Spider-Man: Far From Home | 2019
- DIRECTOR |
- Jon Watts
After the gloom and the angst of Infinity War and Endgame, Marvel wisely lightens up with the smart and energetic Peter Parker’s European Vacation.
As it’s such a recent release, I’ll tiptoe carefully around major spoilers.
In the aftermath of The Snap, which is now relegated to The Blip, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is less eager to get a call from Nick Fury and more concerned with his doe-eyed pursuit of the enigmatic MJ (Zendaya). His class prepares for a dreamy-sounding trip to a pair of the world’s most romantic destinations – Venice and Paris but it’s not giving much away to reveal that things don’t go entirely as planned.
These ruins have appeared on screen before – as the Mediterranean town under siege in Terry Gilliam’s 1988 fantasy The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and as the ruined city at the beginning of Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth).
It's Belchite, a Spanish ghost town, once home to 4,500 people and boasting an eclectic mix of Baroque and Gothic architecture, which was mercilessly bombed during the Civil War in 1937. It’s on the southern fringe of the modern town of Belchite, about 40 miles south of Zaragoza.
After a less-than-auspicious TransAtlantic flight, the kids and their barely competent teachers arrive at Venice’s Marco Polo International Airport. If you’re following in their footsteps, fight for a window seat to get an unforgettable aerial view of the unique city of islands.
The airport is on the mainland so, yes, the transport really is largely by water. Like the class of Midtown Tech, your first glimpse of Venice at ground level (or water level) is likely to be the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, the majestic domed church at the southernmost entrance to the Grand Canal.
The Canal, snaking in a reverse-S course through the heart of the city, is Venice's main artery.
Almost opposite the Salute is the vast and invariable crowded must-see Piazza San Marco, (St Mark's Square) and its Campanile (bell-tower).
The film doesn’t shy away from tourist views, and why should it? Of course you’ll pose for photos with the pigeons, like Midtown Techies, in the Piazza backed by the magnificent Baroque Basilica San Marco. What kind of joyless Grinch would miss the experience?
Further along the Grand Canal is Venice’s other great ‘postcard’ view, the Rialto Bridge, an arcade of shops spanning the canal itself.
The Rialto is the oldest and, by far, the most famous of the four bridges crossing the Grand Canal. There's been a crossing here since the 12th century though the present stone structure dates from the 16th Century.
As Peter and MJ stroll beside the bridge, a spectacularly unexpected turn of events sees Peter helping a mysterious, flying – and naturally caped – superhero fend off a monstrous threat.
The sheer scale of th action sequence meant having to recreate a large section of the Rialto and the canalside on the backlot at Warner Bros Leavesden Studios in Hertfordshire, where the production was based. Leavesden was also home to the Harry Potter films and how houses the Harry Potter Experience.
The elaborate bell-tower, which Peter tries valiantly to save from collapse, is that of Santa Maria Formosa in Campo Santa Maria Formosa, some way east of the Rialto. I’ve not had chance to revisit the city since seeing the film, so I have to rely on this stock photo which coincidentally just happens to show the Campo while it was still strewn with fake rubble from the Spider-Man shoot.
The rest of the school party has been taken to visit the Leonardo Da Vinci Museum, only to find it closed. Important tip here for visitors – always check ahead for opening times. The museum, by the way, is real enough. You'll find it on Campo San Rocco in the San Polo district.
Nick Fury is not a man to be ignored and, later that night, turns up in Peter’s hotel room. He takes him for a boat ride to the twin brick towers of Porta Magna, main gate of Venice's Arsenal, beneath which there’s apparently another of those secret Avengers facilities.
The Arsenal was an extensive complex of dockyards and armouries needed to supply the city's legendary naval power during the days when it was a powerful and very wealthy republic. It's open to visitors but – yes – check ahead. Don't be Mr Harrington.
Peter not only gets a pair of ultra-hi-tech specs, bequeathed to him by Tony Stark, but is introduced to the new ‘caped crusader’, Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal). He’s here from an ‘alternative earth’ to combat the threat of four Elementals – Air, Earth, Water and Fire.
The hormonal Peter is far more interested in seeing Paris with MJ and chooses to opt out of the Prague mission. But Nick Fury is not a man to be… you get the picture. The school trip is suddenly upgraded from Paris to Prague, and just in time to coincide with the city’s annual Festival of Lights.
After the dodgy digs in Venice, it’s clear the school party is no longer scraping by on a restricted budget as the kids find themselves installed in the grand Carlo IV Hotel, Senovazne náměstí 13, just to the north of Prague railway station.
Formerly a defunct bank building, the premises has been redeveloped into a luxury hotel. Bourne fans might remember this as the ‘US Embassy’ from which Matt Damon makes a daring escape from the upstairs window in The Bourne Identity.
Since Far From Home was based at Leavesden, there’s a bit more of the UK than you might have noticed. That darkly Gothic castle room in which Fury, Beck and Peter discuss their strategy is none other than familiar Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, about 30 miles north of London. The house is familiar from countless productions including Tim Burton's 1989 Batman, Lara Croft – Tomb Raider and, more recently, Wonder Woman and The Favourite.
With the possibility of major mayhem about to be unleashed in the centre of Prague, the kids are diverted from the crazy Festival of Lights to enjoy a delightfully sedate evening at the opera.
The opera house into which they’re grumpily corralled is the Divadlo na Vinohradech (The Vinohrady Theatre), Náměstí Míru 1450/7, in the Vinohrady district east of Prague's New Town. If you saw Neil Burger’s excellent 2006 The Illusionist, this was the ‘Viennese’ theatre in which stage magician Edward Norton grows an orange tree from seed in front of an astonished audience.
