Spider-Man: Far From Home is a film caught up in the inconsistencies of grief. It suggests grief both causes individuals to freeze in their pre-trauma state and to attempt to put it behind them come hell or high water. That even as their every action is being caused by their grief, they are also turning their face from that reality in a vain attempt to ‘move on.’ Instead they are stuck in a vicious cycle of push and pull from which they seem unable or unwilling to break.
Purgatory does not normally look like a summer trip to Europe. Nor does it often look like a pithy, frequently fun, and mostly enjoyable superhero romp defending Europe from a sudden onslaught of alien invaders. And yet that’s what it is. A lot of material is thrown at the screen, and at poor beleaguered Peter Parker (Tom Holland), and so much of it seems random as returning director Jon Watts searches for a throughline and never really lands on one. It’s a strange reality for a film so inherently interested in pushing forward, at least on a surface level, but unsure what that means.
Because it’s not, as much as it tries, Peter Parker’s story which is always for better or worse a story of responsibility. It is, through the patina of responsibility, stuck in the shadow of recent action. The ultimate trauma is the end of a story, at least within the world of storytelling. As long as there is ‘more’ there is hope for tomorrow; once that option is closed off, hope dies. The recent ending of the Infinity saga and everything that went with is so large that Far From Home is more of a statement on that than anything else, leaving its main character to tag a long after his class and after his story.
The gravity of grief is so potent, it’s difficult for anything to escape it. No one fares worse than Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is less a character than an artifact designed for holding Peter’s desire to avoid responsibility. To avoid dealing with his own grief. It’s not an easy fit for Mysterio who is a character of misdirection (and for whom Watts and his screenwriters do their best to make the purest version of the character possible) and yet misdirection — intentional misdirection — is not what Far From Home is interested in any more than it’s interested in Peter. The recent world-shattering events have not only drawn all of the film’s attention but all of the filmmakers as well.
Some of this is to be expected for any second installment. The first try (third version of Spider-Man that it was) benefits from the excitement of discovery. That excitement has to be replaced by something different but equally exciting but instead all there is, is grief. It’s so large and potent no one is over it either at the beginning or the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home. But whether they are or not, time is moving on. For all of its feints at pushing Peter and his world forward, the film leaves most of that for future installments. Maybe it will succeed, but for now all there is, is grief.