'Spider-Man: Far From Home' Review: With Great Spectacle Comes an Uneven Narrative
It’s taken me a few days to sober up after Fourth of July weekend and while I still struggle with the concept, I’ve done my best to gather some of my feelings on the big movie offering of the weekend, Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Tom Holland is becoming one of my favorite Spider-folks. He’s just naturally endearing and that really shines through in his portrayal of Peter Parker. But I really have to give major credit to Marvel for pushing new villains forward in this franchise rather than relying on familiar foes. It’s the sort of trap that every other studio with a comic book property has fallen into with varying degrees of success. And it’s all the more tempting considering fans such as myself actually want to see characters like Green Goblin and Doc Ock again. But that’s the sort of thinking that can leave viewers fatigued on your franchise early out. Granted this is like the 18th Spidey flick, it’s only the 2nd in the MCU. So it’s a better long-term strategy to switch it up. And that strategy pays off for the most part (more on that later).
Visually speaking, Mysterio is a sight for sore eyes. His costume is part Dr. Strange (which the film acknowledges), part Thor, peppered with Hulk’s color scheme, and topped off with an otherworldly fishbowl helmet. It’s a seemingly intentional design choice, given that Mysterio’s big play in the film is convincing everyone that he’s a good guy from another universe. So why not cop the good guys’ looks?
The actual source of Mysterio’s “powers” make for some really mind-bending set pieces as well. He utilizes existing Stark Industries hologram tech, the tech that he himself invented, to create elaborate illusions. And he brings in weaponized drones to project them and give them that literal punch. It’s a clever way to integrate past films like Civil War, especially when Stark’s shadow looms so large over Far From Home’s proceedings. It also allows the filmmakers to craft action scenes that feel like Inception dream sequences amped up to 11. Spidey can get his ass jumped by a bunch of other Spider-Men one second and wake up in a snow globe the next. You don’t really need to abide by any rules when what you’re doing isn’t actually real.
Let me start by saying I’m convinced that Jake Gyllenhaal is in the early stages of transforming into Nicolas Cage. Like all he needs to do is blow $150 million on an island and not pay his taxes and he’s there. Ever since Nightcrawler allowed him to ham it up to critical acclaim, something in his performances has become slightly unhinged. And as much as I love that acting style, his role in Far From Home feels uneven.
In the film, Gyllenhaal plays classic Spider-Man villain Mysterio. He’s a disgruntled ex-employee of Stark Industries who saw his groundbreaking hologram tech given the name “BARF” by Tony in Civil War. He then gets fired for reasons and eventually becomes a homicidal maniac for more reasons. It’s sloppy writing for sure, but Gyllenhaal is able to elevate the material with his performance. Mostly.
The whole first half of the film, Gyllenhaal is forced to play it straight. You see, he’s still pretending to be the good guy and his version of that is “stoic badass that’s lost everything, but a dry sense of humor.” The problem with that is it feels dated and boring. There was a missed opportunity here for meta-reference on the jovial and irreverent hero that has become the prevailing archetype in the genre thanks to Marvel. We got shades of that, but it lacked any real heart. You’re supposed to care just because he lost someone he loved. You’re supposed to like him just because Peter likes him. But what actually makes him a bankable hero feels incredibly vague. Even his powers are inexplicable beyond “green and smoke-like.” It’s the kinda thing that hasn’t been cool in this genre since the mid-2000s.
I will admit though, that all of that was likely intentional. The idea that everyone is so desperate for a new hero in the wake of Thanos and the “Blip”, that they’ll latch on to even the vaguest approximation of one isn’t all that far-fetched. The U.S. currently has the vaguest approximation of a president sitting in the White House after all.
Still, it’s tough watching Gyllenhaal sleepwalk through half a movie before he’s allowed to finally let loose. Though he does spend pretty much the entirety of the second half screaming at lackeys and plotting to kill children. We’ll call it a fair trade.
So, Mysterio has a lot of people working under him to make his magic happen and that’s pretty understandable. It’s a lot just to manage all that tech, much less the public hero image. But there’s an inordinate amount of time dedicated to background players. Like an entire scene of straight exposition explaining who they are and what job they did. One of the guys is actually from the first Iron Man. He gets yelled at by Obadiah Stane when he can’t replicate Tony’s work and I guess that leads to him joining the bad guys and…just to reiterate…trying to murder children. Shouldn’t that guys beef be with Obadiah?
And why do we care about the guy that writes dialogue and backstory for Mysterio? Couldn’t Mysterio have come up with that himself? Do we really need to cut the tension and watch a woman steam Mysterio’s cape? It’s that kinda silly shit that brings the film to a screeching halt. That time could have been devoted to giving Mysterio some reason to be angry beyond “Tony gave my project a funny name.” Maybe he really did lose his wife and child and maybe it was still tied to Tony in the end. There are multitudes of ways you can give a character like that an emotional anchor, but no. Instead, we got an overlong sequence featuring Gyllenhaal in a green onesie explaining the plot to us.
Far From Home offers up some pretty mind-blowing visuals that only slightly make up for uneven pacing. Jake Gyllenhaal gives both the most boring and most impressive performance of the film, and his post-credits reveal shows his villainy will have further reaching implications for Peter. It’s far from the best entry in the long-running Spider-Man film franchise, but it’s certainly not the worst.