Marvel Swings Back Into Form With The Best (Non-Avengers) MCU Film in Years
*This is a NON-SPOILER Review*
About the Film
My experience of reviewing this film included sitting beside a guy who literally threw popcorn at his mouth (at roughly a 20% success rate), jiggled the seat with more ferocity than the surround speakers of the Dolby Cinema, and exclaimed the Lord’s name in vain anytime something even remotely significant happened on screen. It is a testament to the quality of this film that not even this was enough to keep me from really enjoying Spider-Man: Far From Home,. In fact, this is the best non-Avengers MCU film since 2017s Spider-Man: Homecoming.
The previous Spider-Man film was a breath of fresh air in a franchise that has started to feel extremely stale. That film benefited from a winsome high-school setting, smaller and more personal stakes, and irresistible charm of leading man, Tom Holland. Spider-Man: Far From Home is not as fresh as its predecessor, and suffers a bit from several of the same problems of other recent MCU films (a weak villain, needlessly world-ending stakes, and CGI action that feels recycled from countless other comic-book films). Thankfully, the film also leans into the elements that made the first film great without ever feeling like a rehash. Tom Holland is a gem and is far and away the best Spider-Man (sorry, Toby Maguire). The movie is extremely funny with humor that feels organic rather than forced (ala Captain Marvel or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2). In the end, the positive far outweighs the bad, and this results in a highly enjoyable, if somewhat inconsequential, superhero film.
On the Surface—(Profanity, Sexual content, violence, etc.).
Profanity: 2-3 minor profanities (words starting with the letter S).
Beneath the Surface— (Themes, philosophical messages, worldview, etc.)
The motif of belief gets touched on from several different angles and in a variety of ways. One of the main ways brings us into spoiler territory so I won’t discuss it here. One non-spoiler instance of the theme is on a personal level, as Peter Parker wrestles with his identity in the aftermath of the big events of Avengers: Endgame. The film explores the tension between who Peter believes he is, who others believe he is, and what to do when those two beliefs don’t match up. From the trailers, I worried that this plot point might mire the film in angst. These concerns were for naught, as the film maintains a sense of optimism throughout. In some ways, this makes the theme more relatable and powerful, as there are more degrees of self-doubt and unbelief than merely angst and depression, on one side, and bold, cocky confidence on the other.
The notion of belief is also explored in relation to truth and misinformation. At one point, MJ (played by Zendaya) humorously remarks that the notion of objective truth is vanishing in our society. The film presents the idea that the most dangerous enemy is not just the one with the mightiest of strength, but one who is the most cunning and manipulative. There is dangerous power in the ability to control the narrative and to spin lies as convincing truths. In our age of #FakeNews, this could easily have become heavy-handed and political, but thankfully it does not.
2. Personal Sacrifice
In a sense, personal sacrifice is an underlying theme of all superhero films. However, it wasn’t until watching Spider-Man: Far From Home that I realized just how absent this theme has been in the MCU. The first MCU film set the tone when Tony Stark publicly declared his secret identity to the world. The later Avengers all made sacrifices, but they were generally a soldier’s sacrifice, putting themselves in harm’s way for the greater good. Despite this danger, there has never been any real sense from the heroes that they are giving up a more desirable life in order to be a hero.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is the first MCU film to really dive into this struggle. Peter Parker is the first avenger to yearn for a normal life; to be able to act as a regular kid who can take a school trip without being called upon to save the world. Although this trope is as old as the superhero genre itself, it feels refreshing for the MCU to finally revisit it (even if it does get slightly undone by the end of the film).
Following right after the massive, cosmic stakes of Avengers: Endgame, this film feels somewhat inconsequential. Spider-Man: Far From Home feels more like an enjoyable monster-of-the-week TV episode than an important cinematic chapter in the larger Marvel story. That is not necessarily a bad thing. The film feels like a well-polished and refined throwback to the early days of the superhero genre, when comic-book films were only expected to be fun and campy, and not burdened with furthering the larger franchise narrative or tie-in to a dozen other films. In the end, Spider-Man: Far From Home might not rank among be the most original or important Marvel films, but it is certainly the most fun the franchise has been in years.
Recommendation: Worth seeing in theaters.
Public Service Announcement: The movie has two end-credits scenes. The second is an unexciting throw-away, but the first is wonderful. Make sure to stick around for it!