The beauty of ‘comic book’ (film) is that it’s not a genre, but a form in which a plethora of genres can be explored. Take Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, for example, a gritty crime thriller that drew inspiration from films like David Fincher’s Se7en and Michael Mann’s Heat and bears as much similarity to Batman & Robin as apples do cheese pizzas. James Mangold’s Logan, on the other hand, is a western drama that reminds you more of classic Eastwood pictures than it does The Avengers. The currently unreleased New Mutants was marketed as pure horror and Spider-Man: Far From Home is a coming of age dramedy in the vein of Euro Trip, which after the emotionally dense, bombastic in scope and sweep Avengers: Endgame, is exactly the type of comic book movie we need.
What surprised me, though, is just how much, director Jon Watts (along with writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers) lean into the funnies, considering this is the final chapter of phase three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — an epilogue to a decade’s worth of longform storytelling. But it works. Early in the movie, as we navigate the bustling halls of Peter’s high school, we see a couple of teen broadcasters on TV, explaining the incident known as the ‘blip’ (that’s what they’re calling the snap) in the most awkwardly hilarious of ways. For instance, we see half a football team disappear mid-match, only to reappear during another match, 5 years later. These gags might put off those who go in hoping for a more serious take on the aftermath of Thanos/Tony’s snap, but for those of us who enjoy these smaller comedic MCU movies, it is a blast. Not to mention they’re very well thought out jokes that make absolutely a lot of sense.
While I’m certain the lives of adults are altered in more dramatic ways (i.e. husbands who moved on and remarried when their wives got dusted only to suddenly reappear half a decade later) that require a weightier screenplay, Far From Home is a story told mostly from the perspective of teenagers. It makes perfect sense that Flash Thompson would try and trick a flight attendant to serve him alcohol — the birthdate on his ID indicates he’s 21 but because he blipped for 5 years, he’s technically still 16 — or that the biggest concern of some of the blipped male students is that a kid who was younger than them is now a well built, attractive senior who looks like Ross Butler and could potentially steal their crushes.
And Peter Parker? It looks like he’s always being pushed to do things he may not want to. In Homecoming, Peter was so desperate to do bigger and grander things as Spider-Man, to be a part of the Avengers, that he was willing to sacrifice his life at school. He had to learn through his mistakes and Tony’s guidance on what it truly means to be Spider-Man and the responsibilities that come with it. After putting up a fierce fight against Thanos, dying, coming back to life to win the Mad Titan, only to see his mentor/father figure die in the process, now, Peter just wants to go back to being a regular teenager. To woo the girl of his dreams: MJ.
The romance here isn’t just sprinkled in as we see in most superhero movies. This isn’t Captain America stealing a kiss from Sharon Carter nor is it Black Panther freezing at the sight of Nakia. Here, the romance between Peter and MJ forms one of the major cruxes of the film. And it’s full-blown rom-com too, equipped with over the top elaborate plans that only a knucklehead guy would come up with, a jock-vs-nerd-winner-gets-the-girl subplot and a few awkward glances. This is a Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, The Lego Batman Movie) screenplay through and through, like a crime scene left by an amateur murderer, their fingerprints are smeared all over the place. Spider-Man: Far From Home offers plenty of sincere laughs from start to finish and has big warm constantly beating heart at the centre of it.
Unlike in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies, the romance here is earnest without being self-serious. It isn’t melodramatic nor Shakesperean. There isn’t a scene in the rain where Spidey hangs upside down, while Mary Jane slowly peels off half of his mask to deliver a passionate kiss in slow motion. We’re talking about a teenager here! One whose heart beats as fast as a speedbag at the hands of Muhammad Ali just at the prospect of buying his crush a lovely necklace. One who devises a plan to sit beside MJ on a plane only for his plan to completely backfire and play into the hands of the handsome jock. And it’s this guy — the guy that is down to earth and completely relatable — who comes face to face with situations that are seemingly impossible to handle but chooses to keep on fighting anyway.
(This is why I will proudly say that the MCU version of Spider-Man is my favourite. The movies may not go down as all-timers like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, but for the first time ever, we get a fully realised web-slinger who’s as interesting without the mask as he is with. Who can be both joyous and serious and everything in between. Tom Holland is great and when he shares the screen with Zendaya you understand why people desperately cling on to every dating rumour that surrounds both of them.)
But while Peter wants to stay away from all of it — Spider-Man, The Avengers, superhero-ing, everything — this time he’s pulled back into it by a returning Nick Fury and forced to be something more… to be the new Iron Man. And as cool as that sounds, It’s an enormous burden for a teenager to bear. Think of all the times as a kid where you wanted to grow up so badly, only to actually grow up and constantly hyperventilate at the prospect of paying the bills and taking care of a family.
So Peter once again has to learn. To learn to be more but to also learn that becoming the new Iron Man doesn’t literally mean becoming another Tony Stark or wearing a Stark Tech suit. It’s about stepping up his game, taking up more responsibilities and perhaps becoming one of the leaders of the Avengers. It’s about Peter realising that he has to grow up even if he’s not ready for it because that’s what it takes to be a superhero. Jon Watts doesn’t treat these aspects in a lighthearted manner, rightfully so. But even so — and this is my only complaint with Far From Home — it still could’ve used a lot more emotional depth. Here, Peter doesn’t get as powerful a moment as the “I’m nothing without the suit” and “get up Spider-Man… get up Spider-Man” scenes from Homecoming. The loss of Tony Stark is felt, but not in a way that will reduce you to a weeping mess.
Most of the emotional heavy lifting duties are given to Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays Mysterio, a superpowered being from another dimension who wears a loud cape and a fishball for a helmet as he zips around battling giant water monsters. Comic book readers will know that there’s more to this character than meets the eye, but I won’t spoil the many twists and turns. I will say that even for someone who is familiar with Mysterio’s comic book stories, I found myself being surprised by many of the reveals, including his backstory. Mysterio is given the space to get very weird and Gyllenhaal takes full advantage of it, emoting as only he can. A sequence where Mysterio raises a glass with his friends is filled with Gyllenhaal’s manic energy that is simply irreplaceable.
Is Spider-Man: Far From Home the best Spidey film to date? No. It’s not even in the best Spidey film in the MCU. But it is a dammed good coming off age (action) film, filled with great laughs, moments of genuine teen romance and action sequences that are utterly inventive (the ones with the illusions are trippy, visually spectacular and some of the best fight scenes we’ve ever seen in a superhero film). I can think of no better way to close the third phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.