After Into the Spider-Verse, I was worried it had spoiled me so much that Far From Home would ultimately disappoint. It is certainly not my favorite Spider-Man movie — that’s Into the Spider-Verse (obviously) — but it’s definitely my second favorite. Not any of the badly-aged and cringey (except for J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson) Sam Raimi films, the garbage fire that was Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel, or Homecoming where Peter just acts like a lovesick Avengers groupie while wasting Micheal “I’m Batbirdman” Keaton as the villain (who thankfully wasn’t the fucking Green Goblin…again).
So what, exactly, made Far From Home different (at least for me)? Short answer: it’s actually a Spider-Man movie, not simply another “Marvel movie.” Even if Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) has a posthumous presence in the story, it never overshadows the rest of the material and provides the kind of crisis-of-conscience that came from the death of Uncle Ben — something which Peter has lacked in previous MCU appearances — and deftly connected to the villain’s own motivation within the story, but the danger they represent isn’t overblown. The film, rightfully, concentrates more on Peter Parker’s psychology and making the stakes more personal even if portrayed in an epic manner.
The long answer? I’ll get into that now…
FRIENDLIEST IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
As stated in my (admittedly overlong and sometimes meandering) pieces on Infinity War and Endgame, I absolutely adore Tom Holland in the role…and still want to squeeze his cheeks, if I ever meet him (I can’t help it). He definitely captures the gee-golly-willikers take that Tobey McGuire was going for as Peter Parker, albeit far less campy, but — unlike McGuire — that doesn’t go away when he’s Spider-Man. He’s not the version of the character in the comics, cracking jokes mid-battle to annoy supervillains, but he definitely emphasizes the “friendly” in “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.”
A problem I’ve had with a lot of Marvel movies, as far as their form of comedy goes, was how it came off more forced than naturalistic. There’s been this eager-to-please approach that makes it feel like the actors are in on the joke, nudging and winking while doing a shtick, except some of the best comedy comes from the unexpected or unintentional. Whether it is Drax’s inability to understand metaphors (and abysmal attempts at noticing social cues) or Thor’s bravado and bluster obviously covering up a fragile ego, it’s funny because the characters themselves are not trying to be funny — they’re playing it straight yet it is hard to take seriously.
Similarly, this Peter Parker both in- and outside the suit is humorous as a character because he’s congenial to a fault (e.g. politely introducing himself to Valkyrie, as played by Tessa Thompson…in the middle of an end-of-the-world battle) and adorably awkward when trying to hit on M.J. (who, in this case, is the disconcerting jokester — played here by Zendaya) the way a teenager actually would. It certainly feels more convincing than literally any (obviously ad-libbed)interaction between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in Amazing Spider-Man or its sequel. There’re other nice touches, like how the rivalry with Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) isn’t based on an outdated nerd/jock dynamic (that stopped once Tech-Bros became a thing…more on that later) as much as it is predicated on wealth and class. It’s also very true-to-life the way Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) and Betty Brandt’s (Angourie Rice, who is co-starring with yet another pop singer) summer fling occurs and how seriously they take it, with the former giving condescending advice to Peter as if he’s been in a healthy relationship for many a year now.
A poignant aspect of the plot is how Parker, though still wanting to be a superhero, is stressed out by and made avoidant of the pressure placed on being perceived as Iron Man’s “successor” — a position that, at no point, he actually self-proclaimed and was simply assumed by others (including Tony Stark) — is asking a lot of a sixteen-year-old kid. It even causes his usually reliable Spidey Sense (please don’t call it a “tingle” unless you’re Marisa Tomei, who ages like the finest of French wines) to malfunction until the ending. It was difficult for me to perceive Peter’s avoidance as an act of cowardice because he, unlike Tony Stark, just wants to have something of a life outside of being Spider-Man than dedicate his entire being to that identity (which is faithful to how, in the comics, his work/life balance was a recurring internalized conflict). That’s not a bad thing and quite reasonable, moreso when considering what a wreck Tony Stark actually was as a person.
SINS OF THE SURROGATE FATHER
A big reason why Infinity War is one of my favorite MCU installments, as I stated elsewhere, is the acknowledgment that maybe some of these heroic characters aren’t always good people. They can, in fact, be downright terrible as human beings regardless of their feats, no matter how exciting or amusing. That isn’t to say they may as well be inhuman monsters but that, much like a real-life problematic fave, they’re far less ideal than they are made out to be either by themselves or admirers. You might like what they’ve done, but may come to disdain them — usually with enough time behind closed doors.
Tony “Iron Man” Stark is the exemplar of this.
His gadgetry may be fascinating and quips chucklesome, but his egotism and selfishness — two prominent personality traits — are often forgotten by audiences distracted by the spectacle. It should be remembered that he is a weapons manufacturer and only became a superhero when almost killed by one of his own missiles, not because he had a genuine interest in protecting the powerless from the abusively powerful like Captain America (Chris Evans) did. Though, even after becoming a superhero, he had endangered the world due to his overwhelming hubris (e.g. Age of Ultron) then betrayed many of his allies while undergoing a psychological breakdown (e.g. Civil War). However, I do not say that to diminish how — at other times — he was also integral to saving the lives of many and even died like a champion to do so. Plus Robert Downey, Jr. was so goddamn good in the role.
In one of the best scenes of the film, after Spidey experiences a humiliating and near-fatal defeat, Harold “Happy” Hogan (Jon Favreau) has a heart-to-heart where he admits — being his closest and longest-known friend — Tony Stark wasn’t easy to be around or deal with. He was paranoid, obsessive, and never truly satisfied. That makes Happy one of the few people present in the film who’s wise enough to not expect Peter to become “the new Iron-Man.” He, instead, encourages Peter to walk his own path based on what he learned from his time as Stark’s kinda-sorta apprentice. What point is there in just replacing one whose time has passed and simply repeat their failings? It’s more important that, while acknowledging their achievements, we learn to avoid the mistakes the last generation made and become better for it.
If Tony had more foresight and knew what kind of pain and animosity his actions would have caused, especially after his death, perhaps Peter’s life — as well as those of his closest friends — wouldn’t have been endangered by someone whom he wronged in the past…
LAND OF CONFUSION
The zeitgeist we live in now is one of mass gaslighting, to one degree or another. Where the lies of charlatans are treated far too credulously, taking advantage of the goodwill of those well-meaning but gullible, and some even come to hero-worship them — as their fallacious narrative is more comforting than dealing with the disappointment that comes with skepticism and cynicism. Those who accuse legitimate sources of information as “fake news” are often the ones who help perpetuate the phenomenon most. It does not help these charlatans are gifted with a level of charisma that, though they abuse others including sycophants, often render them immune to further scrutiny as every indiscretion is swept under the rug with some convenient rationalization. They often have too much power, with little to no responsibility taken for their actions.
The point I’m making is that Quentin “Mysterio” Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal) represents all of this.
Anyone who read the comics is well-aware his whole act of being a superhero from a tangent timeline fighting elemental monsters was a very likely falsehood, but knowing that didn’t really ruin anything for me. When it comes to cinematic adaptations of printed works — I want there to be changes made, for the better. Some stuff in the comics just don’t work in live-action, as much as fanboys are loathed to admit such (get the fuck over yourselves), and being too “faithful” might be a bad thing. No, what interested me was what changes would be made to him as a character. Originally, he was a special effects artist (though it is amusingly referenced with in-jokes about the actual process done for these movies) but that really wouldn’t work now. Making him an Elon Muskesque Tech-Bro not only makes sense when considering his weaponized drones used for advanced holographic imagery — which did, at certain times, strain suspension of disbelief — but that, accompanied by other former Stark Industry employees like William Ginter Riva (Peter Billingsley), his grievances are legitimate to some extent.
