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MCU Retrospective: Spider-Man: Far From Home

Written by Anna Harrison

In these retrospectives, Anna will be looking back on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, providing context around the films, criticizing them, pointing out their groundwork for the future, and telling everyone her favorite scene, because her opinion is always correct and therefore her favorite scene should be everyone’s favorite scene. And now, the finale. If anyone has read all of these, you’re very brave. Much appreciated. They’ll be back at some point.

80/100

Avengers: Endgame was, well, the endgame. It was the conclusion of a 10-year story arc, and it felt like a very neat bow to tie on the end of Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

So why did Spider-Man: Far From Home not kick off Phase Four? It’s a good question without a great answer. Kevin Feige’s explained that he “realized that the true end of the entire Infinity Saga, the final film of Phase Three, had to be Spider-Man: Far From Home, because—spoiler—we lose Tony Stark at the end of Endgame. And the relationship between Peter Parker and Tony Stark is so special… that we needed to see where his journey went, and see how does Spider-Man step out of the shadow of his mentor… It’s for that reason that Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home are essentially two pieces of the same story, and it’s not over yet until Spider-Man: Far From Home.”

I mean, sure. But also, maybe not. Far From Home is to Endgame what Ant-Man and the Wasp was to Avengers: Infinity War: it’s fun, it’s breezy, it’s a breath of fresh air after the monstrous movie that preceded it. It deals with Endgame, but it also signifies that yes, the MCU is moving forward, even without Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans. That’s really its most important function: to show the world that Marvel is still around to bleed the public’s pockets dry. Far From Home feels more like an adjustment to the new normal rather than the wrapping up of a decade-long storyline, and it certainly doesn’t feel like Endgame: Part Two—but, frankly, the delineation between Phases Three and Four isn’t that important because it all just keeps on going. There was a beginning, and there will presumably be an end, but in the meantime, the big wheel keeps on turning, and we keep on watching.

But regardless of where Far From Home falls in the Marvel canon, it certainly assuaged some fears fans had about the MCU’s longevity post-Endgame. Far From Home is a movie quite at home in its Marvel skin, but one that simultaneously showcases some of the boldest creative choices seen yet, making the visuals in Endgame look like mud (which they often did, if we’re being honest) in comparison.

Yet Endgame presents a very tricky problem for Far From Home, and it ends with the sudden return of the billions of people who got dusted by Thanos (Josh Brolin) in Infinity War. How do you grapple with an event like that? What do the logistics look like? If someone was in the middle of flying an airplane, do they materialize thousands of feet above Earth? What about cell phone bills? Bank accounts? School? If your spouse remarried? Some of these things—like the airplane conundrum—can be handwaved away by mumbling that when Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) snapped in Endgame, he somehow made it so everyone was returned safely through the power of Infinity Stone nonsense, but the more granular things are much harder to parse.

Far From Home’s answer to most of these issues is to wave them away with a joke. This is clear from the moment the Marvel logo appears and Celine Dion starts playing over a student-made montage in memory of our fallen Avengers, complete with pixelated pictures and a prominent Getty Images logo; the high school band reappearing suddenly in the middle of a basketball game gets treated as a great punchline (and, to be fair, it’s pretty funny). The events of Infinity War and Endgame simply cannot hold up to any sort of scrutiny, even more so than other preposterous MCU cataclysms, and everything begins to fall apart if you look at it more closely, so Far From Home wisely steers clear of the darker implications because it knows nothing can have the scope to properly examine them. All post-Endgame entries have had to acknowledge “the Blip,” as Far From Home dubs it, in some way or another, all to varying degrees of success; Far From Home succeeds at this task, conversely, because it by and large ignores the Blip and all the logistical problems that come with it. If you want a serious examination of grief over a mass loss, watch The Leftovers (which everyone should watch anyway). You’re not going to get any philosophical debates here.

Read More of Anna’s Ongoing Marvel Retrospective Series Here

What you will get, though, is another delightful Spider-Man entry and one of Marvel’s best villains to date, making Far From Home a worthy and unexpectedly affecting addition to the MCU. Even while it tiptoes around the Blip, it doesn’t ignore the events of Endgame entirely. Indeed, the specter of Tony Stark in particular haunts the movie: though Peter Parker has been trying to enjoy his summer vacation, it’s hard to do that when everyone keeps asking if Spider-Man’s the next Iron Man and murals of Peter’s dead mentor seem to decorate every street corner. Still, he’s doing his best to live a normal life with his friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and his aunt May (Marisa Tomei)—he’s even got a plan to ask of the girl he likes, MJ (Zendaya), when they go to Europe for a school trip.

If you were hoping that May learning her nephew is Spider-Man in the post-credits scene of Homecoming would lead to any drama or interesting development between the two, prepare to be disappointed: she seems to have no problem with Peter’s secret identity, and in fact has been using Spider-Man for her charity events. While the flippancy with which the MCU treats secret identities can be refreshing, here it’s a bit of a head-scratcher: Spider-Man’s civilian identity being separate from his heroic one is an intrinsic part of his character in the comics, but gets rather casually tossed aside by the MCU, and May barely reacts at all to her teenage nephew getting placed in mortal peril on the regular. At least it doesn’t become a melodramatic, drawn-out plot point, as secret identities often do in superhero movies, but it still leaves a bit to be desired.

As with Homecoming, director Jon Watts nails the awkward high school vibe, mining it and his game ensemble for some excellent comedy. There are the clueless teachers (Martin Starr and J.B. Smoove), the school bully Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), a rival for MJ’s affection (Remy Hii), immature and revoltingly saccharine romances… the list goes on. Even before the superheroics set in, Far From Home has already charmed the pants off its audience after its opening ten minutes.

But, of course, nice things can’t last. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) track Peter down in Europe and strong-arm him into helping with a new threat known as the Elementals, strange creatures that have appeared and wreaked havoc in pockets of the globe. Fury even gives Peter a pair of glasses left to him by Tony—of course, these are no ordinary glasses, but in fact an augmented reality security and defense system known as E.D.I.T.H., which stands for, “Even dead, I’m the hero.” But cool glasses aren’t enough: to help fight these Elementals, Fury has also enlisted the help of one Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), aka Mysterio. (And yes, he’s got the silly little fishbowl.)

Anyone slightly familiar with the comics, or anyone slightly savvy with the tropes of movideom, will realize right away that Mysterio is up to no good. But, for a brief moment, it’s almost believable: Gyllenhaal is charismatic as hell, and Marvel changed the Skrulls in Captain Marvel to be good and not evil, as they are typically portrayed in the comics, so why can’t Mysterio be an okay guy? After all, he just said he was from a completely different Earth than ours (Mysterio dubs the MCU world Earth-616, a reference to the Earth-616 of the comics, where most of their storylines take place), one destroyed by these Elementals, and he’s got a wedding ring and looks real sad when he talks about his dead family, so why not believe him? Peter’s exclamation of, “You’re saying there’s a multiverse?” opens up a tantalizing can of worms, as a multiverse makes the possibilities quite literally endless. 

It’s such an exciting prospect that it blinds viewers to Mysterio’s nefarious scheming; Peter, meanwhile, gets so taken up with this replacement mentor figure that he also ignores all the warning signs, and, after the two “defeat” the last Elemental, Peter hands over E.D.I.T.H. to Mysterio, finally giving in to his imposter syndrome. “[Tony] must have known I was not ready for something like this,” Peter says. “Maybe he didn’t trust me to have E.D.I.T.H, he just trusted me to pick who should. It makes so much more sense.” Crippled by the pressure to be the next Iron Man and wanting more than anything just to go back to his friends and ask MJ out, Peter gives the glasses to Mysterio.

Then, of course, we get the reveal that Mysterio has been the bad guy this whole time. Surprise! And he’s not even from a different Earth—the multiverse will have to wait. What a tease.

Recall, if you will, the B.A.R.F. technology used in Captain America: Civil War so Tony could recreate a memory with his parents and make himself feel bad, as he is wont to do. According to Beck, he was the one who created that technology, and Tony stole it and fired him for no reason. Upset at his life’s work being stolen, Beck recruited others who had been burned by Tony and Stark Enterprises to set about using illusions and manufactured disasters, all to make Beck seem like an Avengers-level hero and thus unable to be tossed aside any more. Using a combination of high-tech drones and illusions, Beck and his team crafted the Elementals all to boost his own public standing, and his plan isn’t over yet.

