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'Spider-Man: Far From Home,' But Still On Familiar Ground

In <em>Spider-Man: Far From Home, </em>Peter Parker (Tom Holland) goes on a European vacation, but can't catch a break<em>. </em>
Jay Maidment
Sony Pictures
In Spider-Man: Far From Home, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) goes on a European vacation, but can't catch a break.

For as good as it is, there's just no way to receive Spider-Man: Far From Homeas anything more than a vestigial tale, as it were, on the Marvel saga. It's an earnest, well-performed, lovably shaggy radioactive specimen that can't help feeling doubly premature for arriving only half a year after the rapturous Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verseand a whopping two months behind Avengers: Endgame, the MCU's monumental punctuation mark.

Some Marvel Fatigue was inevitable. This is the eighth movie built around old web-head this century; no other hero has been the solo headliner for so many. (Never mind that several of his adventures — like the two Marc Webb-directed pictures that starred Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, eons ago in A.D. 2012 and 2014 — have been Snaptured™ from the record.) Moreover, Far From Home is the fifth film in a little more than three years to feature Tom Holland as Peter Parker. It runs two-and-a-quarter hours, which has become typical fighting weight for these movies. Given all that, it's remarkable Far From Home manages to be as bright and buoyant a diversion as it is.

Would it be better if it were 15 minutes tighter? Yep. Would it be more welcome if it had arrived two years post- Endgameinstead of two months? For certain. But the movie has a bunch of winning performances from 22-year-olds still credibly playing 16, it tells a complete-ish yarn while dutifully laying track for further sequels, and it shows more visual brio than your average Marvel joint. Jake Gyllenhaal's malefactor, Mysterio, is a fishbowl-headed illusionist. The film is at its most graphically inventive when Mysterio uses his tools of deception to convince our Peter he can't believe his own teardrop-shaped eyes.

Far From Home picks up eight months after the events of Endgame,when half the population of the universe spontaneously reappeared after a Thanos-induced five-year absence. Instead of setting off an instant, extinction-level refugee crisis, "The Blip" has caused some housing shortages. It has also had the side effect of turning legendary puppetmaster superspy Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) into kind of a dope. You'll have to stay through the credits if you want to know why, but you're used to that by now.

Peter and his Midtown High School peers — the same loveable crew who populated Homecoming two summers ago — embark upon a class trip to Europe, during which our Peter hopes, loudly and frequently, to take a breather from the whole great power, great responsibility gig. Frankly, I'd have happily sat through 90 minutes of just that. Returning director Jon Watts did a marvelous job of building out the supporting cast — Jacob Batalon as best-pal Ned; Zendaya as a refreshingly enigmatic version of Peter's crush, MJ; Tony Revolori as rich-kid jerk Flash Thompson; Angourie Rice as Betty; Martin Starr as the kids' high-strung faculty chaperone. Just watching this crew of smart kids shrug their way across the continent is, well, relaxing — not a sensation one frequently associates with these films.

But There Will Be Battles, and staging them in inexplicably underpopulated simulacra of Venice, Prague, and London makes them marginally more novel than they would be if Manhattan were taking the hit yet again. Even so, you can sense that the producers did as little location shooting as they could manage.

The plot hinges on Tony Stark — memorialized in loving murals everywhere we go — having left Peter in charge of SkyNet, basically. This artificially intelligent network of orbitally launched surveillance-and-assassination drones — exactly the sort of too-dangerous-in-any-hands doomsday weapon Captain America objected to SHIELD bringing online in Winter Soldier, if memory serves — is called E.D.I.T.H., for acronymical reasons I shall not spoil. It has the effect of giving 16-year-old Peter godlike (on top of his already demigodlike) powers. That's too great a power/responsibility, and Peter, to the kid's credit, figures this out quickly. His moral crisis coincides with the arrival of a new, elemental threat to (yawn) the survival of the planet. With all the voting-age Avengers busy doing other, even more important things that were definitely explained by Nick Fury, Agent of E.X.P.O.S.I.T.I.O.N., Colonel Eyepatch is determined to draft Webby into helping him stop this new foe, even if he has to hijack Peter's class trip to do it.

Fury's use of Peter's peers as unwitting hostages, and as a training tool intended to show the kid that his responsibilities are larger than just protecting the people he knows personally, is a funny idea that more or less makes up for the movie's third-act bloat. Watts, like a lot of recent Marvel filmmakers, is an artist who got called up from the indies despite having never made a big-budget tentpole movie prior to Spider-Man: Homecoming. He seems to be most directly responsible for the youthful (but not juvenile) tone. (Only two of Homecoming's committee of screenwriters, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, are credited this time.) I wish he'd been permitted to keep the stakes, and the scope, as (relatively) intimate as they were in Homecoming.

Gyllenhaal, who was rumored as a potential replacement for Tobey Maguire innumerable Spideys ago, was an inspired choice for the opposition because he initially comes off like a more confident, more battleworn Peter. His character also offers a neat opportunity for some meta-commentary on the kind of difficulties that can arise when you're an ambitious, independent person working for an outfit with a massive economic and cultural reach, like Stark Industries or, you know, Marvel Studios.

Jon Favreau has a bigger role as Stark's right-hand Happy Hogan than he has in any recent Marvel film. Happy is having as much difficulty adjusting to a Stark-free world as Peter is. Favreau directed Iron Man (and also its lousy first sequel), the MCU's Magna Carta; if anyone has earned his spot in this victory relay, it's him. The writers have given Happy a crush on Marisa Tomei's May Parker, who still can't help attracting admirers everywhere she goes. That's a potentially dodgy way of letting her be more than just Peter's ever-ailing Aunt, but the storytellers thread that needle, somehow. Like chaperones on a class trip, or fast-maturing superheroes, they're looking out for everybody.

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