Spidey International: Josh Pearce and Arley Sorg Discuss Spider-Man: Far From Home

Josh: Right off the bat — I really like this movie.

Arley: Fun movie! You should see it. See it in theaters.

The continuing adventures of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man! Peter Parker’s class goes on a science trip to Europe, where he plans to confess his feelings for MJ (Zendaya) at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Plans get derailed, however, when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) shows up alongside the enigmatic Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) to tell Peter that Spider-Man is the only superhero available to stop a growing threat.

This first Marvel follow-up to Avengers: Endgame performs admirably as a bridge between the original core MCU Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor) and whichever new generation comes next. At first, this appears to almost be a fourth Iron Man movie: Robert Downey, Jr.’s likeness is plastered everywhere, his technology gets passed on to Peter Parker, and Spider-Man starts the movie wearing the Iron Spider armor that Stark gave him in Avengers: Infinity War. (Thankfully, though, the filmmakers quickly put him back into an old familiar spidey suit, allowing our hero to come into his own, on his own.)

Who will be the successor to Tony Stark and therefore the de facto leader of the Avengers is the driving question of Far From Home, while other logistical considerations of a post-Endgame world are dealt with efficiently, entertainingly, and with a bit of humor. (The disappearance and reappearance of half the universe’s population is known as “The Blip.”)

Josh: This movie kept answering every question I had about it. Where’s the science on this “science trip”? Are we really going with “elementals” as actual monsters? Does Spider-Man have infinite webs? How did the blip work? Back in our Endgame review I was wondering about the age difference between Peter and Ned (Jacob Batalon), and that was like the very first point addressed in Far From Home. I think their explanation made sense, but the infodump went by so quickly that I might have missed some details. I have faith, though, that if (when) I go back and watch it again, it’ll hold up.

Arley: Usually our conclusion, especially for superhero movies, is, “Don’t think about it too hard.” But this time, it’s the complete opposite. Keep questioning this movie, because it’ll answer all of those questions. And any story that encourages rewatching or rereading is doing things well.

After the initial stage-setting, the superhero story recedes almost literally into the background while these kids are on vacation — showing up as news reports on a hotel lobby television, for example — and the movie switches into character-driven gear with great performances from every member of the cast. Every main character is basically the smartest kid in the room. They know more than the adults, independently figure out the plot twists, constantly and cleverly elude supervision. This is a group of young (high school-age) nerds saving the day, which has precedent in Stranger Things, Hackers, The Goonies, Explorers, and the like.

Arley: This is kind of a YA movie. YA books are all about getting the adults out of the way so that the kids can have an adventure, which is what this movie does. What better way to get rid of teachers/authority figures than to make them bumbling?

Josh: The scale of these Spider-Man movies is so high school. The first one was, “I hope I get a date to homecoming.” This one is, “I hope the girl I like likes me back. And then we kiss.” And somehow, those goals are so much more important to the audience (or at least to me) than someone saving the world.

It’s the perfect framing for Spider-Man who is, in the comics, one of the 10 smartest people in the world. Homecoming and Far From Home notably emphasize this aspect of the character in a way that the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire trilogy did not. Nerd Spider-Man is capable of building his own web-shooters (rather than having them spontaneously sprout from his own skin), can figure out Stark technology even though he’s never used it before, and is in a science club. He even uses his intelligence to solve problems in battle, like a superpower.

This version of MJ, too, is exceedingly bright, picking up more Italian than anyone else, absorbing situational information like a sponge and applying it in the most critical situations and, most crucially, figuring out Spider-Man’s identity on her own. She has a moment of self-doubt as she confronts Peter but bluffs her way into getting a confession out of him, and then later brags to Ned that she knew it all along. The little character details throughout the movie are just great.

Arley: Before we go into individual characters, let me say something about them in general. One of the things I love about this movie is that they deliberately made the cast diverse, except for Mysterio and Spider-Man.

Josh: And Martin Starr. I like that guy.

Arley: Flash, Ned, and MJ are all white in the comic books, and it’s fucking cool that the hottest guy in their high school is Asian. Ten years ago that wouldn’t be the case.

Josh: That leads me to something I was going to say about Ned: he was a great character in this and in Homecoming but I felt he was just reduced to minority comic relief which we see so much of. But now that you bring up the diversity of this cast, I view it differently. Homecoming was a much whiter film.

Arley: In Far From Home, everyone’s a minority, and everyone’s comedic relief. Except Mysterio.

Josh: I still have this of view Jake Gyllenhaal as a funny guy based on previous films: Donnie Darko is all dark humor, Bubble Boy is a comedy, and he and Michael Peña are non-stop hilarious in End of Watch. He taps into that ability when he first meets Peter and pulls some funny faces/body language.

Arley: There is something fun and joyful about the Spider-Man character in general, which I think is so important and fundamental to these movies. The way he moves — there’s a joy to it. I was smiling just watching his fight scenes because it looked so cool and fun.

Josh: Tom Holland is a goddamn delight! He is a great physical actor. He’s a professional dancer/theater guy and has the ability to do all the Spider-Man moves on his own. Watch his Rihanna performance on Lip Sync Battle for a good example.

Arley: He’s the best Spider-Man so far.

