[REVIEW] ‘SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME’ – still sticky, and still painfully awkward

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James C. Clay // Film Critic

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME

Rated PG-13, 129 minutes.
Director: Jon Watts
Cast: Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Samuel L. Jackson, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei

Reckoning with AVENGERS: ENDGAME, and the ending of the third phase in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is a tough task for any friendly neighborhood Spiderman. There was no way SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME could, would, or should try to live up to a blockbuster of that magnitude. The thing about these Marvel movies isn’t how large, or the cataclysmic heights they can achieve, but it’s about retaining the spirit of what makes each individual character ignite the screen.

Director Jon Watts and MCU chief Kevin Feige made an inventive, if not familiar, film that develops the journey of Peter Parker (Tom Holland) with a consistent tone and trippy visuals.

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME isn’t the type of film that’s going to reinvigorate the franchise, but it has something special: it’s relatable. Even if you can’t throw a shield a quarter mile, or swing over buildings, everyone still has a fear of your crush not liking you, being left alone while on vacation and trusting the wrong people. This is what’s going to keep franchises this large alive.

Peter, Ned (Jacob Batalon) and MJ (Zendaya) are still high school students five years after “The Snappening.” They are heading out on a school vacation to Europe. Spider-Man, like always, has a lot on his plate while grieving the loss of Tony Stark. He’s learning what it means to live in a world without Iron Man. While abroad, he’s got an agenda to confess his feelings for MJ since they’re still in that impossible phase of “do you like, or like-like me.” Parker is ducking Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) calls and he’s being forced back in the spotlight when some big monster things called elementals come to destroy the world. And the only person that can stop them is a handsome man with a beard and cape named Quintin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal).

Who can blame the kid for wanting a little bit of respite from webslinging?

The story jumps off into predictable superhero antics that grow tiresome for more casual fans of the genre, yet its the character dynamics that help the film to feel fresh. The biggest asset to this iteration of Spider-Man films is their ability to retain a sense of youthful innocence when the action-heavy scenes take center stage.

Peter Parker (Tom Holland) gets nervous going through airport security when they discover his Spidey suit. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

Many twists and surprises happen as the film goes into its second and third acts as FAR FROM HOME attempts to pull at several narrative threads that pile up on one another to mixed results. Watts, as a director, has brought feeling to these movies that have developed a tone that feels singular to this version of Spider-Man while paying fan service to what has come before. Despite the film having the trappings of a standard superhero movie, Watts keeps the film moving at a pace that doesn’t fully succumb to predicable tentpole pacing.

One of the aspects that gave FAR FROM HOME the most street cred was the casting of Gyllenhaal. This is an actor whose role in a Marvel movie is as shocking as Adam Sandler working with Paul Thomas Anderson. He gets to have a lot of fun while collecting a massive paycheck. He brings unpredictability to the screen in the more tempered moments. All the while Gyllenhaal and Holland develop a poignant relationship that touches on Spider-Man’s ever-evolving struggle with the concept of responsibility.

FAR FROM HOME continues to push the MCU into mind-bending scenes that cross boundaries in the same vein as THOR: RAGNAROK or DOCTOR STRANGE, while portions of the action aspects of the film feel a bit routine. This is a more than serviceable chapter in the Marvel canon that has enough dorky charm to coast upon when the emotion investment starts to diminish during the CGI blur. The most important aspect is one the film never forgets: At one point or another, we are all still that awkward kid from high school.

Grade: B

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME opens July 2.