Returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the wake of the Avengers: Endgame shakeup was bound to be fascinating. Luckily, Spider-Man: Far From Home brings traumatized superhero fans on a globetrotting thrill ride that proves the perfect palate cleanser, ending Phase 3 and preparing us for what’s next.
The movie picks up with Peter Parker (Tom Holland) eight months after Endgame. He and half of the universe’s population were restored to life five years after the catastrophic Snap, with the intervening period now known as “The Blip.”
Back in New York, Peter is struggling under the weight of his superhero responsibilities. He feels the need to step up following the death of his mentor Tony Stark, but clearly wants a simpler life as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
This setup provides a nice contrast to 2017’s Homecoming, which focused on Peter’s need to be taken seriously as a superhero and Tony understanding he wasn’t quite ready. As Far From Home begins, Tony is gone, and the teen hero is lost.
A class trip to Europe offers an escape from this pressure, giving Peter a chance to spend time with enigmatic classmate MJ (Zendaya) and goof off with buddy Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon).
The teenage-Tom-Holland-foolery kicks off during a delightfully awkward plane ride to Venice. Peter tries to get close to MJ, but his responsibilities catch up to him in the form of SHIELD Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders).
Both introduce him to Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a refugee from an alternate dimension. Fury wants Spidey to help Beck — who earns his comic book name “Mysterio” in a suitably hilarious manner — save the world.
This encounter essentially sets up the internal conflict that drives Far From Home. Fury is determined to get Peter on board for his superhero mission, but Peter’s in the middle of trying to figure out everyday life on a school trip with his friends. How does one juggle being a high schooler and a superhero?
This balance is Far From Home’s greatest triumph — Peter’s relationships with MJ and Beck are the movie’s emotional pillars. Zendaya shines in MJ’s massively expanded role, infusing the character with humor and a vulnerability she didn’t get a chance to show in Homecoming. The romantic tension between the pair is particularly electric in one Vienna hotel room scene, mostly because of Watts’ clever camera work.
Unfortunately, all this time with MJ means we spend less time with Ned. But we get plenty of hapless teacher Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr, Silicon Valley’s Bertram Gilfoyle). We also don’t get much of Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), but there’s a fun sense that she has her own movie going on (Marvel should make this happen).
Gyllenhaal brings a fascinating complexity to Mysterio as he slides into a mentor role akin to Tony’s in Homecoming and Avengers: Infinity War. His evolving relationship with Peter is fun and engaging and his colorful, flamboyant costume mirrors the one from the comics wonderfully. Major kudos to the costume designers for making the ridiculous fishbowl helmet work in the relatively grounded MCU, and that purple cape is magnificent — it’s an amazing adaptation of late artist Steve Ditko’s work.
Mysterio’s Iron Man-esque powers are wild too, making for visually sensational set pieces in Venice, Vienna and London. Watts makes the most of these locations — it’s so cool to see Spidey swinging over canals, through narrow alleys and around Tower Bridge. These scenes provide a nice change from Peter’s usual New York haunts, though one scene involving a mountain pass and bus gets a little too silly.
Of course, Peter remains the movie’s heart and goes on a wonderful emotional journey amid the stunning CGI action. Holland is spectacular, proving hilarious and warm throughout his European adventure — he gets a pretty rad set of costumes too.
Spider-Man: Far From Home manages to act as a sequel to both Homecoming and Endgame, giving us a superior followup to the former and a wonderful epilogue to the latter — reminding us that MCU goes on in a joyous ride. Let’s hope Phase 4 gives us plenty more Peter Parker.
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Originally published June 27.