Peter joins Beck in the big fight against Hellfire. This is clearly meant to take place in Prague’s main square, Straromestke Namesti (where Tom Cruise blew up the fishtank restaurant in Mission: Impossible), but it’s not.
The Old Square is major and very busy tourist destination which couldn’t be closed long enough to accommodate the scale and complexity of the sequence.
In the end, the fight was filmed at náměstí Dr E Beneše, the main square of Liberec, North Bohemia, about 60 miles northeast of Prague. The three Gothic towers you can see are those of Liberec’s Town Hall.
Back in the real Prague, on the famous Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) MJ reveals a bit of a bombshell to Peter and a discarded technical gizmo she’s recovered from the wreckage of the big battle turns the plot around.
The 15th Century stone bridge crosses the Vltava River to connect Staré Mesto (the Old Town) with Malá Strana (the Lesser Town) and usually jam-packed with tourists and all kinds of street vendors and artists, is punctuated by 30 striking 18th Century statues of saints. The Bridge can also be seen in Mission: Impossible, Rob Cohen's XXX and Van Helsing.
Having disposed of this final threat, both Beck and Parker are invited by Fury to join the team in ‘Berlin’.
This isn’t a plot twist, it’s just that the 'German' scenes were filmed in London.
The futuristic white and glass interior of the Avengers HQ is surprisingly a West London school. It's Holland Park School, Airlie Gardens, W8. The building, which opened in 2012 previously stood in for the offices of ‘Innovative Online Industries’ in Steven Spielberg’s 2018 Ready Player One.
Also in London is the abandoned theatre space where holographic effects are being tested by – somebody. Ambitiously, this sequence was to have been filmed in the famous Carrara Marble Quarries in Italy, where scenes for 1965 historical epic The Agony and the Ecstasy and Bond movie Quantum of Solace had been shot.
In the end, the scene was shot in the magnificently distressed surroundings of Alexandra Palace Theatre, Alexandra Palace Way, Muswell Hill, N22. The Alexandra Palace complex opened in 1873, and in 1936 became the first home of the BBC Television service. The grand Victorian theatre didn't fare so well and stood empty for around 80 years but was finally reopened to the public at the end of 2018. While the Palace was empty and dilapidated after a fire, its Great Hall became 'Victory Square' for Michael Radford's film of 1984.
Like ‘Berlin’, ‘Broek op Langedijk, Netherlands’ is also denied its moment of screen glory. The tiny town square is nothing more than the courtyard of a Prague restaurant.
It seems the threat from Elementals is far from over and the next attack is to be on London. Once again, the school trip takes an unexpected detour. This time it’s to the UK, and the kids arrive at St Pancras International railway station, the Eurostar terminus.
On this sightseeing fest, what would be the first port of call? Why, Tower Bridge of course, where the tour bus is left mysteriously stranded as the weather looks to be taking a turn for the worse.
Most of the last act is played out on Tower Bridge, with Fury keeping an eye on things from the Shard, the jagged glass spike towering over London Bridge Station.
London has recently fallen victim to a slew of preposterous architectural vanity projects, each of which ends up with a silly nickname – there’s The Gherkin (US: Pickle), The Cheesegrater and The Walkie-Talkie. The Shard, at 1,016 feet, is currently the tallest building in the UK and, naturally, has an observation deck, the View From the Shard, 32 London Bridge Street, SE1.
The rest was meticulously recreated back at Leavesden with some serious CGI background replacement.
Despite its appearance, Tower Bridge is not an ancient monument. The neo-Gothic stone cladding is no more than a skin disguising metal-framed structure that was state-of-the-art technology when the bridge was built at the end of the 19th Century.
The challenge was to build a bridge carrying a major roadway without disrupting shipping into the main Port of London.
The solution was a bascule bridge – the road is split and the two halves can be raised to allow the passage of tall ships.
There's far less demand to accommodate oversized shipping these days but the Victorian machinery is still in use and the bridge is raised about twice a day (check for Bridge Lift Times). If you're interested in the inner workings (they are quite fascinating), the innards of the Bridge are open to visit on the Tower Bridge Tour.
The tour also gives you access to those barely noticed Upper Walkways high above the road, which feature heavily in Far From Home (though they were recreated in the studio)
They allow terrific views of the River and the City and also feature glass floor panels for those irresistible shots of your feet hovering over the road and river traffic below.
The reason this technological marvel is disguised is that it stands alongside one of the oldest (by a long, long way) landmarks of the city – the venerable Tower of London, from which the bridge takes its name.
The Tower of London is the real deal, dating back to the 11th Century. The White Tower, the heart of the complex, was built in 1078 for William the Conqueror, a mere twelve years after the Battle of Hastings. It's been a royal palace, a fortification a prison and a zoo. It currently houses the Crown Jewels. Sir Walter Raleigh was held prisoner here and Anne Boleyn was beheaded within its grounds. There's far too much history for a mere movie site, but those are the attention-grabbing headlines.
As you'd expect, such a precious national treasure is rarely seen on screen, except as a picturesque backdrop. And so it is here. The riverfront scenes are real enough as the Stark jet lands on the wide, open piazza on the west side of the Tower, Happy and the kids find themselves alongside the visitors’ entrance to the Tower. Where better to hide out?
Think again if you were planning a robbery – the Vault housing the Crown Jewels isn’t quite as accessible by a bunch of NY schoolkids as it seems here, even during an alien attack.
The kids finally arrive, safe and sound, back at Newark Airport, New Jersey. But there's still a last location cheat. The exterior of 'Newark New Jersey' is actually Stansted Airport in Essex, an apparently film-friendly terminal seen also in Bridget Jones's Diary (as 'JFK'), The Dark Knight Rises (as 'Gotham International') and Philomena.
All over, there’s a bit of wrapping up back in Manhattan and that inevitable post-credits teaser, this time in front of Madison Square Garden.