Spider-Man: Far From Home is also far from essential

The latest film revolving around Tom Holland’s teenage webslinger is slight and silly, but is that such a bad thing?

Coming like a pinch of parsley on a heaping of gravy-slathered fried chicken, Spider-Man: Far From Home is what Marvel calls the last of their current phase of movies. Their in-house buzzwords have become part of the marketing of these films, which bodes very well for their plans of total domination. Either way, nothing about Spider-Man: Far From Home spells final. 

Like its predecessor, Homecoming, it’s a looser, more genial superhero movie than its ilk. Though the future of mankind always hangs in the balance of these things, Spider-Man: Far From Home doesn’t necessarily put more weight on the future of mankind than it does its protagonist’s somewhat unrequited love story. It’s essentially a teen comedy that’s constantly being interrupted by a superhero movie, and while that’s not exactly shaking the foundations of the genre, it’s a notch above a superhero movie constantly being interrupted by another superhero movie.

Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is very much looking forward to his upcoming senior trip to Europe. It means no fighting crime, for one, and he also has a plan to tell his fellow student MJ (Zendaya) how he really feels. Peter’s so stoked on this trip that he chooses not to bring the Spider-Man costume with him and to completely ignore Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who has been trying to reach him for days. Turns out that Fury has the power and the resources to bogart Peter’s trip no matter what — as it turns out, a mysterious being from another dimension named Quentin Beck / Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) has appeared to request help from S.H.I.E.L.D to defeat four elemental monsters who threaten Earth.

Since the other Avengers (except, perhaps, Ant-Man) have long since abandoned pretenses of being humans who exist in the real world, it falls on Parker to bring even the slightest amount of humanity to all the bits surrounding the whirling dervishes of CGI that compose something like 40 per cent of this movie. Thankfully, Far From Home is eminently likeable even if it often isn’t actually very funny. By inverting the stakes and making the superhero storyline a second thought for its protagonist, it manages to wring a few new things out of a calloused formula. The humour isn’t always on point — a lot of the vacation stuff is made up of dusty slapstick shenanigans of JFL Laughs calibre, like the dorky teacher played by Martin Starr dropping his camera in the Venice canals — but there’s an amiable slackness to the proceedings that’s more than welcome.

Even the superhero stuff has some interesting ideas. Press has been forbidden from revealing any info about Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, but suffice to say that if you’ve even heard of Mysterio before, these spoilers are more than a little paranoid. Nevertheless, the nature of the film allows director Jon Watts to look upon his own work with a bit of meta-textual distance. Granted, this isn’t exactly Godard we’re talking about, but Far From Home may be the first Marvel movie to suggest genre fatigue from within.

It doesn’t make the action scenes any less chaotic and difficult to parse (especially considering that this particular premise I’m not allowed to discuss adds an additional layer of visual debris to the already busy in-house Marvel style), but at least it seems to sympathize with us a little. (It’s also worth noting that Gyllenhaal is continuing his Netflix-abetted slide into the kind of bugfuck scenery-chewing usually reserved for guys slumming it in the DTV trenches. While he’s not quite at the level of his cartoonish performances in Okja and Velvet Buzzsaw — in fact, he spends the first half of the film in what appears to be a deliberate sedated haze — it’s good to see someone really running with the paycheque for once rather than doing a merely decent, deferential job.)

I’ve always said that Spider-Man is my favourite superhero inasmuch as even someone who is fairly ambivalent about superhero movies and comics as I am will, by default, have a favourite superhero. (It’s kind of like how my favourite Radiohead record is The Bends, because I’ve basically never listened to any other Radiohead record actively.) Spider-Man: Far From Home is thoroughly inessential; in a movie franchise essentially designed to flow like a television show, it is the most missable bottle episode. It also happens to be a lot more fun that way. ■

Spider-Man: Far From Home opens in theatres on Tuesday, July 2. Watch the trailer here: