starring Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Jake Gyllenhaal
written by Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers
directed by Jon Watts
by Walter Chaw Burdened by the need to be the epilogue to Avengers: Endgame, Jon Watts's Spider-Man: Far From Home (hereafter Far from Home) trundles along awkwardly, lurching like an overburdened, top-heavy beast of burden bearing an unwise payload of poorly-packed goods. Its pacing is atrocious-approaching-deadly, and there's a notable lack of chemistry and timing between the leads made that much more glaring for the gloriously fleet and endlessly inventive Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which immediately precedes this film on the Spidey timeline. Compared to the most leaden entries in the MCU, Far from Home doesn't look any better, either. It leans into the teen comedy of Spider-Man: Homecoming with little success and, like it, can only be a teen comedy for half the time anyway--the other half given over to world-building in an endless slog of soapy Act 2s.
All Far from Home gets is Samuel L. Jackson often literally phoning it in as Nick Fury, snarling through a few tired lines along the way to setting up a rendezvous for Peter, who is asked to take a break from his school science trip to team up with the mysterious Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) to fight giant CGI "Elementals." Mysterio claims he's from an alternate universe that has been destroyed by these creatures and Nick Fury, being a genius, totally believes him. (Bad idea to remind us of Into the Spider-Verse, the new Tiffany standard for this character, with this alternate-universe talk, but there you have it.) I suppose it's fun to imagine not knowing that Mysterio is one of Spidey's rogue's gallery of villains--pity when decades of pop-culture have spoiled the major twist in your film. Peter, for his part, would much rather try to kiss MJ (Zendaya) than fight bad guys, and so there are a bunch of unfunny, not-delightful gags where Peter's classmates and their hapless chaperones are placed in peril and sightseeing detours conspire to keep Peter from charmingly stammering his way through his pitching of woo.
Watching two twenty-year-olds pretend to be virginal 16-year olds is...what's the term for what that is? It's not "boring," but it is boring, and when they finally get to have a little snog on the Tower Bridge, it ranks dead last on the list of Peter-kissing-MJ moments captured on camera. Dead. Last. It probably has something to do with how it's shot in medium and long shots--how it takes place in the middle of a high-casualty event after a hero battle that doesn't make any sense, even as it calls back to a Max Payne video game. I like Holland as Peter a lot--a lot a lot. I don't get Zendaya but accept that she's part of a cultural zeitgeist with Tessa Thompson and that not everything is for me to understand. Still, for the two of them to generate no hint of a spark is something I think you really have to work at to achieve.
Far from Home is dull, in other words. Not exciting, not romantic, not funny. It demands trip-hammer editing it's not getting; the action scenes, when they finally come, are unimaginative and overlong. There's a gag here about Peter's romantic rival walking in on him and snapping a picture while Peter is pantsless in front of a tall blonde operative. It's a "Three's Company"-grade misunderstanding and stale as ever. Worth mentioning, there's also a joke about Peter's porn-viewing habits that lands, like all those other jokes, awkwardly. Consider that Peter, heir to Tony Stark's godly technology, sort of accidentally orders a deadly drone attack against said rival, which is not as hilarious as it was likely intended. Too, for shits and giggles, Peter beats one of his classmates into unconsciousness for being irritating--a bit made uncomfortable by the new awareness around concussions. When his victim wakes up? He shakes his head and all is well. The amount of irresponsible garbage in this film is alarming.
Peter is exasperatingly unimaginative, given that he's called the smartest guy in the room, and MJ's lines are each some variation of world-weary goth chick until the moment she's terrified of and humiliated by her boyfriend. Gyllenhaal has the unenviable task of seeming engaged in this mess and reveals the limits of his charisma. It's the kind of role an actor like him takes to fund other projects, though, and who am I to stand in his way? Rationalizing Far from Home and Captain Marvel as bookends to Endgame is the best way to maintain hope in MCU product going forward: a moment when creative energies are at a low tide and the demands of twenty-some movies and countless other properties have become impossible to support. The picture quotes "Henry IV, Pt. II" at one point: "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown"--another attempt to avoid the "with great responsibility..." line that is Spider-Man lore, sure, but a handy summary as well of why a film about the funniest, lightest superhero in the pantheon is this hapless. Stay for the mid-credits sequence for the thirty seconds I wish this movie was, including the single best cameo I've seen in one of these things since Howard the Duck showed up in Guardians of the Galaxy. You can skip the post-credits scene, alas, unless you want post-mortem evidence that the filmmakers knew that Far from Home, with all its built-in shortcomings, was terrible, too.