Like Homecoming, the villain gets their motivation from hatred of Tony Stark. Like Homecoming, instead of using this to interrogate Tony, who, while one of the most interesting characters in the MCU (and at least in my top three, if you haven’t figured that out by now), is very, very flawed, Far From Home largely brushes this aside. Instead of having Peter face the flaws of someone he both idolized and idealized, he just… doesn’t think about it at all, and neither does the movie offer any commentary on the person of Tony Stark and his legacy other than showing that Peter feels pressure to live up to it. 

But is that legacy too tarnished? Too many times Marvel steps back from interrogating their heroes when stepping forward would be infinitely more interesting (a problem that especially comes to light in WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier), as if afraid to rile up their fanbase by pointing out, very reasonably, that their heroes have flaws. But here we are, left only to imagine the moral dilemmas that should arise but never do.

Positioning Peter as Tony’s protégé and inheritor of his technology presents another moral dilemma that the Spider-Man movies either ignore or tiptoe around: class and wealth. It was an issue in Homecoming for Vulture (Michael Keaton), and the movie worked overtime to make you forget his sympathetic roots by having him attempt to kill a child—class issues were brought up as fodder for backstory, nothing more. Peter may have a pair of glasses advanced enough to launch a missile strike from space, but the Spider-Man of the comics is not rich. His appeal springs in large part from his working class roots, making him relatable to his audience; he doesn’t have fancy technology to help him out, and he faces the same problems most people do, problems that people like Tony Stark never have to think about. But MCU Peter Parker only rarely addresses his financial status, and with sugar daddies like Tony to help him out, any class commentary gets swept under the rug. Maybe his apartment isn’t super nice, and maybe he has an older computer model, but those are just background details. No one ever talks about it, because that would be uncomfortable, and heaven forbid Marvel make their audience feel discomfort. (To their credit, they’ll try—a bit—in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.)

Still, despite this, Mysterio is a most excellent villain, and Gyllenhaal is a maniacal force of nature in the role. Mysterio is great precisely because he’s not a real physical threat. His manipulation allows the audience to do a deep dive into Peter Parker’s psyche and examine what makes him tick, what makes him afraid, what makes him insecure, and Gyllenhaal’s scenery-chewing performance is one for the superhero movie annals. And, furthermore, it’s a great commentary on superheroes themselves: all the fanfare, all the powers, are just smoke and mirrors. Quentin Beck performs the role of Mysterio just like Tony Stark performed the role of Iron Man—he’s just a little less hands-on.

Fortunately for Peter, he’s now able to relax a bit without the responsibilities of E.D.I.T.H. hanging over his head. He even asks MJ out on a date of sorts, and the natural chemistry between Holland and Zendaya is (of course) among the MCU’s best, so it’s hard not to root for these two awkward lovebirds.

Unfortunately for Beck, MJ finds a piece of debris recovered from an Elemental battle whilst in Prague, and when she shows it to Peter, he tells her he’s Spider-Man (surprise!) and realizes that, perhaps, he shouldn’t have handed over those glasses to a stranger, so off he goes to find Fury and Hill in Berlin so they can stop Mysterio from elevating himself at the cost of hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. Alas, Beck is one step ahead of Peter and already in Berlin. 

When the two finally confront each other, it looks nothing short of spectacular. Where Doctor Strange largely failed to follow through on the fantastical visuals it promised, Far From Home succeeds with aplomb. Mysterio hardly appears during this sequence, and instead the focus rests solely on Peter as he scrambles to figure out what’s real and what’s not, and it looks fantastic: buildings fall on Peter, he gets attacked by a horde of fellow Spider-Men, a zombified Iron Man hauls itself from its grave with insects pouring out of its skull, and both Peter and the audience lose all sense of direction and reality as Mysterio’s voice echoes all around, menacing and misleading, preying on all Peter’s weaknesses and insecurities. And, miraculously, the colors are vibrant. With only a handful of exceptions here and there, Marvel has had a notoriously dull color palette, but Far From Home shows how much more engaging things can be with just a splash of brightness. It’s a marvelously (ha…) inventive scene, one that shows a sense of creativity that the MCU sometimes lacks; it feels like a breath of fresh, cool air.

But the showdown isn’t over yet. Mysterio tricks Peter into getting hit by a train, thinking that would kill him, but Peter is quite durable: soon, he wakes up in a Dutch prison (surrounded by the jolliest group of prisoners you’ll ever meet), and has to phone Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) to come pick him up. Safely on a plane and en route to London, Peter finally breaks down. 

