There’s no endgame in sight for Spider-Man. As played by Brit wunderkind Tom Holland in a whoosh of boyish enthusiasm and lovesick angst, Spidey is flying higher than ever. That doesn’t mean this followup to 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming avoids lapsing into silliness and CGI overkill. (Spoiler: It sure as hell does.) Still, the kid-friendly lightness of the piece is a relief after the tragic dimension of Avengers: Endgame, where those superheroes who weren’t killed wound up losing five years in a Thanos time blip. Far From Home is upfront about dealing with the events that shook up the MCU, but don’t think for a minute it wants to spoil your good time. Fun is the default position for a series that now has a lot to live up to after last year’s animated, Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse left the live-action version holding its beer.
When we catch up with Peter Parker (Holland), he’s eager to put his webslinger duties behind him and go on his high school class trip to Europe. That’s where he can just be a regular teenager again and maybe tell MJ (Zendaya, brainy and bewitching as ever) how he feels about her. But once again, the call of duty trumps romance. Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) has packed his Spidey costume just in case. And, yes, that glowering Avengers wrangler Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is royally pissed that Peter is ducking his calls. There are villains on the loose that need to be thwarted.
On the school’s European vacation — it’s pleasing indeed to see the series get out of Queens — Spider-Man must contend with the ruthless Elementals, monsters that take the form of earth, water, fire and air. And once Venice’s canals rise up to wreck havoc, Peter has to suit up again without rousing suspicions from classmates. His best friend, Ned (the ever-terrific Jacob Batalon), already knows Peter’s secret. Luckily, the bullying Flash (Tony Revolori) — Spidey’s biggest fan — thinks Peter is a complete “dickwad.” And school smoothie, Brad (Remy Hii), is jazzed to see Peter out of the way so he can put the moves on MJ. As if! It’s fun to see Fury’s team create an all-black stealth suit for Peter, becoming an alt-Spidey who Ned (and the media) hilariously dubs “Night Monkey.”
Still, Peter is rudderless without Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), his late mentor. Stark has left his protege a billionaire-dollar pair of high-tech sunglasses, a virtual Siri of power at his command, but the kid can’t get the hang of using the shades without nearly killing people. His search for an older and wiser head to guide him ends with the appearance of Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a self-proclaimed visitor from an alternate universe who morphs into Mysterio, a magician in superhero drag with a goldfish-bowl for a head. This newcomer kicks Elemental ass in Venice, Prague, Berlin and London. He’s just the surrogate father Peter needs. Or is he? Gyllenhaal brings wry wit and star presence to the role, but he’s no Iron Man. Who is?
And so the film lays on the FX when it should know that sticking with the kids is its ace in the hole. Go figure. Director Jon Watts and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers are back on duty to keep things moving. But instead of using action to define character, they’ve replaced personal development with overdone computer-generated tricks that quickly wear out their welcome. That’s an odd choice for a movie that’s meant to ease us into Marvel’s Phase 4, in which so many of our favorite Avengers no longer exist. It’s Holland who keeps us invested. At 23, he’s the ideal choice to play a teen who’s lost five years of maturity. His wide-eyed innocence is genuine and infectious. There’s no contrived digital sleight-of-hand in Spider-Man: Far From Home that can match what Holland does: He makes the MCU feel new again.