Tony, Tony, Tony. How can we miss you if you won’t go away?
Two years ago you overshadowed poor Spider-Man’s big Homecoming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with your Siri spider-smartsuits and your armored alter ego showing up even when you weren’t inside.
Now Spidey is Far From Home — and, Endgame spoiler alert, you’re even further away, being dead and buried — but, like a full-tilt diva wanting flowers and parades, you’re still hard at work making it all about you.
“Even Dead I’m The Hero.” EDITH for short. That’s literally what you named the new gizmo you designed for Peter in the event of your demise. After seven years dominated by Thanos’ scavenger hunt, the Infinity Stones are gone, so we need a new McGuffin — and, wouldn’t you know it, it’s Stark tech. You saved the world a bunch of times, Tony, but did it occur to you that you endangered it at least as often?
Sure, you created the Vision and stopped Ultron … whom, you know, you also created. Without your irresponsibility and/or callous indifference to people around you, you would have had no one to fight in your three solo films. Ironmonger, Whiplash and the Extremis/Mandarin threat were all in some measure your fault. Not only that, you helped to create the villain in Homecoming, Michael Keaton’s Vulture — and I’m not saying you’ve done it again in Far From Home, but I’m not saying you haven’t either. Once again I’m reminded of Homer Simpson’s oxymoronic toast to alcohol: “the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” The bottom line, Tony, is that when I enjoyed Spider-Man: Far From Home — and I think I enjoyed it more than Homecoming — it’s in spite of you, not because of you. There’s a reason you were so beloved for so long, but, honestly, as much as I hate to say it, I’m glad you’re gone. You’ve been sucking up all the oxygen in the room for too long.
Tom Holland’s Peter Parker will be fine without you — better, even. Really! The kid’s the best of the live-action Webheads, earnest, wide-eyed and likable. Where Tobey Maguire self-consciously lacked self-awareness and Andrew Garfield brimmed with brooding self-assurance, Holland is endearingly ordinary and unaffected. He’s got May (Marisa Tomei) in his corner now — in Spidey’s corner, I mean; she was always in Peter’s corner. Zendaya’s MJ wears a mask of above-it-all disinterest, but she’s just as awkward and vulnerable as Peter, if not more so. Best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) is more of a contrivance, but it’s nice for Peter to even have a best friend who isn’t an incipient supervillain.
You’d like the opening, Tony: an In Memoriam segment commemorating those lost in the Infinity War Endgame, culminating with, obviously, you, that manages to be sincere but somehow snarky at the same time. The story picks up eight months after Endgame’s great Unsnapping, with billions of Vanished people re-entering their lives five years later more or less where they left off. The social, political and economic turmoil of such a double cataclysm would be almost unimaginable, but it seems the filmmakers have chosen to mostly not imagine them. Anyway, everyone seems to have bounced back really, really well. Believe it or not, they’re calling it “the Blip,” and the Vanished are said to have “blipped.” Yeah, it was just a blip, like the Black Knight’s injuries were “only a flesh wound” in that really old movie, the one about the Holy Grail.
Fortunately, Peter, MJ and Ned, as well as rotten Flash (Tony Revolori) and a blond girl named Betty Brant (Angourie Rice), were all blipped in the Blip, so they’re all still the same age! The only notable classmate who wasn’t is a boy named Brad Davis (Remy Hii), a character who doesn’t even seem to have been in Homecoming, but would have had to be younger than the others before becoming intimidatingly taller and more mature. So Peter and his classmates are going on a class trip to Europe! Peter hopes to take this opportunity to confess his feelings for MJ, ideally in some suitably romantic location such as the Eiffel Tower.
Unfortunately, it seems Earth is under assault by powerful CGI entities from another dimension in the multiverse! Peter learns this after being tracked down by fellow Blippee Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and meeting Quentin Beck (Jack Gyllenhaal), a costumed super who hails from wherever the creatures come from and is here to take them on. Beck bears a striking resemblance to the comic-book villain Mysterio, though of course in alternate realities heroes can be villains and vice versa. (You know, Tony, like the “Mirror, Mirror” universe in that really old TV show, Star Trek.)
The multiverse premise makes sense as the MCU looks past the Infinity War to the next phase in its development (Phase 4, but who’s counting). First introduced in Doctor Strange, other worlds are a logical way to expand storytelling possibilities and maintain a sense of discovery. The downside is that the last movie featuring Spider-Man and a multiverse was a masterpiece and one of the best superhero movies of all time. Will Phase 4 go in this direction? Far From Home offers fewer clues than you might think.
There’s a lot of talk in Far From Home about “the next Iron Man.” If I were Rhodey, AKA War Machine, I’d be a little miffed, but I guess people are really wondering who will be the next Tony Stark. Not another armored Avenger, but the next guy smart enough to dream up new ways of saving the Earth, even if that means sometimes also destroying it in the process. Peter just wants to be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but no one will let him. Not Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), not Fury, not Beck, and not even you — and you’re dead.
What’s remarkable about Far From Home is that, in spite of the lingering shadow of the Infinity War saga, it plays remarkably like a self-contained story, with a beginning, a middle and an end. (I admit that it probably helps that I didn’t stay for mid- or post-credits sequences. Sandwiched between the end of Thanos’ long, long game and whatever is coming in Phase 4, Far From Home has been called an “intermezzo.” The word I was thinking of is “movie.” I wish Marvel made more of them.
It does suffer from some of the usual Marvel shortcomings.
Most of the action is visually unremarkable, though there’s one nifty sequence relying on the villain’s particular schtick that almost kicks things into Doctor Strange territory. (There should have been a lot more of this.) The irony is ubiquitous. From that opening In Memoriam to a cliffhanging climactic moment with the people closest to Peter in imminent mortal danger, the movie’s tongue never strays from its cheek. (Favreau’s Happy is very funny, though his best lines are in the trailer.)
Then there’s the elevated hormonal level that seems to be part of MCU Spidey’s emerging brand. This is not just about raging adolescence. Every adult male in May’s orbit — first you, Tony; and then the deli guy and even the Thai waiter; and now Happy, if you can believe it — is practically drooling over her. Mostly, I guess, to make Peter uncomfortable. May and Happy; Ned and Betty: There’s a Seth Rogenish vibe to these schlubby guys connecting with slender, attractive women who would seem ostensibly to be out of their league. Of course this never goes the other way: Girls have to look like models.
When Peter tells MJ she looks pretty, her typically unconventional response is, “And therefore I have value?” She’s kidding, but is the movie? Zendaya is de-glammed for the role, but a deglammed Lancôme spokesmodel is still model material. Not once but twice Peter is forced to strip and suit up in front of a woman — first a female agent who makes no concession to Peter’s modesty, leading to an exhausted misunderstanding with a unique payoff — and then MJ, who does manage to turn her back, pretty much. There’s some crude language, though nothing quite so ribald as your own over-the-top monologue, Tony, at the end of Homecoming, which even you seemed to realize was excessive.
Still, perhaps the lowest moment here is the porn joke, another candidate for MCU Spidey branding. At least when Ned, surprised by a teacher in Homecoming while providing technical support to Spidey, lamely blurted that he was watching porn, the joke was that the unthinkable humiliation of that lie humorously highlighted just how impossible admitting the truth was. Here it’s worse, because we’re told that our hero has been watching porn. This joke makes the one in Homecoming worse retroactively.
And yet. I feel like I’m just getting to know this Peter Parker. I like him more than almost any other screen take on the character (with one notable small-screen exception). He makes stupid mistakes, as kids do, but those mistakes have disproportionate consequences — something many kids are discovering in the digital age when social media is forever. He’s still trying to figure out who he wants to be. Maybe now that you’re gone, Tony, he’ll finally get that chance.
Not so long ago, a movie like John Watts’ Spider-Man: No Way Home would definitely have prompted me to open my review by dubbing it, if not the best Spider-Man movie ever, at any rate the most Spider-Man movie ever.
No one almost destroys the universe or the planet, or even demolishes a large European city or a sizable chunk of a New York borough, in Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.