It doesn’t reach the swinging heights of Homecoming, but Jon Watts’ follow-up gets Marvel’s post-Endgame world off to a charming enough start.
Phases end, phases begin — sunrise, sunset. It feels like just yesterday that the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it reached its end with Endgame, a huge, universe-shattering event that saw the death or retirement of most, if not all, of the original Avengers lineup, paving the way for a new set of heroes to take the stage. One of those, of course, is young Peter Parker (Tom Holland), Tony Stark’s protege and he of the web-crawling, web-shooting persuasion. Just as he tries to figure out what a post-Iron Man world looks like, so too does Spider-Man: Far From Home struggle to see what the MCU will become after such an upheaval.
After getting sucked back into existence along with half of the rest of humanity (an event cheekily referred to as the ‘blip’), Peter, his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), classmate/love interest MJ (Zendaya) and the rest of his class try to move on with their lives. But Peter feels a pull to become “the next Iron Man,” especially given the huge shoes Stark has left for him to fill between all the Spider-tech and having Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) on speed dial. Hoping that his class’ summer vacation throughout Europe will help take his mind off things (and give him the opening to finally tell MJ how he feels), Peter is instead immediately roped into an international spy caper involving Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), some huge elemental monsters called, well, Elementals, and a mysterious new superhero named Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal).
Peter Parker’s anxiety about being a superhero has been his defining trait since the character’s inception, and Far From Home does find some interesting wrinkles to explore to that end. The events of Endgame practically groom Peter to take a leading role in the defense of the planet – Stark not only leaves him with the Iron Spider suit, but even gives him a pair of characteristically blocky Tony Stark sunglasses containing an AI named EDITH (“Even Dead, I’m the Hero”), which grants him unbelievable power over a satellite full of armed drones. What he does with them, and who else might come into possession of them, we must leave out of this review. But it does continue Homecoming‘s desire to interrogate Stark’s legacy through some of the little people he’s wronged along the way, which I’m always here for.
Even with its flaws, there’s an innate sense that Watts’ films nail the essence of Spider-Man, even when they take him into unfamiliar territory.
Honestly, much of Far From Home treads a lot of the same thematic ground as Homecoming — the aforementioned struggle between kid life and Spidey-life, street-level dustups between superpowered villains — but it at least approaches it from a new angle. Much of that is due to the presence of Beck (aka Mysterio), a superhero from another dimension who commits himself to Fury’s cause and takes Peter under his wing. With his long, styled hair and beard, Gyllenhaal’s look deliberately evokes Downey’s, positing him as yet another father figure for Peter to glom onto. And yet, as we learn more about him (events Marvel snipers are ready to take me down for if I reveal in this review; I see the red dots on my chest even now), Beck’s character provides a suitable opportunity for Peter to overcome his demons and step up to the plate. Gyllenhaal is also great as Mysterio, whether he’s in blustering hero mode or bitchy Nightcrawler mode. It’s not a Keaton-level turn, but there’s a reason he finally dipped back into the comic book well after cultivating a handsome indie career.
Visually, Far From Home doesn’t do a whole lot we haven’t seen from most of the other drab, grey Marvel fare. There are some pops of color, mostly due to Mysterio’s hallucinogenic powers, and Peter occasionally enters some nightmare sequences that are deliciously macabre. Otherwise, Jon Watts’ direction and Matthew J. Lloyd‘s cinematography film the thing like a handsome but workmanlike studio comedy — which at least lets the likable young cast take center stage. The real charms are in those performances (Zendaya is a particular standout, elevated from a background player to the effortlessly quirky second lead who’s got stellar chemistry with Holland) and the action choreography, which finds some inventive ways to spice up action sequences that amount to Spider-Man thwipping up some drones.
In typical Spidey fashion, Spider-Man: Far from Home feels like a smaller-scale adventure in the broader Marvel canvas, and compared to Homecoming it might provide some diminishing returns. But the core charms of these films are still there: Holland’s wide-eyed, enthusiastic performance, Michael Giacchino’s winsome, bombastic score, the John Hughes-iness of it all. Even with its flaws, there’s an innate sense that Watts’ films nail the essence of Spider-Man, even when they take him into unfamiliar territory. It may be the least good Spider-Man film we’ve seen in the last seven or eight months (depending on how you feel about Venom), but that’s still not a bad showing.
(Quick note: I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but stick around for the mid- and post-credits scenes. They might actually do more to change the status quo of the Marvel universe than anything contained within Far From Home proper, and contain some unbelievable cameos along the way.)
Spider-Man: Far From Home <insert swinging joke here> theaters July 2.