From beyond the grave, Stark reaches out with other plans. The tech mogul’s final gift to Parker is the control of his empire, specifically Stark’s vast complex of automated drones that can be controlled with a blink. At the same time that Parker is rejecting this call to even greater global heroism, a potential solution arises in Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), an interdimensional tech guru who’s fighting monsters that have begun to infiltrate Parker’s world. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) demands that Parker and Beck work together to stop the monsters, but Parker chafes under the sense that he’s lost control of his own life to super-spies and water demons. Why can’t someone else be entrusted with a drone network or the fate of the world, especially when I’m trying to get two sentences out around MJ?
Something about power and responsibility is at the core of Spider-Man’s character, and Far From Home recapitulates this theme, perhaps because it was elided in Homecoming, Holland’s first stand-alone as the web-slinger. There’s only so many times Parker can say he doesn’t want to do something before it becomes a delay tactic, and this comes close to being the case in Far From Home. What keeps the stall from becoming unbearable is Holland’s affability in the role. The first Peter Parker to actually look like a credible teenager, Holland can utilize a flakiness and a scratchy-voiced rebelliousness that someone like Tobey Maguire would never have been able to pull off, and Holland can do so while being a vulnerable and charismatic character. Writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, veterans of witty and absurdist TV shows like American Dad and Community, give Holland and his gaggle of young costars plenty of well-timed banter, synching this part of the MCU with the similar hangout atmosphere that exists in the Guardians of the Galaxy.
However, no one comes to these movies to see a high school dramedy. Watts has improved on the action front, or more accurately, he’s been assigned a more competent stunt unit or first/second director by his overlords. The monster fighting is nameless and impersonal, but the film contains a shift into some unique territory before culminating in a cohesive and coherent final confrontation. As a piece in a giant franchise, Far From Home continues the trend of recent MCU films sneaking subversive messages into corporate output, but not in a way that undercuts the central mythology and hero-worship. Homecoming framed Stark as a ravenous monopolist who leaves embittered failed rivals in his wake, and Far From Home continues in this vein, to say nothing of the Orwellian nature of the powers he tries to bequeath to a teenager. Like earlier MCU entries, Stark is never viewed as the villain he seems to be thanks to his root good intentions, and with his death so fresh, Far From Home is incapable of pushing back against that in any real way. It instead lands on NSA=good, but only if the right person is in charge of it. Black Panther, this is not.
So many of the choices that Far From Home makes feel unjustified or not worth the effort. Parker returns to New York in the film’s final minutes, and it’s here that the film most comes alive with the verve that animates the character. What this serves to do is to make the viewer wonder why the film had to leave New York in the first place. Gyllenhaal, in his barky eccentric mode, is a worthy addition to the MCU, and the young cast of these films are fun to spend time with, but the inclusion of Spider-Man in the larger universe increasingly feels unnecessary. Why is a nano-suited Parker more compelling than one who’s clad in a suit of his own making? Isn’t the DIY nature part of the point? Marvel is too formula-driven to make an outright bad film, but with Far From Home and their other recent output, they’re settling into disposable territory. C+