Josh: Best live-action one, at least. It’s still hard to beat Into the Spider-Verse by any measure but this was probably the second-best Spider-Man movie anyone’s made. I really liked Tom Holland’s Spider-Man and Zendaya’s MJ. They have an awkward chemistry together that’s cute without being overly precious.

Arley: I don’t like obligatory romances, but I knew this was going to happen already because it’s Spider-Man and MJ, so I kind of accepted it. It’s based on a pre-existing script. But the emotional scene at the end totally undercuts her character and makes her weak. They took this character who could have just been snarky, dark, and grim and turned her personality into a flaw as, “I just put up these walls because I have a hard time connecting.” It’s the fact that they loop in, “I’m brusque and abrasive because I have trouble connecting with people.”

Josh: I disagree with all that, but fair enough. I thought it was essentially the same thing that Gwen says to Miles in Into the Spider-Verse. She says she doesn’t do friends anymore.

Arley: That’s different because Miles confesses his vulnerability, too. In Far From Home, MJ opens up and shows vulnerability but Spider-Man doesn’t. It creates a power imbalance between them.

Josh: I disagree with that, too. I think he’s super vulnerable, also, he’s just not as vocal about it. I mean he’s literally bleeding and limping in that scene. I think we’re interpreting this differently. Maybe at that point the filmmakers were just like enough emotions from Spider-Man — he’s already confessed his fears and insecurities to Fury, Happy, Mysterio, and Ned. Time for a new emotional beat. Time for someone else to have a little character development.

Arley: He’s only vulnerable physically, but doesn’t say anything on an emotional level. But. You may be right about the writing part, because it also comes at the end of his character arc, when he’s stepped into the height of his power and accepts that he’s a hero now. I would have cut one of the earlier ones and given vulnerability-space in the exchange with MJ.

Josh: I also don’t think there was a power imbalance between them in that scene. I think that imbalance came after, when he took her on a swinging date and she was clinging to him and screaming.

Arley: Totally.

Josh: That was a much more cliché damsel-in-distress kind of scenario than had been shown anywhere else in the movie. Up until then, MJ never needed rescuing, was always ready to run into a fight, actually picked up a mace and rushed to Spider-Man’s rescue.

Look out! Here comes the spoiler-man…

Arley: All the previews for this movie didn’t give away any of the surprises or plot twists, which was amazing and completely appreciated. For example, so many trailers will literally show a shot from a film’s finale, like in the Hobbs & Shaw trailer.

Josh: The thing about Mysterio is: my lack of knowledge about comic books paid off because I had a vague inkling that he was a bad guy, but thought they were making him a gray character. And then the twist happened and I was like, “Ah ha!”

Arley: Anyone who has read comics or watched Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends or any subsequent animated Spidey show knows that Mysterio is a bad guy. But this is the Ultimate universe (or closer to Ultimate universe) and it’s not Earth-1, and they could have been changing things for the movie. So even I was unsure, and the previews didn’t give it away. It’s fun to be fooled. When Mysterio switches sides, we’re not surprised, exactly, but we are.

Josh: It’s a good balance of tension.

Arley: I did not like his “as you know, Bob” monologue explaining his plan step-by-step to everyone who was actually already involved in it, but it’s necessary because even after the explanation, people were confused.

Josh: So was I, for a minute. His whole plotline reinforced the parallel to Iron Man 3 for me. That’s the one where they introduce a powerful villain (the Mandarin) who turns out to be a fraud.

Arley: Mysterio is a fraud from the beginning in the comics, so the parallel isn’t as stark to me.

Josh: I liked the scene where Mysterio was fucking with Spider-Man’s mind. That was pretty trippy.

Arley: That’s what I like about Spider-Man, is that he always gets his ass kicked. Not like Captain Marvel where she’s like, no one can scratch me. Spider-Man gets beat up and always gets back up.

Josh: That’s a central tenet of Spider-Verse. “Above all, no matter how many times you get hit, can you get back up?”

Arley: From the very beginning, even from the previews, Samuel L. Jackson had great lines. Except he wasn’t actually Nick Fury!

Josh: This is what I was expecting from Men in Black: International! Shapeshifters who fuck with your mind! Destinations, but for a plausible reason! Humor from all directions!

Arley: This is what Men in Black should have been. Not this exact thing, but on this level. The superhero plot is nothing we haven’t seen, but it hardly matters because all the characters and dialogue is great. There’s so much chemistry. There’s fun in the details.

Directed by: Jon Watts

Written by: Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers, based on the comics by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko

Starring: Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice, Remy Hii, Martin Starr, JB Smoove, Jorge Lendeborg, Jr. & Cobie Smulders

Josh Pearce, Arley Sorg (by Laurel Amberdine)

ARLEY SORG, Associate Editor, grew up in England, Hawaii, and Colorado. He studied Asian Religions at Pitzer College. He lives in Oakland, and usually writes in local coffee shops. A 2014 Odyssey Writing Workshop graduate, he is soldering together a novel, has thrown a few short stories into orbit, and hopes to launch more.

JOSH PEARCE, Assistant Editor, started working at Locus in 2016. He studied creative writing at SFSU and has sold short stories and poems to a variety of speculative fiction magazines. Born and raised in the Bay Area, he currently lives in the East Bay with his wife and son and spends way too much time on Twitter: @fictionaljosh. One time, Ken Jennings signed his chest.

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