REVIEW – ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ is endlessly fun and visually spectacular

After Avengers: Endgame left us emotionally devastated and, frankly, cinematically exhausted, most of us likely need a breather from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Arriving just two months after we said goodbye (sob!) to several key Marvel figures, Spider-Man: Far From Home swings into cinemas, offering the joyous exuberance this franchise is fast becoming known for.

While the spectre of loss hangs over this sequel, there’s boundless fun and pitch-perfect humour to be found within, providing just the escapism needed after Marvel Studios shattered our souls in their previous adventure. With another supreme performance from Tom Holland and a wondrous supporting cast of characters, it’s another enjoyable and entertaining rollercoaster with plenty of unexpected turns to blow your socks off.

Peter Parker (Holland, further proving his casting was perfect) is exhausted. After returning from the ashes to watch his beloved mentor Iron Man sacrifice himself to save the universe, Spider-Man needs a break. Feeling entirely pressured to inherit the throne left vacant by Tony Stark’s death, Peter wants nothing more than to blissfully enjoy his upcoming summer school trip to Europe, where he’s hoping to finally make his burgeoning feelings known to gal pal M.J. (a terrific Zendaya).

Ignoring the pleas of Stark’s right-hand man Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) to take an urgent call from former Avengers head honcho Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Peter jets off to Venice with M.J., best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), classmates Betty (Angourie Rice) and Flash (Tony Revolori), and chaperones Mr Dell (JB Smoove) and Mr Harrington (Martin Starr). Leaving his Spidey suit behind, which his ever-helpful Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) sneaks into his luggage, Peter is determined to unwind on his European vacay and leave his superhero responsibilities back in Brooklyn.

But even on holiday, trouble somehow always find Spider-Man. While enjoying the sights of the Venetian canals, the entire school group become caught in the middle of an attack by a monster made entirely out of water (think the aquatic version of Spider-Man 3‘s Sandman), who begins to destroy everything in sight. Donning an improvised mask, Peter attempts to vanquish the beast to no avail before the arrival of the mysterious and magical Quentin Beck (a majestic Jake Gyllenhaal), who saves the day and promptly zooms off into the sky.

Tired of Peter “ghosting” him, Fury hijacks Peter’s vacation, whisking him away to a secret bunker, where his trusted sidekick Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) awaits. The duo reveal they’ve teamed up with Quinn (now dubbed “Mysterio” by the foreign press) who is actually a daring hero from an alternate version of Earth within the “Multiverse” whose world was destroyed by the Elementals, a group of destructive creatures who each take the form of water, fire, earth, and air.

Peter naively hopes Quinn could be the Iron Man replacement the world needs, thus allowing him to continue taking a backseat to true hero-dom. Although begrudgingly, Spider-Man agrees to play sidekick to Mysterio, as they prepare to battle the fire Elemental in Prague. But, as with any Marvel film, it’s only the beginning of a chaotic and unexpected ride for our beloved Spider-Man, where nothing is quite as it first appears. And that’s all we critics have been asked to say.

Suffice to say, Spider-Man: Far From Home is so truly overloaded with jaw-dropping surprise twists, it’s genuinely difficult to write this review without spoiling the entire film. The trailers give very, very little of this film away. Even informing you of what song unexpectedly opens the film feels like an injustice. And this is not a paid promotion by Sony Pictures, but, if you’re a fan of this franchise, you need to rush to see this film as soon as you damn well can before someone ruins one of Marvel’s most glorious post-credits scenes to date.

Much like the fantastic Spider-Man: Homecoming, the sequel is also part high school comedy (albeit more of a high school road trip comedy this time), part action blockbuster, mixing the two genres with expert skill. Easily the funniest Spider-Man adventure to date, the humour here rarely falters. An early scene involving Peter’s desperate attempts to rearrange the gang’s assigned plane seats so he can spend time with M.J. goes hilariously wrong, in a sequence executed to perfection. Once again, the dialogue feels entirely authentic, with the teenagers sounding precisely like 21st-century teenagers, and not an adult’s woeful impression of how they assume youngers communicate.

The budding romance between Peter and M.J. is further mined for adolescent gold, continuing the John Hughes vibe from its predecessor. As a hopelessly intimidated Peter bumbles his way through every interaction with his crush, M.J.’s dead-pan bluntness counterbalances his boyish giddiness. But the real surprise here is an unexpected romance (which will remain unspoiled) between two supporting characters, gifting both performers with the prospect to consistently capture focus with their gooey teenage love that’s somehow both terribly nauseating and entirely endearing.

