Fair warning: This review contains major plot spoilers, so read with caution if you have not yet seen the film.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is the film that Spider-Man: Homecoming strove to be, but didn't quite succeed in being. Whereas the earlier film, which marked the start of the third major franchise centered on the arachnid-powered teenage superhero over the past two decades, often felt like it was trying too hard, Far From Home has an almost effortless buoyancy that is fueled by humor, action, and romanticism, often all at the same time. Returning director Jon Watts and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers are aided by the fact that Peter Parker / Spider-Man's relationship with Tony Stark / Iron Man, which was established in Homecoming, was significantly deepened in the final two Avengers films, where Peter was, along with billions of others around the galaxy, dissipated and then resurrected five years later. The mentor/mentee-turned-surrogate father/son relationship was one of the strongest emotional undercurrents in those films, and the fallout from Tony's death at the end of Avengers: Endgame (2019) becomes a major plot element in Far From Home, which finds Peter, rather than desperate to join the Avengers in their battle against intergalactic villainy, trying to get away from his superhero responsibilities and be a regular 16-year-old.
The major event in Peter's life is a summer class trip to Europe with a dozen or so of his classmates, including his goofy best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and MJ (Zendaya), the object of his most genuine and heartfelt affection (one of the film's real virtues is its unironic take on romantic love, even though it includes an amusing subplot in which Ned starts up an unlikely romance with Angourie Rice's Betty Brant). Again played by Tom Holland, who looks and sounds and acts like an actual, awkward teenager, Peter Parker is imminently likeable because he's so ingenuous. Even his Spidey suit (of which there are at least three iterations during the film) can't fully hide his anxieties and apprehensions, especially about Tony Stark having essentially passed on his legacy to him via a pair of billion-dollar AI-enhanced sunglasses that give him unfettered access to all of Stark Industries' technologies. He also has Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the former head of the Avengers, constantly trying to contact him while poor Peter just wants to go to Europe so he can make good on his idealized plan of getting MJ on the top of the Eiffel Tower to tell her he likes her. There's a real sweetness and innocence to Peter's desire that a lesser movie might have been tempted to mock, but here is played completely straight (romance extends to other subplots, as well, as Jon Favreau's Happy Hogan takes a shine to Peter's Aunt May, played again by Marisa Tomei).
Peter's best laid plans are laid to waste by the arrival of the Elementals, interdimensional monsters that take the form of the four elements-earth, wind, water, and fire-to destroy lots and lots of stuff. Nick Fury wants to recruit Spider-Man to battle them alongside Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a soldier from an alternate reality of Earth who has already battled the Elementals there. Decked out in a golden, high-tech armored suit, flowing cape, and glass helmet that looks like an opaque fishbowl turned upside down, Beck is nicknamed "Mysterio" by the awed humans who watch him flying around and fighting the towering monstrosities with green beams of energy. Peter is a reluctant hero; he is too preoccupied with trying to impress MJ, who is so endearing in her mix of sarcasm and blunt honesty. But, he gets drawn into the battle anyway and finds in Mysterio a sympathetic ear who helps fill the void left by Tony Stark, which is why Peter enthusiastically turns over all of Stark's technology to him, essentially bequeathing to Mysterio the inheritance Stark intended for him.
But, then everything gets turned on its head. Those familiar with the Spider-Man comics will already have an idea of where things are headed, as the comic book Mysterio, originally introduced in the 1960s, was a master of illusion and special effects with no actual supernatural powers. Similarly, in Far From Home, Mysterio is no intergalactic hero, but rather a cast-off of Stark Industries who wants to one-up the deceased Tony Stark by making himself into a superhero via complex illusions constructed with drones and holographic projections. The Elementals, which felt like lazy, uninspired villains with no real explanation or purpose, don't even exist, but are rather visual fabrications (accompanied by real destruction) created by Mysterio and his team to make him appear to be a hero-illusions so convincing that even the paranoid Nick Fury falls for it.
And this is where Spider-Man: Far From Home becomes really interesting from a current politics perspective, because Mysterio is the perfect Trumpian villain. Like the current President, he is driven by a deep narcissistic wound (in this case, his technology being rejected and mocked by Tony Stark) who now seeks adulation from others by creating otherwise nonexistent enemies that prey on our pre-existing fears and then "defeating" them. Surrounded by acolytes who are similarly aggrieved and willing to do his bidding, he has created a fraudulent mass fantasy of disaster and placed himself at the center of it as the ultimate hero. And, like Trump, he doesn't care in the least about collateral damage as long as he gets his way. Just as Fritz Lang put Nazi slogans into the mouth of his nefarious Dr. Mabuse (at least by Lang's probably exaggerated account), Mysterio is curiously given to proclamations that sound far too Trumpian to be accidental (his dying words are about people's "willingness to believe anything these days"). The Trump vibe is given an added punch at the last minute, when the mid-credits sequence gives us the return of J.K. Simmons' bombastic J. Jonah Jameson, not as a newspaper publisher, but as an Alex Jones-style Internet conspiracy theorist pouncing on doctored video to make it look like Spider-Man was responsible for Mysterio's crimes. It's a pitch-perfect bit of over-the-top satire of Trump's America, the land of "fake news" and "alternative facts," that also sets up the inevitable third installment.
Copyright © 2019 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright © Sony Pictures / Columbia Pictures / Marvel Studios
Overall Rating: (3.5)
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