You’ve seen Spider-Man: Homecoming, and then you watched all my recommendations for what to view next. You’ve seen Avengers: Endgame, and then you watched all my recommendations for what to view next. Now it’s time to go see Spider-Man: Far From Home, a direct sequel to both of those big Marvel Cinematic Universe installments, and then it’s time to watch all my recommendations for what to view next.
This week’s list features some expected comedies that influenced the new Spidey sequel, according to director Jon Watts, as well as some other relevant picks, one of them directly tied to a title on my Homecoming list. You may even learn about an old British term that applies to the premise of Far From Home.
The Incredibles (2004)
I’m still amazed anyone even tried to do another superhero movie after Pixar gave us the perfect specimen 15 years ago. Sure, there have been some very good entries in the genre since then, including Spider-Man: Homecoming and Avenger: Endgame (but not so much the disappointingly predictable sequels Incredibles 2 or Spider-Man: Far From Home), but this animated feature from Brad Bird remains the cream of the crop. The crown jewel.
It’s funny because The Incredibles was so inspired by Marvel superheroes, particularly the Fantastic Four, yet Marvel seems to think copying The Incredibles is a good idea. No, Spidey hasn’t gotten married to another Avenger and had super-powered kids with her, but his nemesis in Far From Home may have watched The Incredibles and gotten it in his head that the best way to get what he wants is to model himself after Syndrome.
Just like Mr. Incredible’s former sidekick, Mysterio takes out his frustration with a former superhero boss — here it’s Tony Stark, aka Iron Man — by becoming a supposed superhero himself but one who has to engineer his own fake enemies to defeat and catastrophes to stop in order to look like the savior of the earth following the death of the planet’s true mightiest heroes. He’s even got a cape, meaning Spidey just needed to throw him near a jet turbine.
The Contender (2000)
One of the most important people in the world has just died — his name was Tony or Tory or Troy or something; he used to work with Jeff Bridges — and everyone is wondering who will fill his shoes. Could it be the person who some, maybe even him or herself, thinks isn’t qualified for the position? Or could it be the guy who wanted the gig so badly that he orchestrated a way to look like a great hero, albeit without concern for innocent lives?
I’ve just given away an important third-act plot twist from The Contender, and for that, I do apologize. But it was worth it to show a fun parallel between a terrific political drama about the President of the United States (Bridges) choosing a new VP after his elected second-in-command’s death and a superhero movie about a special-powered teen looked to as the successor of a rich man who just died saving the world with his gadget-filled armor.
Also, The Contender is great regardless of whether you know that one plot point. It’s not a film contingent on twists as much as performances. Joan Allen deserved the Oscar for Best Actress that year. And how was Gary Oldman not even nominated for Best Supporting Actor? Bridges losing that category is acceptable because he’s at least gone down in history as one of the greatest movie presidents. Pretty much everyone in this could have been a contender.
If Looks Could Kill (1991)
“There aren’t really as many movies as I thought there would be about high school kids going on European trips,” Watts told me on the phone for a piece I wrote for Fandango. “Nothing that I really wanted to specifically reference. As much as I love If Looks Could Kill, and as good as Richard Grieco is, I’m not going to say that one was a huge influence.”
Despite the director’s dismissal of If Looks Could Kill as an inspiration, the mostly forgotten teen comedy has been on my mind since the premise of Far From Home was first revealed. Grieco stars as a high school student on a class trip to Europe, where he becomes entangled in a spy plot. How could that not have been at least an unconscious influence? Well, unlike Spider-Man, Grieco’s character’s involvement is due to the ol’ mistaken identity trope.
If Looks Could Kill is really pretty dumb, but it’s still memorable and goes to show that we needed Far From Home to right the wrongs of class trip to Europe movies that have come before. In an interview with Empire (via SyFy Wire), Watts acknowledges the also mediocre EuroTrip (2004) and Gotcha! (1985). There’s also the special episode/TV movie Family Ties Vacation (1985), which is probably most fitting since Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is so Michael J. Fox.
The Karate Kid Part II (1986)
After seeing Far Far Home, I jotted down titles I thought would make this list, and one of them was The Karate Kid Part II. But I wasn’t certain it would be included in the final cut. As it turns out, I’d actually forgotten that I recommended the original Karate Kid to watch after Homecoming. I even noted this first sequel’s minor parallel with Spidey’s appearance in Captain America: Civil War. So this is indeed a perfect selection this time around.
The link between The Karate Kid and Homecoming was mostly that both young protagonists were eager to be heroes but their mentors held them in training periods. In both The Karate Kid Part II and Far From Home, the hero has proven himself and is now ready to just take a trip overseas, have a good time, and maybe find some romance. But neither of them are allowed anything so simple. Trouble finds them, and reluctantly they must fight to get out of it.
Now we can predict the plot of Spider-Man: Home-Based Subtitle Part 3. It’ll just parallel The Karate Kid Part III, so the Vulture will seek out revenge by pulling in his buddy (Scorpion? Doctor Octopus?), who’ll recruit others (the rest of the Sinister Six?) to get revenge on Spidey. Parker will now date a redhead, which could just be MJ with dyed hair. Also, there will be lots of bonsai trees.
National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985)
Speaking of predictions, I have a buddy who expects the next Spider-Man sequel to be a Christmas movie. Because he thinks Watts is actually following the Vacation series. Like the original National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), Homecoming is set in the US (and more of a John Hughes movie). Now Far From Home takes the franchise to Europe, just like National Lampoon’s European Vacation. So Spider-Man: Home-Based Subtitle Part 3 will be like 1989’s Christmas Vacation.
Or, maybe this series is just modeled after the Iron Man movies, in which case a Christmas movie would still fit. Whether that is truly to be expected, we’ll have to see (Spider-Man: Ho Ho Home? Spider-Man: Home for the Holidays?), but for now let’s focus on European Vacation, in which the Griswald family win a trip overseas. Their travels go in the opposite direction than Spidey’s, beginning in England and continuing through Germany to Italy.
Watts told Empire that he looked at European Vacation for reference before making Far From Home: “I did watch that [movie] again,” he admitted. “We should have seen if we could get Eric Idle.” Indeed, that would have been a great idea. The Monty Python member doesn’t just appear in a single cameo (with a nod to the Black Knight bit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail). He shows up around Europe wherever the Griswalds go. He could have (should have) done the same here.
Death on the Nile (1978)
One of the common tropes of mystery fiction is the coincidence where murders and other crimes happen wherever the detective character goes. Whether it’s Nick and Nora Charles or Nancy Drew of the Agatha Christie staples Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, if they try to take in a holiday, they’re bound to happen upon a whodunit to solve. Sometimes it seems people should know better than to kill someone when they know the detective is on their train or boat or at their resort.
Or sometimes it seems too convenient, in a narrative sense. Christie is a deserved legend of mystery storytelling but how is it that Poirot, in particular, is always in the right place at the right-wrong time? Death on the Nile isn’t the first book where a murder happens when and where he’s on vacation. That’d be Peril at End House, I think. Death on the Nile was published five years later, in 1937. This fun first theatrical adaptation arrived more than 40 years later, during a Christie movie trend.
Peter Ustinov stars as Poirot, a role he’d play in five more movies, with the detective on holiday in Egypt, specifically on a luxury ship sailing the Nile River. His services are requested by a woman, but Poirot declines to work during his vacation, just as Peter Parker does in Far From Home. But then a murder happens and he has to get involved. And then another murder happens. Like Spidey, Poirot experiences a pile-on of incidents requiring his attention. No rest for heroes.
There’s a new adaptation of Death on the Nile coming in 2020. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also reprises his role as Poirot, it’s a sequel to his version of Murder on the Orient Express (in which he’s also in the right place at the right-wrong time but that’s not a holiday trip) and will feature a star-studded cast. This one has a terrific ensemble, too, including Bette Davis, Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, Jane Birkin, Mia Farrow, Olivia Hussey, David Niven, and Jack Warden.
Busman’s Holiday (1959)
When detectives solve murders on their holidays or superheroes save the day on their vacations, that’s a busman’s holiday. Technically, the definition states that a busman’s holiday is a vacation where someone spends their time doing the same thing they do in their profession. For me, it’d be like taking a week off from writing for FSR and just writing about movies for free, for fun. It’s not as much meant to pertain to people unintentionally made to do their job while on a break.
This short documentary, sponsored by the joint partnership of Shell and BP with Scottish Omnibuses Ltd., follows a bus driver who takes a literal busman’s holiday, breaking from his local driving duties in Galloway to ride a coach around the rest of Scotland. Busman’s Holiday is part travelogue offering sights of the northern UK countryside and rainbows over lochs, part advertisement showcasing BP tankers on the coast, and educational film presenting jobs associated with buses.
Other movies that deal with unplanned busman’s holidays include (thanks to TV Tropes for some of the tips) Die Hard, Die Hard 2, Rush Hour 2, Transporter 2, Speed 2: Cruise Control, What About Bob?, and plenty in the mystery genre. It’s also common in television. Movies with characters who are having an intended busman’s holiday or just sort of are because of their personalities and interests include Beverly Hills Cop, The Net, and Summer Holiday.
