Karlovy Vary 2019 Review: Prague’s a star in ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’
You know the drill by now. Spider-Man: Far From Home is the latest well-oiled machine in the long line of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and comes as precisely-assembled as the 22 (!) movies that have preceded it: primary characters nicely defined, jokes well-timed, action sequences sufficiently exciting despite some less-than stellar CGI work.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is not quite as impactful as Avengers: Infinity War or Endgame, movies that created a world this one directly builds upon, and it’s not quite as pulled together as the first Spider-Man: Homecoming. But it’s still a fun, funny, and exciting thing all the way through, par for the course in the MCU if not among the upper echelon.
And today, the movie became the very first MCU feature to screen at the prestigious Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
And for audiences in the Czech Republic, Spider-Man: Far From Home has some even greater significance.
Spider-Man: Far From Home shot in locations in Prague and Liberec last summer, with Liberec filling in for the Czech capital, and the production has done the capital city a number of favors. This is the classiest contemporary Prague has looked on screen since the first Mission: Impossible movie back in 1996; it’s also the highest-profile film ever shot in the Czech capital, and it ought to do wonders for its tourism industry.
A barren Charles Bridge at night - which you’ll never come across in reality - is a standout as the key location not only for a romantic stroll with Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and MJ (Zendaya) but also a key conversation between Parker and a fully-costumed Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal).
Picking up where Avengers: Endgame left off, Far From Home opens in a New York classroom full of characters from the first film who all conveniently disappeared together courtesy of Thanos: Peter and MJ, Peter’s friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), MJ’s friend Betty Brant (Angourie Rice), and modern bully Flash Thompson, again inventively played by Tony Revolori.
There’s a new arrival to this group, however: Brad Davis (Remy Hii), who has transformed from a prepubescent boy into a nice-guy hunk in the five years since everyone else was frozen in time: and is now Peter’s biggest competition for MJ’s affections.
Holland’s Peter Parker, in the midst of high school life and a crush on MJ, wants to keep the Spider-Man stuff out of his life while on a summer vacation to Europe, where he’ll tell MJ how he really feels atop the Eiffel Tower. And Far From Home does a great job by keeping the focus (mostly) on the high school drama despite some intrusion from otherworldly events.
In Venice, however, Peter is approached by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, at his MCU world-weariest) who needs his help fighting world-threatening Elementals, monsters comprised of Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire. Thankfully, Fury also has the assistance of Gyllenhaal’s parallel-universe Mysterio, who has come to our Earth to prevent the same devastation that befell his reality.
But Nick Fury also needs the help of a teenager to save the world, and so diverts Peter Parker’s class trip from Paris to Prague, where the next Elemental is expected to attack. And cannily, Prague’s Charles Bridge happens to take the place of the Eiffel Tower in Paris during Far From Home’s key scenes (note to tourists: Prague also has an Eiffel Tower!)
For anyone familiar with the source material, the revelatory events of Spider-Man: Far From Home will come as no surprise. The producers had the opportunity to create a well-defined character in Mysterio, along with a game performance by Gyllenhaal, but make the unfortunate decision to shroud the character in, well, mystery, all in the service of a surprise that will come as a surprise to no one.
But Prague the real highlight here, and the Czech capital blows scenes set in London and Venice out of the water (I jest: the Venice scenes are also fun, though a CGI-heavy Tower Bridge climax in London is mostly dull). While local fans will get a kick out of how Far From Home seamlessly blends Prague Carnival scenes filmed in Liberec with nearby shots of Charles Bridge, Hotel Carlo IV, and the Vinohrady Theatre, all audiences should have fun with the romantic shots of nighttime Prague that really give the film its distinctive personality.
Spider-Man: Far From Home has more to offer than it’s Prague-shot scenes, of course: compared to its MCU brethren, it’s lighter and funnier than most, with a focus on the young cast that reminds of some of the best moments from the Harry Potter franchise. While I wish the Nick Fury-Mysterio storyline had been a little better developed, that’s an acceptable casualty for placing more emphasis on the Peter Parker narrative.
Be sure to stick around during the closing credits: a mid-credits scene drops both a huge story bombshell and features the MCU’s most welcome cameo yet, while an end credits sequence, though less momentous, is still pretty fun.
Pictured at top: Tom Holland’s Peter Parker and Zendaya’s MJ inside Prague’s Vinohrady Theatre