to convey information to the audience. See The Hateful Eight for an example of how to make this sort of exposition dump about things that may or may not be true entertaining, but that’s still pretty far off from what would have been possible here.

The movie itself is, it’s, you know. Much like Spider-Man: Homecoming, Far From Home has the sheen of Marvel quality control but not the stench of Disney. Holland and Jackson are both perfect fits for their characters, and Gyllenhaal is great as always. On this third iteration of the Peter Parker character in 17 years, Feige and Marvel are working hard to steer the character, and the MCU as a whole, into new storylines, and that’s much appreciated. Most of the combat scenes are ridiculous but could have been much worse.

Marvel movies usually frustrate me because they feel like they should have been better, but Far From Home mostly keeps me interested by so fully embracing its place in history and being such a deft marketing accomplishment in hindsight. None of that makes it a good movie in the traditional sense, but great marketing exercises are what Marvel does, and people love them for it.

Releasing on a Tuesday, Far From Home set several niche records en route to a $185 million 6-day opening — that constituted almost a 50/50 split between the Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday bloc that many had off for Independence Day and $92.6 million over the traditional Friday/Saturday/Sunday weekend. In a single week of release, it has already leaped into no. 5 on the 2019 domestic chart. Every movie in the top five was distributed by Disney, which still has surefire hits in The Lion King, Frozen 2 and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker scheduled within the year.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter and Instagram and support it on Patreon. You can reach me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

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