Roman Holiday (1953)
Part of Peter Parker’s hopes with the Eurotrip in Far From Home is getting away from his job as Spider-Man, but another part is the desire to just be a normal kid and not recognized or depended on for being a famous superhero. Aside from being pulled into a busman’s holiday by Nick Fury, he would seem to have the latter down easy since most people don’t know his secret identity. To them, he’s not a celebrity, he’s just a regular high schooler.
Roman Holiday stars Audrey Hepburn as a royal princess who wants to just go out and have a good time without being bothered or recognized or made to fulfill any duties that come with her position. She winds up meeting a reporter (Gregory Peck) and falling in love with him as he helps her enjoy Rome as if she were a regular person. But just like MJ with Peter, he catches on to who she really is, yet he then keeps his own profession a secret in order to exploit her for a scoop.
This is a common trope, too, mostly in the form where royalty or someone else in power escapes the palace or their handlers and explores the city as a regular person. We’ve seen it occur in everything from Coming to America to Aladdin to Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. It even works in the US, as seen with the first daughter eluding agents in Chasing Liberty. For the celebrity version, there’s A Hard Day’s Night and the aforementioned Summer Holiday.
High Noon (1952)
When I think of the unintentional busman’s holiday trope and the extreme variation where a character just cannot avoid finding himself working a case, I think of the Die Hard franchise even more than any mystery series. But before John McClane planned to visit his family one Christmas or two only to find himself in the middle of terrorist situations, there was Will Kane, a newlywed about to retire from his position as marshal of a small town who isn’t able to quit just yet.
This iconic Western stars Gary Cooper as Kane, who gets word on the eve of his departure that an outlaw he sent to jail is out and on his way to take revenge. When is he due? High noon, of course. Kane’s new bride is a pacifist and urges him to just walk away from the impending confrontation. But like Spidey, who’d rather just avoid being a hero for a moment and be with his favorite girl anyway, the marshal has a duty and responsibility. He fights.
Unlike Kane, Spidey is able to find people to help him. And while the girl he loves is pretty tough, she doesn’t wind up either saving him nor is she positioned as a damsel in distress the way Kane’s wife, Amy (Grace Kelly), does and is. Spidey and MJ don’t just get to ride off as the hero throws down his uniform’s distinguishing marker, either. In fact, after they embrace and live temporarily happily ever after, his identity is exposed, opening him up to vengeance by former adversaries.
The Saint’s Vacation (1941)
Spider-Man: Far From Home might officially be the first movie about a superhero on vacation and attempting to actually have a break from saving the world, but The Saint’s Vacation is pretty close. The Saint isn’t usually considered a superhero in the traditional sense, but the Robin Hood-like antihero crimefighter is, if not a proto-superhero, an early influence on comic book caped crusaders. And the pulp character did wind up in comics later on.
The Saint’s Vacation is pretty much what it sounds like. Simon Templar, aka The Saint, attempts to take a holiday in Switzerland, but his time off is interrupted when he comes across a much-sought-after music box MacGuffin thingy. One of those trying to get their hands on the item is The Saint’s old nemesis, a Nazi named Rudolph Hauser. This was the seventh of RKO’s The Saint films and the first starring Hugh Sinclair in the title role, taking over from fan favorite George Sanders.
I could also recommend an animated short involving a superhero dragged away from his holiday to save the day, but I do so reluctantly as it’s one of those old things that was a non-PC product of its time. In the 1947 Mighty Mouse cartoon Swiss Cheese Family Robinson, the titular hero enjoying a beach vacation when a message in a bottle finds its way, with intent, ashore near the sunbathing super rodent. The villains he’s called to defeat are, unfortunately, rather racist stereotypes.
Bonus: Peter Parker Takes His Driving Test (2017)
Even though IMDb qualifies it as one, this isn’t so much a short film as just a car commercial, but it’s something worth seeing if you haven’t before and want to be an MCU completist. Part of Audi’s cross-promotion with Homecoming, it features the first appearance of J.B. Smoove‘s character from Far From Home. Here he’s a driving instructor. Now he’s also one of the teachers at their school. There’s no reason why he can’t be both, but he definitely seems less suited for chaperoning field trips.
Audi and Marvel also teamed up for a new commercial tied to the release of Far From Home. James Urbaniak is in it (at least, I’m pretty sure that’s him), meaning we’ll hopefully see the character actor in the next Spidey movie.
Watch Peter Parker Takes His Driving Test via YouTube here: