“Are the Avengers even a thing anymore?” one character ponders near the start of Spider-Man: Far From Home, and as a quote it pretty much sums up the state of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.
With two-part Thanos-fest Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, Marvel and Disney pulled off what they’d set out to do in 2008’s Iron Man, delivering a “series finale” to the MCU’s 20-plus movies, giving closure to various characters and delivering spectacle the likes of which audiences had never seen before.
But now, we all have to wonder – what’s next? What happens when, to quote Disney’s own King Louis, Marvel reaches the top and has to stop? And how can a studio that has predicated so much of its success on teasing future movies and promising “more to come” keep the momentum going when “more” has come already?
Well, in Jon Watts’ charming Spider-Man sequel Far From Home we get something of an answer to these questions, with Tom Holland’s web-slinger and his friends forced to deal with the fallout from Avengers: Endgame, the death of Iron Man and other rising new threats in a film that suggests Marvel’s technique going forward: “business as usual”.
But first, we have to talk about the big purple gauntleted elephant in the room.
It’s no spoiler that Far From Home spends its first scenes dealing fairly directly with both the end of Avengers: Infinity War, when Josh Brolin’s Thanos erased half of all life in the universe, and the missing people’s return five years later in Avengers: Endgame, a period now known semi-officially as “the Blip.”
Direct effects of the dismissal, then return of billions of people has created age-verification issues (someone “blipped” is about five years younger than their date of birth would indicate), family drama (one character notes his little brother is now older than him) and even housing difficulties, with new families moving into the homes of the disappeared and not too happy about former tenants’ return.
It’s to Far From Home’s credit that these lingering Endgame issues are addressed, though they don’t overwhelm the film – after the first act, the Blip is largely ignored – though a deeper emotional connection to Endgame comes from Peter’s guilt and grief over the death of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), and the pressure he feels to step into his mentor’s shoes.
Enter Mysterio, portrayed winningly by a game Jake Gyllenhaal (who once nearly played Spidey himself), a new possible father-figure for Peter who enlists his help to battle terrifying monsters based on the classic elements – earth, air, fire, water – who keep cropping up across Europe just as Peter’s class are taking a school trip there.
Even with Thanos gone, “Avengers-level” threats will keep coming, and with many of the mainstream heroes dead, retired or mysteriously absent, it’s down to up-and-comers like Peter to fill in – again, not a bad analogy for Marvel’s rumoured future plans for their cinematic universe, with newer heroes like Black Panther and Captain Marvel expected to take over the cinema-packing appeal of the departed Iron Man and Captain America.
In other ways, though, this film is as much as what Marvel’s done before as what it does next. Spider-Man: Far From Home is a fun, imaginative ride that proves Marvel’s basic formula can still work even after Endgame, stuffed full of fun cameos, nerdy Easter eggs (more than I think I’ve seen in a Marvel movie for a few years) and yes, post-credits scenes, which are absolutely essential viewing this time out if fans are to completely experience the movie’s storyline.
By the end of the movie fans will have been teased some intriguing mysteries about the future of the MCU (just where ARE the Avengers, anyway?), met some dastardly new threats and seen some major changes to Spider-Man’s life that are sure to make the wait for the next (already-confirmed) Spidey movie all the more agonising.
As a lighthearted coda to Endgame, Far From Home works well, and it’s a solid sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming that maintains a lot of its spirit. But as an indicator of how the Marvel universe looks after its ongoing saga, well, ended, it’s even more interesting. The world has been changed, but life continues and new heroes (and villains) rise up, even as old favourites like Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) try to keep up with the remoulding.
Next up, Marvel are rumoured to have a Black Widow prequel and outer-space drama The Eternals coming to cinemas, which means Far From Home could be the last time we visit the MCU’s present-day, post-Endgame world for a while.
With that in mind, I’m sure fans will be closely watching Far From Home for clues about new characters (the X-Men, maybe?), storylines and villains – and if they listen closely enough, they might just get lucky with at least one hint of what’s to come.
Still, they shouldn’t forget that it’s also a really fun movie and Spider-Man story in its own right, and well worth admission even if you haven’t seen Endgame.
Though, if we’re being realistic, there’s no-one seeing this movie who skipped Tony Stark’s grand exit – you don’t knock back the After Eights after skipping a five-course meal.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is released in UK cinemas on Tuesday 2nd July