I hold the unpopular opinion that while Tom Holland is perfectly charming and his efforts in the role of Spider-Man so far are completely acceptable offerings, he is not and probably never will be my Spider-Man and that is totally fine, he’s not really supposed to be. I feel that way not in order to be a troll or a killjoy, I don’t want attention for that position and will never write a hate-piece pointing out the flaws and inconsistencies in Jon Watts’ webhead. I respect the popularity of this depiction and sit quietly in the back of the theater while everyone else has their fun. Knock yourselves out.
But to put a fine point on it the things I loved about Peter Parker, the things that made me want to grow into a man like him was his independence and ingenuity and, primarily, his humor. Parker was funny because he was smart, not because he was bumbling and awkward and unfortunately Holland’s version leans so far into those tropes that I simply don’t care for the character in the way that I did. And if there are objections to that criticism all I have to do is direct eyes right… right at the tonally brilliant Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse which does a much better job of breathing life into the comic incarnations, multiple incarnations at that, that it becomes an unenvious position of trying to follow that act.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is superior to Homecoming in nearly every sense, from its scale to its humor and supporting cast to, most importantly, its villain and that’s saying something considering how frightening and fun Michael Keaton’s Vulture was but if there was a flaw to his depiction it’s that he disappeared inside of a big CGI robot that just smashed everything in sight. But man, I gotta say, I love Jake Gyllenhaal. I have for a long time, he seems like the kind of actor who both really loves his work and throws himself into it with pure enthusiasm, I really think he deserves a good popular role finally, something that isn’t buried in an obscure indie film and he seems to have found it here in Mysterio, and unlike Keaton, he gets to work both sides of the street in costume and out of it, as a hero and nemesis.
Far From Home also benefits from having only two listed writers this go around instead of Homecoming‘s six and the result is considerably more consistent. Someone at a pitch meeting said “Cross a Marvel movie with European Vacation but get rid of the parents and focus on Rusty and we’re off to the races”. We’ve also beefed up Zendaya’s role as some kind of April Ludgate zygote and the result is mostly successful if largely predictable.
Speaking of predictable. I’ll not deny going into Far From Home a little bored, with lowered expectations, it’s an odd coda to a largely complete Phase 3 after the trauma and rollercoaster of emotion that was the final two Avengers films. It’s a little like the scene at the end of (spoilers but, I mean, kind of obvious) The Impossible the Ewan McGregor/Naomi Watts (oh and a young Tom Holland!) movie about the Indonesian tsunami in 2004 that killed nearly 230,000 people. In the beginning the family is going on vacation in Thailand and the mom and dad are a little anxious about flying, the plane ride makes them nervous and then they experience one of the most horrifying and destructive natural disasters in modern history and, after surviving, they get on a plane home, recall their earlier flight jitters and have a surreal moment that translates into big fucking deal now, eh. So what the hell is Spider-Man going to bring to the table after all that?
Well. I’d posit that I have not seen a better depiction of a true Spider-Man villain brought to the screen as well as Mysterio. I have not been so effectively brought back to the thrill and imagination I experienced when I first started reading comic books, where the bad guy has to be outsmarted rather than outpunched. That’s the thing that rarely gets through in the MCU besides maybe Doctor Strange, more often in the stories the heroes had to figure out a solution or a counterattack rather than just hit things and that’s because hitting things is boring to read, it’s dull when it’s a static drawing which is what compelled comic writers to come up with real resolutions. In Far From Home Spidey isn’t up against a comparable variation of his own abilities that he can just out webswing. He has to come up with a strategy and utilize his skillset. He has to trust his powers. He has to be smarter than the villain, not just stronger.
And that’s the crux of Spider-Man. That’s what made him a hero, his brain rather than brawn. As expected and shamelessly reiterated throughout the MCU, Iron Man is ubiquitous and nearly all-powerful, he’s the Swiss Army Knife and the deus ex machina and there isn’t a better example of that than Far From Home and that’s also okay. RDJ casts a big shadow, he’s inarguably the godfather of the whole shebang but at a certain point the children have to start making their own way and if this last entry of Marvel’s three phase universe, it’s a well executed, well intentioned, terrifically entertaining half-step in that direction. But it can be better. It can step out of that shadow. And it can stop giving its antagonists the short shrift; if Thanos, Killmonger, hell, if Loki demonstrated anything it’s that it is possible to create compelling, multi-layered characters who happen to be at odds with conventional expectations of bad guy versus good guy. To put a finer point on it, if the MCU is going to grow up, now’s the time.