'Spider-Man: Far From Home' Sends Peter Parker on a Charming Trip Abroad
What do you do now that the end of the world has come and gone? That's the question the Marvel Cinematic Universe hopes to answer in a post-Endgame landscape, and one that Spider-Man: Far From Home, out July 2, tackles in the most endearing manner imaginable. "So you disappeared from existence for five years, Peter Parker, what are you going to do next?" "Well, try and make out with my crush, obviously."
Avengers: Endgame sought to propel what is arguably the defining franchise of the 21st century into brand new territory. Far From Home doesn't quite do that, but it serves as a funny wrap-up to the events of the big superhero showdown, while also standing alone as an adventure for Tom Holland's endlessly appealing webslinger.
Before Spider-Man: Homecoming dropped in 2017, the very idea of Spider-Man felt tapped out. Good old Peter Parker is one of the canonical heroes, but between Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and the singing Spideys of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, it felt like he was played out. But Holland, an energetic Brit, flipped onto the scene, bringing a new puppy dog spirit to the character, and Homecoming, despite featuring a lot of Tony Stark, was as much a well-crafted high school flick as it was a cog in the Marvel machine.
The most ingenious move producers Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal, along with director Jon Watts, made in Homecoming was casting a class of rising stars to accompany Peter on his adventures, and it's these young actors, including Zendaya and Jacob Batalon, that sustain Far From Home as well. Throw in a Jake Gyllenhaal performance that I, frankly, can't say too much about lest the spoiler police emerge, and you've got a fine, if at times uneasy, installment in a sub-series that makes me optimistic about the future of the genre.
Ignoring a cold open that briefly introduces the antagonist, Far From Home begins with an ingenious and very funny recap of the events of Endgame from the perspective of the average Queens teenager who was wiped from existence by Thanos. The explanation for what exactly happened during what is being called "The Blip" is convoluted, but Peter Parker's back in high school, and just wants a break from all the world saving business. He developed an intense crush on Zendaya's Michelle, a.k.a. MJ, in the interim years, and plans to let her know during their class trip to Europe. (It's a science field trip, ostensibly; the reason for it is largely unimportant.)
But, alas, superheroics get in the way of romance -- as is the fate of the Spider-Men. Strange forces known as Elementals are terrorizing cities across the world and a water-based one hits just as Peter and his schoolmates make it to Venice. Prodded by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to help face off against the threat, Peter teams up with Gyllenhaal's Quentin Beck a.k.a. Mysterio to save the world. Meanwhile, the sticky lad is grappling with Tony Stark's looming legacy and whether or not he even wants to become a full-time Avenger or just, you know, enjoy being a kid, as the old questions of great power and great responsibility crop up.
The threat comes off as disconcertingly stagnant, until a turn midway through the narrative that will likely feel obvious to anyone familiar with the comics or who has a healthy sense of suspicion. It nonetheless ramps ups the tension and yields keyed up performances from the entire team. It also results in action is that is both more inventive and pleasingly trippy. It almost feels as if Watts and crew saw the animated Spider-Man spinoff, Spider-Man:Into the Spider-Verse, and thought, Hey, we can do something that approximates how visually playful this is.
But, as was the case with Homecoming, Far From Home is having the most fun when it's dealing with Peter's high school drama, in this case, his budding relationship with MJ. Zendaya got to establish her "MJ" -- who isn't exactly Mary Jane Watson -- independent of any presuppositions about the character and, in turn, created one of the most refreshingly weird love interests of any superhero. Here, MJ continues to be dry as a bone; she doles out disturbing facts with the ease of someone asking to borrow a pencil. That her default mode is sarcasm only makes her moments of vulnerability all the sweeter, and her interactions with Peter adorably stilted. Whereas the previous movie Peter Parkers end up sweeping the ladies off their feet no matter how dorky they are out of the suit, this one remains refreshingly bad at courtship in every turn.
Far From Home has a lot to accomplish and already runs over two hours, but I can't help from wishing that there could be an entire movie just focused on Peter, his friends, and teachers -- without any explosions. I'd watch a comedy just around the interactions between Batalon's Ned and Angourie Rice's Betty Brant, the latter of whom shines in an upgraded role. Tony Revolori gives his douchebag Flash Thompson a weird pathos, and there's an Alexander Payne-esque film lurking somewhere in Martin Starr's Mr. Harrington. It's all enough to make you side with Peter. Can't Nick Fury just leave him alone?
But such is the curse of Spider-Man, and the requisite mid-credits sequence introduces the return of a familiar foe in a manner that elicited yelps of delight from my audience. (Fine, I'll admit it, I was one of the yelpers.) Now that Holland's Spidey has gone to space and, well, Europe, it's time to let him deal with some homegrown enemies.