Peter Parker faces life after “Avengers: Endgame” in “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” and so does the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general, but by the end of this latest saga, both seem ready to face any future challenges.
In a year that’s only half-done, audience members would be forgiven for having superhero fatigue after “Captain Marvel,” “Shazam!” and “Avengers: Endgame.” (It’s almost welcome news that we aren’t getting the next MCU movie until 2020.) But with a focus on character-based comedy, coming-of-age anxieties, and super-battles that exist in very specific geographical locations, returning writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers and director Jon Watts have carved out a space for Spider-Man that feels uniquely breezy and charming while still fitting the larger structure of the Marvel movies. (They even play with that structure, and with deep cuts from the MCU’s history, in very clever ways.)
The film opens with a hilariously earnest piece of exposition — a high-school TV station’s “in memoriam” montage for Tony Stark and others who died in the fight against Thanos, edited together with comic-sans chyrons, inappropriate pop ballads and unlicensed stock images. It’s a breezy way to deal with the MCU’s recent cataclysmic events (we see marching band members, who disappeared in what this film calls “the blip,” reappear in the middle of a basketball game) even though the reverberations of half the population disappearing and then reappearing five years later had to have brought with it actual trauma.
Peter and his core group of friends — Ned (Jacob Batalon), MJ (Zendaya), Betty (Angourie Rice) and Flash (Tony Revolori) — all got blipped, so they’re repeating a year in high school alongside Brad (Remy Hii, “Crazy Rich Asians”), who used to be five years their junior but is now a BMOC. This whole crew is headed to Europe for a summer field trip – one of their chaperones is played by Martin Starr, evolving the geeky high schooler of “Freaks and Geeks” into a geeky high-school teacher — but wouldn’t you know it: There’s a crisis on the continent, and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) needs the help of one friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
There’s a totally understandable conflict for Peter, who finds himself stuck between just wanting to see the sights with his friends (and maybe get a kiss from MJ) and his responsibilities as Tony Stark’s heir apparent in a world that is hungering for a “new” Iron Man. And when Spider-Man finds himself fighting alongside the very powerful Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a hero from a parallel Earth, Peter thinks he may have found a way to let someone else shoulder the responsibilities of protecting a post-blip planet.
Spoiler-phobia prevents any further discussion of the plot, but readers of Spider-Man comics will know that Mysterio isn’t necessarily to be trusted. And while “Spider-Man: Far From Home” offers its share of surprising twists and turns (up to and including some must-stay-for post-credit buttons), the movie never feels like it’s just biding its time between super-battles. If anything, and this is a compliment, the film frequently feels like a charming teen road-trip comedy that occasionally turns into a superhero movie.
The wonderful cast certainly helps, with Holland and Batalon continuing their lovely comic rapport, augmented by Zendaya’s deadpan Daria-ness and Rice giving Tracy Flick realness with a sweet center. Gyllenhaal nails his character’s earnestness but also clearly enjoys a few moments that let him channel every exasperated-sigh, I-just-want-to-get-this-right male diva director he’s ever known.
McKenna and Sommers’ script hops deftly from Venice to Prague to the Netherlands to London, and the combined efforts of cinematographer Matthew J. Lloyd (“The Kid”) and editors Leigh Folsom Boyd (“Furious 7”) and Dan Lebental (“Ant-Man and the Wasp”) – plus an army of VFX artists – make the most of these locations, following the acrobatic hero as he flies ass-over-teakettle through the air and conscribing the big clashes to canals and plazas and bridges in a way that keeps them manageable for viewers.
Throw in some fun flirtation between Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), stakes that are about personal growth rather than intergalactic Armageddon, and some satisfying hero-on-villain throwdowns, and “Spider-Man: Far From Home” becomes an entertaining example of what we used to call “a summer movie.” You know, back before they started giving us a bright, loud comic-book adaptation like this (but rarely this good) on a weekly basis.