With Spider-Man: Far From Home, the Spider-Man series establishes itself as the nicest set of films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Everything about the follow-up to the delightful 2017 Spider-Man: Homecoming lives up to the web-slinger’s “friendly” moniker, delivering an incredibly fun, frequently funny, and sweet sojourn from the soul-crushing grief of April’s Avengers: Endgame. But Far From Home is as much a palate cleanser as it is a coda to the climactic Endgame, grappling with the legacy left by Tony Stark/Iron Man by way of a classic Spider-Man identity crisis.
Picking up from Homecoming‘s teenage comedy leanings, Far From Home doubles down on the coming-of-age stylings, going for a classic of the genre: summer love and heartbreak in the sun-dappled European streets. Far From Home plucks Peter Parker (Tom Holland) out of his familiar New York neighborhoods and drops him in the idyllic European locales of Venice, Prague, and London. Eager to take a break from his superhero duties and finally confess his feelings to the taciturn MJ (Zendaya), Peter ignores Nick Fury’s calls and jets off to a glamorous European vacation with his science class that no New York public school should be able to afford. But his double life quickly catches up with him, as the sudden appearance of the monstrous Elementals — and the dashing Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) to ward them off — threatens his vacation. Immediately Peter finds himself swept up in Mysterio’s vendetta to rid the world of Elementals after they destroyed his alternate Earth, despite Peter’s perfectly laid out plans to sweep MJ off her feet.
Tony Stark’s presence looms large in Spider-Man: Far From Home, which right off the bat places Iron Man on a pedestal that Peter could never hope to top. But while Robert Downey Jr. never makes an actual appearance in the film, apart from a few tweaked flashbacks scenes, the legacy of Iron Man becomes the central thread of the film. It may seem like a disservice to Spider-Man himself as the title character of the film, but Holland’s Peter Parker was introduced to the MCU as an extension of Iron Man — getting his first legitimate supersuit and his crash course in superhero conflicts from Tony. I have mixed feelings about how inextricably tied Spider-Man’s story is to Iron Man, but Far From Home puts that connection to good use. Peter struggles with the hole left behind by his idol, which he would immediately fill by latching onto Gyllenhaal’s charismatic Mysterio, who Gyllenhaal plays with a chameleonic grace.
Introduced as a hero from an alternate Earth that was destroyed by the Elementals, Gyllenhaal’s Quentin Beck is a shifting enigma of a character that the actor happily infuses with his unnerving bizarro energy seen in films like Nightcrawler and Velvet Buzzsaw, albeit slightly toned down. And while the sleights of hand that Mysterio deals are greatly entertaining, his character doesn’t have quite the same emotional power of Michael Keaton’s Vulture from the first film. However, Mysterio’s nature also allows the film a chance to subtly insert some painfully relevant social commentary that gives the film greater depth.
Holland once again proves that he is a star in Far From Home, maniacally trying to keep his two double lives under control as the same time that he undergoes an identity crisis — a requisite part of the Spider-Man arc. Far From Home explores some of the same themes as Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, as Peter is torn between his personal life and his professional duties, but this time as Iron Man’s hand-picked successor. Holland is an Energizer Bunny of a performer, but this time he gets to dip into Peter’s vulnerability as he’s never done before — making mistakes and endangering people’s lives because of his immaturity. Far From Home finally allows Peter to be a teenager as previous incarnations rarely did, while not taking away from the deeper impact of his existential crisis.
However, despite the film’s focus on Peter’s struggles with his superhero double life and the sweetly awkward chemistry between Holland and Zendaya, the shadow of Tony Stark is so large and oppressive that Peter nearly ends up taking a backseat in his own story. Outside of his home and school life, the most prominent people in Peter’s life are Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, endearingly goofy), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, always reliably giving 100%), and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders, relegated to stoic right-hand woman again), all Iron Man supporting characters who have smoothly inserted themselves into Spider-Man’s story. But Holland is so enthusiastic and adorably charismatic that he is able to pull the film’s focus back toward him with ease — a gift that becomes necessary with the grand, jet-setting plot of the film.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is perhaps one of the most comic book-y of recent Marvel films, setting the conflicts on a grand world stage while introducing some truly wacky concepts. Jon Watts, who returns to direct Far From Home after impressing with Homecoming, delivers some of the most visually inventive action sequences in a Marvel film yet, rivaling the trippy sequences of Doctor Strange with a dynamic, deft direction that becomes a touch surreal. Despite their CGI-heavy nature, the action setpieces rarely threaten to become dull, and their settings at beautiful European locales only lend to their epic nature. But one downside of the film’s international settings is that the fish-out-of-water detours feel increasingly redundant when the story of Far From Home itself is much more emotionally focused. Far From Home has a lot of fat, most of them pertaining to the European vacation segments, that could have easily been cut. The film is far funnier than anticipated, though the comedy doesn’t always land, but the sheer number of jokes loaded into Far From Home is impressive. Watts displays a keen understanding of the teenage experience and is able to draw some organic humor out of that, but when blended with Eurotrip jokes, they sometimes fall flat.
The increased presence of Peter’s classmates are a welcome addition — Jacob Batalon‘s Ned is a sweet scene-stealer as always, and his fast-lived teenage romance with Angourie Rice‘s Betty Brant is nicely mined for laughs. Zendaya is endlessly charismatic as well, even as she’s spouting off “dark” fun facts about death and the Black Dahlia. While Marisa Tomei‘s chic and breezy Aunt May is sadly a non-entity in this film apart from a budding romance with Happy, Peter’s home life is inarguably rich and warm, which the film thankfully doesn’t lose sight of in the face of grand European escapades and big comic book plots. It’s the warmth that drives the film, and hammers down just how nice this film is. It’s a pleasant and lovely coming-of-age story first, a wild, funny, and cleverly executed comic book story second. While it’s not as much of a success as Homecoming at capturing that grounded teenage spirit, in the blending of Peter Parker’s internal and external conflicts, it’s a home run.
/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10
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