Stark pulled a Thomas Edison/Steve Jobs on Beck and took credit for the work he did, only to add insult to injury when giving his groundbreaking work a juvenile acronym like “B.A.R.F.” and tossed it aside in such a nonchalant fashion. Riva himself was pulled into a conflict between Stark and Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) which was little more than a dick-measuring contest writ large in the first Iron Man and, honestly, I can’t blame anyone holding a grudge over that. Though Beck speaks as if Robin Hood, upon tricking Peter him into handing over the E.D.I.T.H. glasses and access to more weaponized drones, he soon becomes another Sheriff of Nottingham the next moment as he threatens his accomplices due to minor dissent and an unexpected complication. Yet, rather than any self-realization on their part and trying to undo his scheme, they still followed his orders. Why would anyone do that, especially here? Fiction has plenty of henchmen who question their master and try sabotaging their efforts when knowing better, even in vain (e.g. Skurge, played by Karl Urban, from Thor: Ragnarok) — but not them and, at first, it confused me. Upon my subsequent viewing of the film, it dawned on me that their loyalty wasn’t to Beck as much as the false narrative he wants to impose upon the world.
They’re not much different from the all-too-real villains of our current age: nihilistic opportunists who cravenly hide behind lofty lies and profit from the destruction they sow…
A POSTHUMOUS VICTORY
Along with Infinity War, Far From Home is the only other MCU installment where the villain succeeds, though one that is only achieved after their death. Being unable to do his version of The Syndrome’s scheme from The Incredibles, Beck’s spineless asshole lackeys take whatever footage was recorded by the drones and doctor it to frame Spider-Man for mass murder as well as doxxing him to the whole of New York City. This, of course, is pushed by none other than J. Jonah Jameson (and, by God, I was ecstatic to see they brought back J.K. Simmons for the role) who — given his portrayal as an online pundit and the graphical style of the show’s logo — may as well be Ben Shapiro or Alex Jones.
It echos incidences such as the dissolution of the community outreach organization ACORN due to bad faith actor and Andrew Breitbart protege James O’Keefe III or, more recently, former Quilette writer Andy Ngo’s demonizing of antifascist protestors by provoking them into a physical confrontation and using self-victimization afterwards for personal gain all while supposedly smart people expressed misplaced empathy for a “journalist” (which, god-fucking-dammit, he’s not) doing their “job” (of rationalizing heinous ideas appealing to fascists). In both cases, anyone perceptive enough can see through such egregious attempts of manipulation— those who believed them wanted to. If they truly cared about the facts, whatsoever, they would’ve waited and looked for more information as opposed to immediately coming to a conclusion based on an incomplete picture. They made up their mind before it occurred.
When coupled with Captain Marvel’s take on “The Great Replacement” and demagoguery targeting refugees, and Thanos representing the resurgence of the “overpopulation” myth perpetuated by eugenicists of yesteryear like Thomas Malthus and Margaret Sanger from Infinity War, it’s nice to see this trend in the MCU using social commentary to inform their spectacles and make them resonate on a deeper level. I mean, most of the previous ten years suffered from telling over showing — with supposed “themes” outright stated by characters while no concrete action within the plot expresses it — but they’re finally doing it (more) and Far From Home definitely comes the closest to the spirit of 80’s-era satirical actioneers like Robocop and They Live, next to Winter Soldier.
Though, when you think about it, Mysterio’s posthumous victory was only possible because of Thanos’ posthumous victory. Wiping out half of all life across the universe may’ve been his intention, one that was achieved then subsequently reversed, but the psychological after-effects of “The Blip” (I’d rather they stuck with “The Snap” — ’cause that name sucks rotten eggs) still remained. The incident was so harrowing, worsened by the five-year discrepancy between those who survived and those who disappeared, that even Beck acknowledges it made people prone to believing any ridiculous scenario now. It’s what allowed him to execute his vile machinations and succeed. But, to tie all this up in a pretty little bow, there’s a line from Infinity War (no, I’m never going to shut up about it) that perfectly sums up the existential crisis the MCU (as well as our own world) is now afflicted by and that the Mad Titan (how fitting!) is responsible for:
[Originally posted on 9/30/19 @ Medium.com]