Spider-Man: Far From Home
Opening Tuesday, July 2
Every summer, it gets harder to conjure any real enthusiasm for the latest superhero movie, and I say this as a childhood comics nerd who once had the entire first-run series of X-Men and Alpha Flight in mint condition. (My mom sold them at a garage sale while I was in college, scuttling my sole retirement plan.) But the superhero-movie market has been so thoroughly glutted in the last fifteen years that it’s hard to get excited anymore.
You’ll need to work up some extra gumption to sit through Spider-Man: Far From Home, the second installment of the third iteration of the franchise dedicated to one of Marvel’s most popular characters. British actor Tom Holland returns as teenage hero Peter Parker, and he’s perfect for the role—goofy, lovable, and quick with Spidey’s wise-ass one-liners. Holland is the best thing in the new story, which is otherwise stacked with underwhelming effects, unconvincing supporting characters, and a underachieving villain: Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio.
The set-up—Peter and his classmates embark on a study-abroad program—essentially boils down to Spider-Man’s European Vacation. The showcase set pieces in Venice, Berlin, Prague, and London all have the creepy faux-exotic vibe of Busch Gardens in August. It’s an Americanized caricature of Europe, and while that’s entirely predictable for a popcorn movie, it’s still kind of depressing. Some of the filming was done on location, and the sets still look like studio back lots, which takes a weird kind of effort.
It’s a bedrock truism that a superhero story is only as good as its villain. Everyone knows this, except, evidently, the screenwriters of Far From Home. Mysterio’s motivations are entirely and conspicuously dumb. The filmmakers are clearly insecure on this point, as they keep making poor Gyllenhaal shout his thesis statement in every other scene. It’s always a queasy feeling when a film tries to replace quality with volume and repetition.
Far From Home does include a few clever narrative twists, as befits Mysterio’s superpowers of illusion and deception. Stay away from spoilers with this one. If you care to look for it, the film also has some interesting subtext about misinformation, deep fake videos, and our brave new world of post-truth politics. If you’re still hungry, somehow, for more cross-pollinating Marvel Cinematic Universe in-jokes, stick around for the inevitable mid- and post-credit bonus scenes. But personally, even as a childhood comics nerd, I’m full.
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