Two months ago, a team of veritable gods assembled to traverse the rocky terrain of time and space on a mission to steal a series of reality-altering magic stones in order to…eh, you were there. The point is, it was a whole to-do, self-identifying as the biggest adventure yet to grace a universe that hasn’t exactly been lacking in large-scale calamity. And to say nothing of Peter Parker’s capability to carry the torch of Tony Stark, it seems in the wake of Far from Home that only a Spider-Man movie could sufficiently follow an ordeal like Avengers: Endgame.
It’s obvious from minute one that said responsibility is on Spider-Man: Far from Home’s mind; the movie’s first act takes pains to honor our fallen favorites, explain the ramifications of “the Blip,” and establish the standing order for new heroes going forward. While the weaving of inter-movie connective tissue is something of a staple of the MCU by now, Far from Home’s handiwork feels less like the usual advertisement for the franchise at large than a condensing of the series’ science-fiction hullabaloo to its smallest, simplest, and most purely human level.
We can chalk some part of this up to the Sony-operated Far from Home’s corporate estrangement from the bulk of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I’ll reiterate that there is no character better suited for such an element than Spidey—especially Marvel Studios’ (latest ( non-animated) iteration thereof—who stands distinct from the perfect human specimens and literal Norse deities as an actual person whose greatest asset is his tireless application to be better than he is. Though Peter mourns the loss of father figure Tony and stews in anxiety over the inevitability of being called upon to fill his shoes, what haunts him above all else in Far from Home is the driving but deafening desperation to use the opportunity of a school trip across Europe to ask out the girl he likes.
It’s damn near whimsical that Peter’s puppy love for his classmate MJ (yes, it’s her, and we’re squarely on board) isn’t relegated to backdrop coloring. Even when facing off with a gigantic water monster born of the canals of Venice, Peter’s top priority is telling MJ how he really feels, and Far from Home seems just as gleefully committed to getting our hero to that point as we are to seeing him reach it. The whole thing is stunningly, magnificently adorable. Not solely because of the novelty of a Marvel movie granting balanced footing to its love story and its action-adventure fare, but because Tom Holland as the delightful naïf Peter and Zendaya as the charmingly caustic MJ are each such a joy to spend time with, and are only made more lovable by one another’s company.
The roadblocks Peter hits en route to the heart of his beloved are themselves a treat. Our hapless hero finds himself the victim of a seemingly endless array of cockamamie hijinks involving jag-wad romantic rivals and killer robots that take verbal commands a bit too literally. Toss in some just-for-laughs slo-mo and a round-up of sideline characters with dynamite material (the top dog of the lot might well be Martin Starr’s ineffectual science teacher and trip chaperone, though Jacob Batalon’s Ned is yet again a welcome presence, and Angourie Rice’s Betty Brant a likewise welcome addition), and you end up with a superhero film with a refreshingly liberal relationship with its sense of humor.
Thrillingly, there’s just as much humanity and charm in the other end of the operation: the superheroics—which, my banner-waving for the lovey-dovey stuff notwithstanding, is what we’re buying the tickets for in the first place. Peter’s latest conquest has him facing a legion of element-based creatures sweeping Europe and Mexico; I’ll get this out of the way quickly—laggy battles therewith make for the film’s only major weak point. Enlisted as well by an unremitting Nick Fury and Maria Hill (Samuel L. Jackson and Cobie Smulders, doing what they do!) is the magically inclined Quentin Beck, a.k.a. Mysterio. As said ambassador of fishbowl chic, Jake Gyllanhaal leans into the theatrics, demanding rounds of applause with every given bug-eyed cock of the head or vessel-bursting bellow. Though by all accounts not of this Earth (I mean Beck, but jury’s out on Gyllenhaal too), even he feels founded in the pangs and principles of the everyman.
Though Far from Home may behave like a direct response to Endgame, it is also a logical evolution of the ideas set to screen in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. We see this in the ideas fueling the film’s platter of villainy, but in Peter as well. Far from Home offers an empathetic continuation of Peter’s establishment in his first solo outing as a regular kid who wants to be a hero. Two years (or is it seven?) and two snaps later, Peter is a hero who wants to be a regular kid—compound this with the pressures of inheriting the charge from the fallen Avengers. The combination of Parker and Holland forges something wonderfully earnest from this material, which sticks to the screen whether the film is being funny, exciting, or downright romantic.
Managing all that in the shadow of the biggest adventure this world has ever seen… could anyone have done it but Spider-Man?
4.5 out of 5
Images: Marvel Studios/Sony