Going into the latest entry in the MCU felt a little jarring at first. Coming off the back of End Game, and even Captain Marvel before it, Far From Home has a much slower pace and much reduced stakes. To be clear, this was both expected and the right move (solo movies can hardly feature end-of-world scenarios if Avengers films are still going to be spectacles), but with all the hype around the Marvel Universe so far in 2019 it genuinely took me a little bit to of time to adjust.
Once that had happened, however, I found myself in the midst of a fun and surprisingly nuanced superhero movie. Far From Home carefully (and deftly) balances the high-school narrative and vibe that made Homecoming so much fun whilst feeling like a natural evolution for both Peter's personal story and the wider universe as well. The impact of End Game and a society where billions of people have missed five years of existence, a time span now referred to as the "Blip Years" or just the "Blip", felt real enough; it was hardly central to the ongoing plot, but it's clearly a constant within the world and lives of the people that live there. We got just enough answers in this area for the movie to feel like a clear extension of that narrative, without stealing time away from the characters and plot it was trying to set up for itself. In other words, this felt like one of the best examples in the MCU of balancing the fact that we now have dozens of interconnected characters, story arcs, and events, whilst still wanting to focus in on these particular people and specific period of time. For that, it deserves serious applause!
It also deserves recognition for a really great villain. The one consistent thorn in the ankle of the MCU is that their villains are either a bit two-dimensional or, even when they get character depth, are then sidelined in favour of epic battles and an early death. The care that goes into building out our heroes rarely even nudges the villains, meaning that some movies may as well just cast robots (and indeed, one did just that). Whilst Mysterio could still have benefited from a greater dive into his background and reasoning (beyond simply hand-waving some of that away by mentioning that he was a bit mentally unstable), the performance from Jake Gyllennhaal combined with a slightly subtler introduction as a new hero meant that we could spend some time getting to know (and initially sympathise with) Blake. In terms of staying true to the source, there's definitely plenty of liberty taken, but it makes all the right nods whilst generally improving on elements of the character.
The result is a solid, interesting villain with a novel plan and motive that the audience can get behind. Better yet, the use of technology previously seen in Civil War, along with the way it was tied in to both Stark and Peter's own stories, worked nicely and created a believable package that was visually stunning. The scene where Mysterio defeats Spider-Man (or, I guess technically Night Monkey - a superb running joke :D) is one of the most interesting fight sequences we've seen so far, and the rematch in London (alongside the introduction to the MCU's official spider-sense implementation, which had only previously been hinted at) was superb in terms of cleverly "showing" an invisible force.
But Spider-Man isn't really Spider-Man without his friends, and luckily Far From Home sticks that landing as well. Ned plays a less pertinent role than he did in the first film, but his contribution feels genuine and natural whilst providing for some fun, more lighthearted gags that help ground the film. Flash and the other students, including their slightly clever use of the "Blip" in Brad, all feel real, and the teachers have some great chemistry (and comedy). Queen of the crop, though, is MJ who truly gets to shine; she was a fun and quirky character in Homecoming but this time out she's just brilliant. The onscreen relationship between her and Parker feels natural and lends a huge amount of credence to the plot, whilst her character development is just a lot of fun. Zendaya is excellent in the role (as are all of the cast) and more than holds her own against a nearly perfect performance from Tom Holland. More please!
Some final thoughts:
- It was nice to see a Marvel film step out into different parts of the world without necessarily having to blow them up (though of course that still happens a lot too).
- The whole thread about the Black Dahlia was great
- Getting one of Mysterio's workers to be the "I'm not Tony Stark" guy from the first movie was perfect
- There's a huge number of parallels here to Iron Man, including a number of plot beats. Whilst I realise a core theme was "is Spider-Man the new Iron Man?" I do hope they don't go that route and instead just leave this as a nice homage to the first Avenger and RDJ.
Oh, and then there's the after-credits sequences, which were some of the best since, well, probably since the first Iron Man. The sequence with MJ was a lot of fun and perfectly MCU, but that it led up to that reveal, plus J. Jonah Jameson as an alt-right internet pundit/troll with J K Simmons reprising the role!!! *chef kiss* Perfection! Oh and then they went ahead and simultaneously blew open so many new theories about Phase Four whilst also papering over the one element of the movie that was a bit off: Fury.
By making Fury and Hill actually be Skrulls for the entire film, it suddenly makes so much of the movie make sense. There's the big one: that a Nick Fury who can be completely deceived and who relies on a single teenager during an "Avengers-level" event is a Nick Fury not fit to wear the eye patch. Whilst we get a couple of snippets of dialogue throughout Far From Home which goes some way to allow suspension of disbelief, and builds a world where even S.H.I.E.L.D (or whatever Fury is currently in charge of) is pretty much lost in the dark, but that isn't a great payoff. It works whilst you're watching, but it would definitely fall apart as soon as the credits roll, so it was a neat sidestep for the film makers.
But then there are all the little details which suddenly click into place. There's the out-of-character snap at Peter, the complete lack of hands-on approach, and (possibly best of all), there's the reaction to Peter questioning the whereabouts of Carol Danvers. That response seems like a funny throwaway line at the time, but it becomes a surprising little reveal when viewed in full context; of course Talos takes particular affront to an upstart child questioning the integrity of the person that saved his family.
My one issue (though that's a very small issue, with an acceptance that it was probably the right thing to do and deliberate) is that the reveal of the Skrulls completely masks one of the biggest bombshells in the entire movie: that there are Kree sleeper cells on Earth! It's practically a throwaway line from Skrull-Hill as she gets into the jeep before calling Fury-proper, but it has huge implications. For starters, it makes her first line in the film in Mexico actually make more sense (another clever wink to fans): she isn't annoyed that they're investigating a cyclone, she's annoyed they aren't investigating Kree. It also makes their presence on Earth make more sense. Sure, Fury could use a vacation, but he strikes me as the kind of man that you would comfortably describe as a workaholic. But if you're trying to locate hidden Kree, who better to rope in than a Skrull leader that successfully evaded capture for years and has thousands of generations of intimate knowledge of Kree tactics at his disposal?
So we're now heading into Phase Four with at least one potential threat. People had long wondered if Secret Invasion would be a core concept once Thanos was defeated, but the plot of Captain Marvel seemed to shoot that theory in the foot. However, the MCU have fairly consistently played the Kree to be villains, so it almost makes more sense to flip Secret Invasion and have the Kree be the antagonist instead of the Skrulls. Could that be the big thread for the next few phases? Maybe, though I think it's more likely to either be Captain Marvel 2 or possibly the next Avengers. Whatever it becomes, it's an exciting reveal that has a lot of potential.