Last night was “date night” for Mrs. Pops and me, so I took her out on the town for dinner and dancing at the exclusive Dubonnet Club, followed by a romantic carriage ride at twilight. Actually, we got Little Caesar’s and went to see Spider-Man: Far From Home. I know, six of one, half dozen of another.
So how did it go? Well, after we put the boys to bed, ol’ Pops turned on the charm, and… Oh, the movie! Sure, here are some thoughts:
Back to the Future
In movie time, it’s been five years since Spider-Man: Homecoming, and the subjects of the Thanos Snap (essentially the entire main cast, conveniently enough) are putting their lives back together after being brought back in Avengers: Endgame. After his adventures in space and fighting Thanos alongside his fallen mentor Tony Stark, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) wants to take a break from his superhero duties and spend some time with his crush, M.J. (Zendaya) on a suspiciously-funded class trip.
At the same time, a new threat, from what is suggested is an alternate Earth to our own, emerges in the form of the Elementals, essentially natural disasters with faces. Only a brave new hero from said alternate Earth, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), can stop them. Along for the ride is Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and he is dead-set on involving Spider-Man in the fight.
Enough Exposition! Where Are Those “Thoughts”?
First and foremost, this 23rd entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe shows further proof that the Marvel Method is still firing on all cylinders, as long as you’re committed to the overall conceit. As I observed in my review for last summer’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, Kevin Feige and his cronies have invented a brand new style of cinematic storytelling. Keeping up to date with the series is practically a requirement at this point.
Still, there is plenty for the average movie-goer to enjoy, as director Jon Watts and writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers — who is coming off the one-two punch of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and the aforementioned Ant-Man and the Wasp — deliver a hilarious and clever picture with just the right amount of twists and tense moments.
SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT, FOLKS
Far From Home really shines when these two notions come together after the second-act twist that Mysterio is using a combination of hijacked Stark drones and special effects of his own design to fool the world into thinking he is their new savior. Even though everyone in the audience saw it coming it still works. In a sequence deeply reminiscent of the trippy pages that comic masters Ditko and Romita could only render in 2-D, Mysterio traps Spidey in a holographic mind job, leaving him — and the audience at large — questioning what is real and what is illusion.
And Where Are Those Spoilers?
Ultimately, “What Is Reality?” could be the thesis statement of the movie.
This is highlighted in a meta-textual way in the post-credits scenes, in which Fury is revealed to be Talos, a benevolent (for now) Skrull agent, broaching the question of for how long has Fury been replaced.
The other post-credit sequence is an even bigger doozy: the reveal of Spider-Man’s secret identity to the world by a hilariously Alex Jones-style J. Jonah Jameson, portrayed by none other than J. K. Simmons. There was much rejoicing at my screening — if Marvel Studios know anything, it’s how to please an audience. It looks like Spider-Man’s troubles are just beginning; good for us, and for Marvel’s box office returns… much, much worse for Peter.
So What Did You Really Think?
I touched previously on the great job the writers and director did with the plot, but it’s also worth mentioning that they do equally well with the characters, as do the cast: Tom Holland really nails the balance of frustrated schoolkid and in-over-his-mask hero, and it’s gratifying to see his character arc over the course of these last few films.
Zendaya exonerates her previously-questionable take on Peter’s love interest M.J., incorporating more of her comic book counterpart’s traits without compromising her characterization from the previous film. And to whoever is responsible for dialing down her wokeness, thanks for listening.
Jake Gyllenhaal is tasked with a thankless role as Quentin Beck/Mysterio, given that the expectation of his character turning heel was apparent from the outset. He’s a seasoned pro, though, so he brings enough avuncular charm to keep the audience willing to suspend their disbelief for at least the first hour. After the reveal, Gyllenhaal is a joy to watch as a rip-off version of Tony Stark at his most egotistic.
I do have to take off a point for some arc welding by the writers, tying Beck and his henchmen into events all the way back to the first Iron Man, complete with Star Trek VI-style black-and-white reveal zooms… but I digress.
Sam Jackson always entertains, although he is still in his comedic Captain Marvel mode.
The real dark horse performance came from Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, stepping into the shoes of his former boss as Peter’s new mentor. I was pleasantly surprised to see this new, less-bumbling side of the character; after going through so many father figures throughout the series, I could really see Happy being the one to stick around for Peter as well as his Aunt May — say no more, say no more.
For Those Keeping Score…
I also wanted to mention the work of Michael Giacchino as composer, because I’m a dork when it comes to movie scores and critics don’t usually mention them. While I thought Giacchino did a decent job in Homecoming, like the rest of the cast and crew, he really stepped it up a notch in this entry. This is going to sound like damning with faint praise, but I loved how Mysterio’s theme is just a Jimmy Hart version of Alan Silvestri’s Avengers theme- it really underscores both sides of his character. He also seems to be channeling some of Danny Elfman’s mannerisms from the original Spider-Man trilogy, which to me is more than welcome.
Geez, Wrap It Up Already!
At the risk of coming off as a shill, I’m giving Spider-Man: Far From Home four and a half Pops-stars. It’s already made it into my personal M.C.U. top ten, and in many ways was more satisfying than Endgame.
Go forth, and add another billion to Disney’s money bin!
Or be a dirty pirate, what do I care…
Have a good day.