Courtesy of Sony Pictures
At its core, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” is really just an awkward high school romance wrapped in a superhero package. Who cares about the clunky and ear draining CGI battles, or those pesky droves of comic book Easter eggs. Jon Watts “Homecoming” follow-up and epilogue to the events of “Avengers: Endgame” plays like a John Hughes rom-com between Tom Holland’s dorky and slightly overwhelmed Peter Parker and his desperate bid to win over the affections of his crush: the morbid and brutally honest MJ (Zendaya) - while on a class trip to Venice. In fact, he’s got a five-step plan that ends with him relying his feelings to her on the top of the Eiffel Tower. You can tell this makes him nervous, and MJ too, and their relationship’s back and forth banter offers sweet reprieve between all the fulfilling, but marginally nauseating, battle sequences.
The two actors spark with instant traction and chemistry as the events start to rise in “Far From Home’s” grander scale. The latest adventure not only has to follow in the footsteps of, quite literally, the biggest superhero film of all time, but it’s been tasked with explaining the aftermath of “Avengers: Endgame” which resulted in several key characters returning to existence after being dusted for five years. Questions like: How did people react when their classmates just randomly dissipated into thin air? How did those who vanish manage to finish school on time? Are people technically 21 now, even though they were 16 when they got snapped? What do folks call the five year gap? All get answered within the first ten minutes of the film, with hilarious and clever hijinks. This isn’t the same bleak events that preceded “Endgame” and Watts is clearly having a ball with all these narrative elements in his possession.
“Far From Home” is nimble in that its quick to address the post Tony Stark world this universe now takes place in. And though Iron-Man is no longer with us, his presence is felt throughout “Far From Home.” Whether it’s a mural, cheesy “In Memoriam” segments put on by the school AV club, or a documentary entitled “Stark: The Story of an American Hero,” his legacy has been passed on to his pupil, Peter, and the latest installment is just as much about him finding his identity in the same way Iron-Man/Tony Stark had to rebuild from nothing (and “Far From Home” features many relevance towards the 2008 film). When in reality, Peter just wants to ask MJ out and be a normal teenager.
That starts with a class field trip across many prominent European landmarks including Prague, France, and Venice. It’s no secret Peter is ready for a break between all his Spider-Man obligations (like being a spokesman for Aunt May’s charity organization which raises money for folks struggling after being resurrected five years into the future). He even ignores a phone call from Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) which is met with fierce resistance from returning handler Happy Hogan (Jon Favaru) who may or may not be striking up a relationship of his own with Aunt May (bringing back the stunning Marisa Tomei).
Turns out, Peter going-off-the-grid doesn’t do much when danger quickly finds him as a giant aquatic beast/monster chews up half of Europe. It’s here where he runs into a new face: Quentin Beck - dubbed by the Europeon press as “Mysterio” - (Jake Gyllenhaal) who wears a glowing shape-shifting fishbowl for a helmet (or a prop Jennifer Tilly is missing from “The Haunted Mansion”) and comes from another world, thus opening up many possibilities for a coveted multiverse (a concept explored in the terrific “Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse).
It’s hard to say if we buy what the magician-like guru is selling, but Gyllenhaal is a welcome addition and showmen to the Marvel team with the vet hamming it up as the new father-like figure to Peter. Both growing a bond to each other and having terrific conversation, even if the characters’ introduction feels hurried by comparison to Micheal Keaton’s Vulture; Mysterio and Spidey’s side-by-side team-up is presented with fierce conviction and striking visual effects.
“Homecoming” breakout Ned (Jacob Batalon) makes a triumphant return having survived the events of “Endgame,” and he too finds unrequited love in a hopeless place (despite his pleas for him and Peter to be “American bachelors in Europe”). His character isn’t warranted as much screen time in the sequel, paving the way for MJ and Peter’s quirky love triangle to take center stage, and it makes the film go that much smoother.
Other highlights in “Far From Home” include the web-slinger gaining a spiffy piece of Tony Stark gadgetry for his troubles, and Nick Fury actively trying to recruit the web crawler to permanently reside in Avengers HQ, so he and Beck can lead the way for future generations. But again, the film reverts back to the crux of MJ and Peter’s relationship. He’s got a plan, and he’s sticking to it.
Still, “Far From Home” features exceptional and visionary battleground moments too spoilery to disclose here, as well as some delightful post-credit cookies offering many implications for the future of this franchise (I’m sure heads will roll) - including one cameo guaranteed to slap a smile on your face.
However, none of this would work if not for Holland continuing to show considerable strides as he makes significant discoveries portraying the friendly neighborhood hero, and “Far From Home” marks his fifth live-action appearance (the most of any actor) for the character with little to no signs of slowing down. But, as is always the case, the film is in constant motion and laying the groundwork for what’s next in the Marvel Cinematic Universe when sometimes you just wish the brass head would stop and smell the flowers. Sony definitely has something up their sleeve for subsequent chapters, and if that includes fleshing out Peter and MJ more, I’m all for it. My only fear is this franchise could start to lose a grip on the characters they own, yet if they keep churning out solid hits like “Far From Home,” - and the future of the character is tremendously bright and open for much speculation - I think the filmmakers Spidey Senses will push them in the right direction.