In retrospect, it’s hard not to view Spider-Man: Homecoming as a perfunctory footnote in the ongoing Marvel cinematic saga. Coasting on the charm of its cast and high school setting: the film was an uninvolving and annoyingly light affair that presented its central character without his neurotic charm and had little going on under the bonnet (subtextually). By comparison, Spider-Man: Far From Home is a sombre and endearing film that has a lot on its mind.
Picking up directly after the events of Avengers: Endgame, Far From Home sees Peter Parker (Tom Holland) going on a European school trip, where he hopes to impress MJ (Zendaya) and relax by leaving his superhero persona at home. However, he soon finds himself recruited by Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) to stop four creatures (The Elementals) who have come from another dimension. Along the way, Spidey teams up with a being from an alternate Earth- Quenton Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), who has previously fought the elemental foes.
Far From Home is engaging as an exploration of Iron Man’s legacy. The death of Tony Stark looms over the film like a spectre. The result is some of the characters wondering if they can live up to his image, much like the Marvel cinematic universe is asking itself the same question, in the aftermath of Robert Downey Jr’s contribution to the series.
With this in mind, it’s hard not to view the final battle as a postmodern conflict between the chosen heir to the Marvel cinematic universe (Spider-Man, with original Iron Man director- Jon Favreau on hand as Happy Hogan in a producer role) and a pretender- (Quentin Beck) who is using inherited Stark technology to create a faux-hero. Mysterio is interesting insofar as his ultimate reveal swims in the same subtextual pool as the Nolan Batman films, a heroic persona being a social construct as opposed to a sole creation.
Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent as the green-suited and fishbowl wearing Beck. He turns the theatricality of the original Stan Lee and Steve Ditko character into a hyperactive director who often feels like he is commenting on the creation of a Marvel Studios film.
The film is marred by a few too many instances of contrived comedy, some less than thrilling action sequences that are usually awkwardly staged and put too much emphasis on comic gags. Though one sequence involving Mysterio is quite spectacular. The striking comic images of John Romita Sr’s era of the villain is filtered through the horrific dream logic of the Nightmare on Elm Street series.
Far From Home does have its heart in the right place. The instances of Spidey balancing his double life: from picking up a harlequin mask to hide his identity during a fight sequence to contriving a reason to escape a night at the opera are well portrayed. Plus his romance with MJ is genuinely charming and interesting in its emphasis and trajectory. But the film can’t escape the problem that the character’s neurosis is a result of Tony Stark; choosing him as a surrogate son and heir, as opposed to an irresponsible moment he can never repay. I hope future instalments no longer feel the need for Spider-Man to live in Iron Man’s shadow.