Tom Holland should be considered one of the prize jewels in the MCU’s leading man collection. He effortlessly conveys a goofy, lovesick kid, but can turn on a dime to show the toll that Peter’s losses have taken on him. He’s still just a teenager—sixteen years old!—albeit one who feels the weight of the world on his shoulders. But, as Happy tells Peter, “You’re never gonna be Iron Man. Nobody could live up to Tony, not even Tony… The one thing that he did that he didn’t second guess was picking you.” It’s an incredibly touching sequence, one that acknowledges the impact that Tony had on Peter’s life while allowing the latter to finally move on, and it’s brought to life by an incredible performance from Holland as all the pain and weariness of the past half year crash down on him.

Happy’s speech frees Peter of the need to be Iron Man; instead, he can just be your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, and so Peter gets to work. (A sweet scene that echoes Tony gets slightly ruined when, over the sound of AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” Peter proclaims, “I love Led Zeppelin!”) He goes to London to defeat Mysterio, and does so handily with the help of his Spidey-Sense Peter-tingle, his ability to sense things before they happen. Again the visuals are fantastic: Peter closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and lets his senses guide him, and so we are treated to a dark and quiet screen with only flashes of color and sound as Peter finally closes in on Mysterio, who dies from a stray bullet wound from one of his own drones. It’s a finale unlike any Marvel showdowns that have come before, one-on-one and intimate, showing Peter’s powers in a new way and looking great while doing it.

But, of course, there’s a catch. “Even dead, I’m the hero,” as Tony says—and it seems Mysterio took that to heart, as he and his cronies posthumously release a video edited to appear as if Spider-Man was the one behind the attacks and killed Mysterio out of cold blood.

There are two reasons this is a huge revelation: one, because Peter Parker’s secret identity is, well, secret, and that secrecy has been a defining trait of his character in the comics. When he revealed his true self to the world in the Civil War comic arc, everyone went bananas; even in the MCU, where few bother with the secret identity shtick, it seemed obvious that Peter’s identity as Spider-Man would remain known only to a select few. Now suddenly a mainstay of his character has been shoved aside with zero warning, leaving us to ponder the enormous consequences.

Two, because the source of this news comes from The Daily Bugle, reimagined from a newspaper into a sensationalist media outlet à la InfoWars, and with the introduction of this Spider-Man mainstay comes the person of J. Jonah Jameson, with J.K. Simmons reprising his role from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. Simmons and his cigar-chomping Jameson were icons of the Raimi trilogy, and his appearance not only introduces a person and organization vital to Spider-Man’s persona, it hints at some game-changing shenanigans to come, perhaps involving the multiverse… or maybe Simmons is just that good. Or both! But I guess we’ll have to wait a few weeks to find that out. 

So even if Far From Home feels less a capper to Phase Three and more the start of Phase Four, it’s hard not to like it. Like Ant-Man and its sequel, Far From Home has charm and humor to spare; unlike Ant-Man and its sequel, it also manages to stretch the MCU formula in ways that so many other Marvel entries fail to do. It’s got a believable romance, an engaging villain, and visually memorable fight scenes, and it’s a hell of a good time to boot. If this is what the MCU looks like in a post-Endgame world, the future looks bright.

Whether this world can live up to the promise set by Far From Home… well, that’s for later.

Groundwork and stray observations: Marvel has no big master plan; rather, they plant seeds wherever they can in the hopes that some of them might one day germinate. None of these were planned from day one, lest the whole ship sink, but the seeds germinated nonetheless:

Anna’s Favorite Scene: Peter vs. Mysterio. Doctor Strange wishes it could have looked half as cool.

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2. Avengers: Infinity War, 3. Captain America: Civil War, 4. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, 5. Thor: Ragnarok, 6. Avengers: Endgame, 7. Guardians of the Galaxy, 8. Spider-Man: Far From Home, 9. The Avengers, 10. Spider-Man: Homecoming, 11. Captain America: The First Avenger, 12. Iron Man 3, 13. Iron Man, 14. Black Panther, 15. Ant-Man and the Wasp, 16. Doctor Strange, 17. Ant-Man, 18. Thor, 19. Avengers: Age of Ultron, 20. Captain Marvel, 21. Thor: The Dark World, 22. Iron Man 2, 23. The Incredible Hulk

Spider-Man: Far From Home Trailer

Spider-Man: Far From Home is currently available to rent and purchase on most digital storefronts.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

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