Taking a cursory glance at today’s cinematic landscape it would appear that Marvel, or more accurately Disney, rule the world. Since 2008’s Iron Man the Marvel Cinematic Universe has built itself up into a box-office behemoth with huge cultural influence. I have never quite got the superhero hype, however. A long-time lover of ‘proper’ cinema and arthouse flicks, in recent years I have fought against this tendency to be a ‘film snob’. My Marvel Diary is a challenge to myself to watch all 23 MCU films, perhaps proving my prejudices correct, or perhaps turning me into a lifelong fan of all things superhero.
Release Date: 2nd July 2019
MCU Phase: Three
Director: Jon Watts
Writers: Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna
Starring: Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Samuel L. Jackson, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei
May contain spoilers.
Going into Spider-Man: Far From Home I had mixed feelings about its very existence. Avengers: Endgame felt like a proper finale, something that should be allowed to sit and be reflected on before we start the super-shenanigans all over again. The role of Far From Home therefore seems like an unnecessary one, designed to hook us into the next Phase before it even starts. Having now watched it, I am much warmer on the film. Granted, Peter’s whole arc of filling Tony Stark’s considerable shoes was one that could have waited until Phase Four, and even formed the backbone of those films. However, as a kind of epilogue to the Infinity Saga this does work well.
The film does an efficient job of showing what a post-Endgame world looks like so that this is out the way in time for new storylines in the future, whilst also addressing the void Tony Stark has left in the MCU. His considerable talent, courage and ego hang over the whole film, with Peter trying to cope with the pressure of essentially being anointed his successor whilst also being a 16-year-old kid. It’s all brilliantly played by the increasingly lovable Tom Holland, with great support from Marisa Tomei and Jon Favreau, finally getting a bit more to do as Happy Hogan. Holland looks every inch the superhero now, and a perfect fit as Peter Parker. The scene where Peter starts playing with the suits like Tony of old has its desired effect, largely because of the excitement at seeing Holland’s Parker in that position.
Furthermore, Far From Home provides us with a tonally fitting way to actually end the Infinity Saga. Like Homecoming, the second Jon Watts-directed Peter Parker adventure is hugely enjoyable. Funny, warm, and very sweet, it has the levity and sugar-rush entertainment value that the MCU was founded on. It seems appropriate that My Marvel Diary should come to a close with a film that really gets the spirit of the MCU, and what made the films so successful in the first place.
Far From Home, or ‘The World’s Worst Interrailing Trip’, is a well-paced romp through various European landmarks, each one getting whacked about with some CGI and Spidey web-slinging through the cityscape. It’s all very entertaining and writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers are again smartly more concerned with Peter Parker than Spider-Man. The high-school comedy drama is clichéd but utterly charming, with the increased role for Zendaya’s MJ working well. There’s still so much we don’t know about her that I would like to see in the future, but it’s a definite improvement on the bland Liz from Homecoming. Jacob Batalon is endearing and amusing in equal measure as Ned, and the general school-bus rapport between the cast works nicely.
Some of the action is great, with the same sense of candy-coloured fun as the dialogue. Bits of it are too overblown and explodey for my liking, lacking the precision of the best MCU set-pieces that makes combat so much more gripping. The wall-crawling, web-slinging and flying about all over the pace are utilised to great effect, however. Watts this time seems to be really settling into the character’s aesthetic, finding new camera angles to make the dizzying airborne antics into a great, new spectacle. I love it when an MCU film gives us a different visual flair in the action; Ant-Man’s perspective play is wildly different from Doctor Strange’s trippy reality-bending, which is a world away from the fist-fight realism of the Captain America films. It helps stop the films’ structures from feeling too repetitive.
The film’s main weakness, as has often been the case throughout the MCU, lies in its villain. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the Mysterio character, and I really like Jake Gyllenhaal in the role. On the Gyllenhaal madness scale he’s pretty low here (watch Okja and you’ll know what I’m talking about), but there’s touches of it in Mysterio’s massive ego that keep him entertaining. The fake-attack thing is also a neat idea, creating a threat so that you can be the hero.
The main issue I have with it is the motive. The trope of wronged employee/wronged partner/wronged ordinary person is an overused one, and too often is employed as a simple backstory for a villain that cuts off the actual conversation it invokes. People who are wronged or cheated by famed billionaire heroes always seem to take their vengeance too far so that they’re just bitter and evil. This trope often stops us acknowledging the potential problem with the hero. Civil War did it really well by having a grieving mother confront Tony Stark, which then prompted his own self-reflection. She was angry and told him, she didn’t become a homicidal megalomaniac. As a storytelling device I just find it quite clichéd and, unless done well, it comes off as a lazy attempt to add complexity to a villain without attempting to actually explore that complexity.
On a final note, I like where the film leaves Peter Parker. His journey is still open-ended, with him remaining a high-schooler come the end of the film and that being his main priority. Peter now believes in himself as a proper hero, but is still a long way off being head-Avenger. This means that the arc doesn’t feel rushed, and that there is a lot of space ahead for the character to grow into.
I have quite mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it nicely explores the timely issue of fake news which is touched on but never expanded in the actual film. It also gets bonus points for having J.K. Simmons return as J. Jonah Jameson, a true cinematic icon. On the other hand, I found it very frustrating. It may just be that I find that the ‘misunderstanding/lied to public’ plot device gets me all nervous and irritated, but I felt this completely destroyed the warmth of the film’s ending. I know why they did it; because it leaves the film on a kind-of cliffhanger to make sure we keep watching in Phase Four. To be honest, though, I wanted to see another Tom Holland Spider-Man film anyway, and if anything this makes me less rather than more keen. It’ll probably have the reverse effect on most people however, so I can’t really fault it. The second sting, and the last of My Marvel Diary, feels entirely unnecessary and just plain bizarre. I’m sure it will be important for the future, but the reveal that Nick Fury wasn’t Nick Fury but a shape-shifting skrull from Captain Marvel and that he is in fact on a spaceship somewhere plotting something, seems like one illusion too many for this film. Enough with the tricks and deception and baiting, just let us rest for a bit.
Where it Ranks
It packs in all the same charm and warmth of the first Spidey MCU film, whilst also building well on the Tony Stark legacy after Endgame. It does take a couple of missteps though, so this ends up as low-mid-range Marvel I think. A very fun two hours all the same.
- Avengers: Endgame
- Captain America: Civil War
- Thor: Ragnarok
- Avengers: Infinity War
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- The Avengers
- Black Panther
- Iron Man 3
- Spider-Man: Homecoming
- Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Iron Man
- Captain Marvel
- Doctor Strange
- Spider-Man: Far From Home
- Captain America: The First Avenger
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
- Ant-Man and the Wasp
- Iron Man 2
- Thor: The Dark World
- The Incredible Hulk