After now playing our titular hero in his fifth Marvel film (!) in three years (!!), Holland has truly staked his claim as the greatest on-screen Spider-Man to date. Debate that fact amongst yourselves, but Holland is owning this role like no one before him. Wisely continuing Peter’s growth as both a teenager and a superhero, the sequel finds Spider-Man still uncomfortable and unsure of his place in the world, particularly after the loss of his cherished role model Iron Man pushes him towards claiming a legacy he doesn’t feel ready for.

Effortlessly endearing and adorably awkward, Peter is consistently conflicted between his despondent desire for a normal teenage life and the exhausting duties of, you know, saving the world, gifting Holland the chance to showcase plenty of adolescent angst. It’s another performance bursting with energy that becomes entirely infectious on an audience. Holland’s chemistry with Zendaya continues to be a delight, crafting a romance that’s genuine and effective. In the process, M.J. almost steals this film, becoming a far more layered and rounded character you actually care for.

But the real shining star here is Gyllenhaal, whose role is so shrouded in mystery (look, that sounds like a pun, but there’s no other word for it), it’s impossible to truly talk about his performance without giving it all away. It’s a curious piece of casting, given Gyllenhaal almost replaced an injured Tobey Maguire in 2004’s Spider-Man 2. That and the actor hasn’t touched a summer blockbuster in years. His inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe proves to be a touch of gold.

Early in the film, Gyllenhaal and Holland share some terrific scenes together, as their characters bond and Quinn shows signs of becoming the replacement mentor Peter is longing for. Gyllenhaal sparkles that charm like only he can, even when his performance feels a little too intentionally stationary for its own good. But a narrative switch presents the actor the opportunity to truly come alive with a bombastic and manic turn that harkens back to his underrated role in Nightcrawler.

There are many who will plonk down their money for Spider-Man: Far From Home for the action sequences alone. As per usual, Marvel doesn’t disappoint. By now, these set pieces may be starting to lose their impact a little, but chaotic fight scenes and waves of mass destruction are a cornerstone of the superhero genre, so their inclusion here is all but obligatory. However, director Jon Watts understands the limits of visual effects calamities, knowing precisely when to pull back, refusing to allow the film to fall into the CGI traps which so often beset superhero films.

Where the film deftly follows a new path are several terrifically inventive fantasy sequences with eye-popping and mind-bending visual delights, almost akin to what Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse so dazzlingly offered up. Again, it’s difficult to mention these without entering spoiler territory. Just be prepared to be blown away. The design and efforts work surrounding Mysterio and his green-smoke powers are also masterfully crafted, complemented by his grandiose costuming that’s gorgeously hammy.

If there are any quibbles to be made of Spider-Man: Far From Home, they centre squarely on the film’s pacing, with the first act occasionally dragging in places with several scenes in aching need of tighter editing. Early moments draw on longer than they need to, offering little to the film’s overall effectiveness. While the devastating loss of Iron Man is naturally felt all over the globe, the constant visual references to the fallen hero everywhere Peter journeys become a little repetitive and pointless. And, as hard as the film tries, Starr and Smoove are painfully unfunny, with their dopey humour feeling terribly forced and rather tortuous.

Thankfully, none of these minor faults proves fatal in what stands as one of the most joyously entertaining blockbusters of the year. With electric energy and glorious humour pulsing throughout, Spider-Man: Far From Home provides a wondrous antidote to the heavy toll Avengers: Endgame took on our hearts. Endlessly fun and visually spectacular, it’s a European vacation worth taking. And we can now rest easy knowing the future of the MCU is secure.

Distributor: Sony Pictures
Cast: Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, JB Smoove, Jacob Batalon, Martin Starr, Marisa Tomei, Jake Gyllenhaal, Angourie Rice
Director: Jon Watts
Producers: Kevin Feige, Amy Pascal
Screenplay: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Cinematography: Matthew J. Lloyd
Music: Michael Giacchino
Production Design: Claude Pare
Editing: Dan Lebental, Leigh Folsom Boyd
Running Time: 129 minutes
Release Date: 1st July 2019 (Australia)

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