A wild whirlwind of a mess, without any coherence, without even a guiding principle.
Much like “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” was a perfectly enjoyable if inferior follow-up to the genre-defining, zany ‘80s comedy “Vacation,” “Spider-Man: Far From Home” changes the scenery but can’t quite match the inspired heights of its predecessor.
Granted, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a tough act to follow. Director Jon Watts’ 2017 film was a giddy blast of New York City summertime air, a refreshing reboot with a hugely appealing star turn from Tom Holland in the title role. “Far From Home” also arrives about six months after the game-changing, Oscar-winning animated film “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” perhaps the most inventive movie we’ve seen yet inspired by a Marvel comic—or any comic, for that matter.
Watts is back as director, but this time he’s in the tricky position of helming a film that not only occupies a momentous spot within the ever-developing Marvel Cinematic Universe but also furthers Peter Parker’s individual story. And for a while, “Far From Home” is a lot of fun, especially since it picks up right where “Avengers: Endgame” left off. Working from a script by returning writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, Watts and his team playfully explore what’s happening five years after Thanos’ fateful finger snap and how the world is reshaping in ways that are both major and mundane.
In that regard, “Far From Home” works best as a high school comedy—which also happened to be the strength of "Spider-Man: Homecoming"—with teens figuring out in adorably awkward fashion who they are and how to express what they feel within this brave new world. Peter has had a taste of the big time, with all the rush and responsibility that entails, but he just wants to be a normal teenager. He’d rather join his classmates on a summer European adventure—especially the darkly alluring MJ, played once again with humorous, deadpan charm by Zendaya—than save the world from total destruction. Again. And who could blame him? It’s a lot—for him, and for us.
But duty calls. Because it’s an MCU blockbuster arriving in theaters on July 4 weekend, “Far From Home” also must function as a massive action extravaganza, and here’s where the film is at its weakest. The giant set pieces, and what the villain hopes to achieve through them, are like an empty yet distracting swirl of chaos and noise. Admittedly, that’s the point, and we’ll get to more of that (sans spoilers, naturally) in a bit. But it all feels like overload, like so many swarming, soaring computer-generated blips. “Far From Home” loses its way just as it’s reaching its supposedly thrilling crescendo, its greatest sin being that the scenes with the highest stakes are ultimately kind of dull.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio is at the center of these showdowns, with a mixture of abilities that combine Iron Man’s flying and laser-zapping with Thor’s sartorial tendencies. But who he really is and what he really wants aren’t much of a surprise, although he initially presents himself as an ally and even a hopeful force for the future. Gyllenhaal seems to be having a blast playing dress-up in this setting, and he brings great brio to the scene in which he lays out his (surprisingly understandable) reasoning for his elaborate plan. The actual execution of it all, however, ends up being rather numbing. The real bombshells come during the closing credit sequences—so, as always, be sure to stay in your seat until the very end.
The laughs bubble up so consistently in the first half that it’s enough to make you wish “Far From Home” was a straight-up romantic comedy. Peter’s goofy notions of how stops in Venice and Paris should go down with MJ are the stuff of moony teenage-boy fantasies. A sweet, parallel romance finds Peter’s wisecracking, scene-stealing best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon), connecting unexpectedly with the prim, Type-A Betty (Angourie Rice). And a third flirtation—between Tony Stark’s right-hand man, Happy (Jon Favreau), and Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei)—has some potential but doesn’t go far just yet, although it’s enough to make Peter’s Spidey sense tingle.
Holland isn’t afforded the depth of character we’ve seen from him previously—most notably during his heartbreaking exit in “Avengers: Infinity War.” But once again, he’s completely charming in the role, bringing a boyish enthusiasm that’s irresistible and wholly different from the ways Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield played him in previous incarnations. His Peter even gets to show glimmers of being a flaky kid as he dodges calls from an increasingly, amusingly frustrated Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).
Perhaps his true superpower is the fact that he seems more like a relatable, fully fleshed-out human being than any other character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Surely, we’ll have a multitude of chances to find out for sure.
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