‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ Asks: Is Spidey the ‘Next Iron Man’?
The superhero sequel sees Peter Parker struggle with the death of his mentor and team up with a wacky new hero, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, to save the world—all while on vacation.
The best Spider-Man movies have a knack for images that almost wordlessly communicate the hero’s appeal—the indignity, earnestness, romance, perseverance, and excruciating, terminal uncoolness that define Peter Parker. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 found it in a coin-op laundromat, where Tobey Maguire’s Peter stains his clothing red and blue after forgetting to separate his Spidey suit from his whites. (Too busy reading poetry out loud like a sap, hoping one day it might impress Mary Jane.) Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming honed in (again, with minimal dialogue) on Tom Holland’s 15-year-old Peter trapped under rubble in a homemade suit—in that moment, just a kid with the weight of New York on his shoulders, with no one to rely on but himself.
Watts’ sequel to Homecoming, Far From Home (in theaters today), is never quite so concise—it’s messier and a touch more superficial than its near-perfect predecessor—but it’s still a great Spider-Man movie. It understands and empathizes with the tensions that define this hero, and confronts him with a problem that puts Peter Parker, the science geek from Queens with a hopeless crush, at odds with his alter ego, now an intergalactic-traveling Avenger who counts aliens, gods, and genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropists as buddies. (R.I.P., Tony Stark.) The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Spidey is still a good kid trying his best while juggling responsibilities no one his age should have to bear. He’s still navigating the loss of a father figure, reckoning with his guilt, and deciding whose footsteps he might follow into adulthood.
And while we don’t get to watch this Peter screw up his laundry, he does suffer through another relatable, mundane indignity: being forced to work while on vacation.
Peter looks forward to his summer class trip to Europe as a well-deserved break from the strain of his superhero work life. You know, disappearing then re-materializing along with half the universe, watching Tony Stark die before his eyes, then being flung back into an ordinary high schooler’s existence, all in the span of a year. He just wants to ask out the girl he likes, the brainy MJ (Zendaya), through a plan just elaborate and cheesy enough to have sprung from the mind of a real teenager: he’ll take her to the top of the Eiffel Tower and present her with a Black Dahlia necklace (“like the murders”). But with most of the Avengers scattered or dead post-Endgame, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) turns to Peter when world-threatening elemental monsters begin wrecking cities—first a cyclone in Mexico, then a water titan in Venice—and no one else is around to stop them.
Except for Mysterio, aka Quentin Beck, a superhero Jake Gyllenhaal plays with a slowly but steadily intensifying mania that becomes more fun to watch the longer it goes on. He offers a welcome shoulder for Peter to lean on. And he comes from another timeline’s Earth, he announces, where the Elementals were his nemeses and from which he became unmoored after the timey-wimey confusion of Endgame. (The teenagers in Peter’s orbit refer to Thanos’ universe-decimating Snap as “the Blip.”) In Tony’s absence, Quentin feels like a big brother to Peter. He advises him never to apologize “for being the smartest one in the room.” And he does what no one, not even Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), ever seems to: he encourages Peter to enjoy being a kid.
Of course, that’s the dilemma: balancing personal fulfillment with the self-sacrificing responsibility of the job. (At least two Disney-adjacent properties this year have retired marquee heroes by allowing them to definitively choose the former—but Peter Parker’s franchise future requires he stay in the suit a while longer.) A maintainable work-life balance proves even trickier with the question of Iron Man’s legacy now haunting Peter, too. He inherits a pair of RDJ-style sunglasses enhanced with a powerful, weaponizable artificial intelligence named “E.D.I.T.H.” (Tony’s acronym for “Even Dead, I’m The Hero,” and indeed he looms large in this story). Then Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and Nick Fury raise the ludicrous notion of Peter as “the next Iron Man.” All before Peter is even given a chance to articulate his feelings about the passing of his mentor.
That moment finally arrives in a hallucinatory sequence that ranks among the trippiest visuals Marvel has pulled—a guilt-ridden fever dream that gives towering, monstrous weight to Peter’s regret over not being able to save Tony’s life. The film’s true villain controls the power of illusion, which he wields like a megalomaniacal director with the world as his green screen. There’s a vague bit of meta commentary stitched in, about the pliability of the truth in an age of fake news, or the generic, hackneyed stories superhero movies sometimes expect audiences to swallow. What works best about the twist, though, is simply how it connects to and adds new, silly dimensions to previous key moments in the MCU. Like the rest of Far From Home, the villain plot is never better than when it’s having fun.
The movie comes dangerously close to losing that sense of fun in its climactic third-act, especially in the requisite CGI-addled battle. For what feels like an eternity, Peter thwips his way up, down, and around London’s Tower Bridge, painstakingly destroying an army of fancy, faceless drones. It’s a far cry from the intensity and pathos of his face-off against Michael Keaton’s Vulture at Coney Island in Homecoming. But moments this bland are thankfully few. The movie knows its greatest asset: the kids.
Holland, as he has in four movies now, continues to nail Peter’s winsome mix of awkwardness and vulnerability. Zendaya plays MJ with a wry sort of complexity that makes it easy to see why Peter wants to spend time with her. Every scene they share is delightful, doubly so when Peter’s best friend Ned (played by the affable Jacob Batalon), his self-righteous rival for MJ’s affections Brad (Remy Hii), or the class jerk Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) are around, too. Who needs 20 minutes of clashing zeroes and ones when there’s this much genuine chemistry to light up the screen instead?
Far From Home’s wins you over in its goofiest moments: Peter and MJ tripping over their words, trying and failing to look cool in front of each other. The small-time irony of Flash picking on Peter, only to turn around and praise Spider-Man. The horrified look on Peter’s face whenever Aunt May refers to his Spidey senses as “your Peter tingle.” The unrestrained joy of the scream MJ lets loose when Peter finally swings her around New York City on a date, as if on a roller coaster for two. Spidey may be long past the “friendly neighborhood” phase of his career. But in the movies to come, the MCU would do well to remember to let Peter—and the rest of us—be a kid once in a while, too.