Up until last year, I had a very vague idea of the Marvel universe. I mixed up DC and Marvel all the time (to my boyfriend Kevin’s chagrin) and couldn’t tell you who “Captain America” was. But two years into dating Kevin, a veritable Marvel fanboy, I’ve since become acquainted with the universe’s characters, plot devices, and Easter eggs. I’ve even become, dare I say, somewhat of a fan.
Marvel is the largest movie monopoly in the world today, and has seen a particularly successful 2019; first came the milestone-marking, box office-shattering Captain Marvel, then the internationally-awaited, much hyped-up Endgame, and now the much-needed, refreshing follow-up: Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Below is a spoiler-laden review of Far From Home. If you’ve yet to see the movie, swing away to a different corner of the web before reading further!!
While the title of Marvel’s latest installment is “Far From Home,” the film primarily serves to bring us closer to home. The past two Marvel movies were set in space and intergalactic in scale, but Far From Home takes us back to planet Earth, where society has more-or-less adjusted to the undoing of Thanos’ snap. The interim five years, known as the “blip,” have resulted in an altered society in which half the population is exactly where they were pre-snap, while the others are their post-snap selves. Society has the facade of normalcy, but things are decidedly not the same. This idea of alterity is at the heart of the film, which couches a profound question amid a seemingly feel-good, comedic film: what is real?
It isn’t a coincidence, perhaps, that the word “blip” should remind us of technology. A “blip” may be a dot on a display screen or an interruption on the radio. If you “blip” a recording, you censor part of its sound. Far From Home centers on a dangerous, technologically-manufactured “blip” that deceives the entire world—including Nick Fury (more on him later).
The movie’s villain “Mysterio” (Jake Gyllenhaal, who will always remind me of Taylor Swift’s RED album) is proof that we are both still living in Tony Stark’s shadow and stepping out of it in Marvel’s new era. Previous Marvel movies have explored the dangers of Stark technology (e.g. Age of Ultron), but Far From Home comes with a personal twist: Mysterio and his team are ex-Stark employees who have all been personally victimized by Tony. Now, in the wake of his death, they want to seize control over his legacy and, well, take over the world. The only problem? Tony has left his super-AI “E.D.I.T.H.” in the hands of young, insecure Peter Parker (the brilliant Tom Holland).
We spend the first chunk of the film dealing with the Elementals, giants that use natural forces to wreak havoc. Only later do we realize there is nothing “natural” about them; on the outside, they might have the visage of a sea monster, but inside is an intricate web of weaponized drone-projectors responsible for faking villainous appearances while wreaking very real damage. It is by controlling the Elementals that Mysterio is able to put on a heroic show of “defeating aliens,” which makes him yet another worldwide hero with a hidden identity.
At the same time that people are wondering who Mysterio is, Peter Parker is asking himself the very same question: who am I? On a school trip to Europe where his only plan is to woo MJ, Peter is toeing the not-so-fine spider thread between superhero and high schooler. Tired of being asked about the Avengers and unsure about his own place among them, Peter simply wants to be a normal kid for a summer. But persistent calls from Nick Fury and the threat of the Elementals render that impossible, as Peter is summoned to help Mysterio fight his manufactured threats. Indeed, the multiple costume changes that Peter goes through seem to point to his unstable identity; we first see him in the awkward-fitting Iron Spider Armor, a nod to the significance of Tony’s legacy in this movie. Then there’s his regular suit, which Aunt May sneaks into his suitcase although he doesn’t want to pack it. Then comes a dorky black stealth suit that earns him the name “Night Monkey,” adding another tier onto his identity crisis. Finally, the suit that matters the most (and feels/looks the best) is the one he creates for himself aboard Stark’s private jet, en route to cancelling Mysterio and retaking E.D.I.T.H., which Mysterio tricked Peter into handing over. Not the most believable turn of events, but disastrous nonetheless.
Far From Home recognizes and builds upon the fact that we live in an era of “Fake News.” The movie opens with a shoddily put-together high school news broadcast, and closes with a professionally doctored breaking news report (ft. J.K. Simmons’ JJJ!!!) with severe international and personal implications. In what seems like a deepfake video edited by Mysterio’s cronies, Mysterio comes back from the dead to expose Peter Parker as Spiderman to the world. Since the beginning of time, all iterations of Spiderman have been concerned with one common imperative: protecting their identity. But in today’s world of privacy risks, it will take more than a mask to achieve anonymity. If Peter lives in a world where something like E.D.I.T.H. exists, what’s to prevent tech-savvy villains from uncovering Spiderman’s identity with the snap of a finger? This is what makes Mysterio such a compelling character; he comes from our world, and like a cunning and crafty businessman understands the extents that people will go to in order to believe in something, anything.
Despite its many LOL moments, Far From Home thus takes us down a dark path of intrigue and deception that hits close to home. While our world may not have any web-shooters (or so we think), we are indeed living in a society where believing in the inauthentic is all too easy. Every time we sign up for something, skrull (wink wink) through Twitter, or turn on the news, we are bombarded by marketing campaigns, carefully-construed narratives, and reminders of how far technology has advanced. Far From Home screams the timeless Spiderman adage (“With great power…”) without ever having to say it. And what do we make of a Marvel universe in which Nick Fury, its founding father of sorts, isn’t even Nick Fury?
Of course, not everything that seems shallow and inauthentic is harmful; Ned and Betty’s relationship, which we can’t quite take seriously, is actually pretty endearing. Yet Far From Home ultimately wants us to remain vigilant and attentive in a world that has laid traps for us everywhere. Scrutiny is rewarded; for instance, it is through paying attention to Peter that MJ realizes who he really is. I love Zendaya, she is the fearless and no-nonsense MJ we deserve. It is also through attentiveness that Mariah badass Hill shoots down a drone that is seconds away from targeting Nick Fury. On a similar note, it is also through paying attention to how weird Nick Fury is in this movie that audiences will have their rewarding “AHA!” (or “wtf”) moment at the end when we realize that Fury and Maria are actually Skrulls.
But the movie also wants us to believe in a different kind of vigilance, one that is less trained, less visible, but more instinctual in nature: our Peter Tingles. Our gut instincts, our sense of what’s right and wrong. When it comes down to the wire, our “tingles” will be our greatest defense. And only by remaining confident in our true selves can we harness this secret superpower, this crucial ability to hold onto what’s real in a world of deception.
A heartfelt, beautifully choreographed, and visually stunning production, Far From Home is easily the blockbuster movie of the summer. With its jaw-dropping ending credits, the film already has us eagerly anticipating how Marvel will next spin its webs.