Tony Stark is dead. Captain America is gone. The Avengers have retreated to the far corners of the galaxy.
Peter Parker, un-snapped and back in high school, is horny as hell.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is the perfect chaser to Avengers: Endgame, and the breeziest spectacle of the summer. Jon Watts, who returns to the director’s chair after 2017’s Homecoming, is in total control as he scales the action back down to a single hero’s journey, grapples with the aftermath of Thanos’ reality-bending genocide (known to the kids of Queens as “the blip”), and shifts to the perspective of an angsty teen making life or death decisions. For Peter (still played with Michael J. Fox-patented nerd cool by Tom Holland), great responsibility can be a great pain in the ass. The smaller stakes conundrum finds Watts orchestrating the slickest action in the MCU.
[Ed. note: this post contains mild spoilers for Spider-Man: Far From Home]
Stark’s legacy looms over Peter, literally. Whether he’s in costume, accepting Stark Industries cash for charity, or strolling down an alley in Prague in which Tony’s visage has been plastered on a wall, the kid can’t escape, can’t move on. A capital-hopping tour of Europe with his resurrected pals was supposed to do the trick — and maybe afford him the chance to profess his feelings for MJ at the Eiffel Tower — but Nick Fury crushes his dreams. Spider-Man is the new Iron Man, as far as the former SHIELD agent is concerned, and the rise of a supernatural threat demands action. A posthumous gift from Stark only ups the anxiety as Peter accepts the throne.
Far From Home introduces a classic Spider-Man villain with a twist. Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), known for smoke and mirrors in the comics, is now a cross-dimensional guest. Quentin Beck was zapped to Peter’s Earth after Thanos’ snap, but after meeting Fury, is ready to take vengeance against the “Elementals” for killing his family. Gyllenhaal plays Beck as an archetypical hero: studly, self-sacrificing, and tricked out with armor. Peter basks in his glow, and finds both a replacement mentor and a way out of this career. Spider-Man doesn’t need to be the new Iron Man when Mysterio is around, so long as they don’t get killed by the molten monster frying up the Czech Republic.
Sand, water, and fire creatures slinging CG elements across cityscapes sounds like a set-piece philosophy from 2004, but 15 years of technological improvement goes a long way. Peter’s encounter with the water elemental, staged across the canals of Venice, splashes and swings like a theme park stunt show. Real flame effects accentuate the showdown with the aforementioned lava chungus, which also puts Peter’s friends in peril. The sense of danger that builds as London Bridge is consumed by a swirling storm Elemental has everything to do with Watts taking his time with the character work.
The whole Homecoming ensemble is back for the Far From Home eurotrip, and they’re better defined as individual voices. The personalities of Peter, Ned, MJ, Flash Thompson (now a vlogger!), Betty Brant, and a few new faces who didn’t get snapped during Infinity War clash and complement less like classic John Hughes high school comedies than the modern teens of Awkward or On the Block. The kids talk like kids, they act like kids, they dive head first into clumsy relationships like kids, and they’re stubborn over weird opinions like kids. They’re kids! Mouthpieces for their own gut feelings, and just ready to take responsibility when their world implodes. The movie mines all-too-real comedy from Ned’s budding romance with Betty and MJ’s introverted communications, while Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr) and Mr. Dell (J.B. Smoove) run damage control as the group’s bumbling chaperones. If there weren’t twists and turns and acrobatic thrills ballooning the movie to blockbuster status, the cast would still make Far From Home a joy.
There’s plenty to spoil in Far From Home, but I’ll say this: Devotees of the MCU will have plenty to huff as Watts finds clever, deep cut ways to tie Peter’s adventure into established mythology. Mysterio and Spider-Man’s pursuit of the Elementals has its own revelations concerning the multiverse, and Gyllenhaal goes for broke as each mystery is answered. And some of the most dizzying, daring visuals come when Mysterio uses his own powers to trap his foes in an impressionistic, Steve Ditko-like warped reality. By the end, Far From Home is a worthy companion to the psychedelia of Into the Spider-verse.
Early on, Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) reminds us that Peter’s “Peter tingle” aka the spidey sense, has been a little out of whack. He feels it. Maybe it’s post-Endgame cloudiness. Maybe it’s puberty. Whatever the case, he’s vulnerable, and feels it. Every AP test in the world could not amount this kind of fear. After ghosting his calls, Peter begs Fury to just let him off the hook. No deal.
”Bitch please, you’ve been to space!”
Far From Home is as nimble as movies of this size come, finding tiny bursts of comedy in the frustration of teenhood, and authentic fear in the oversized action sequences required to be a Marvel movie. Watts loves genre, and whether he’s aping vacation movies with sightseeing montages set to pop tunes or giving Peter a Danny Ocean heist moment, he’s wringing every ounce of moviegoing love into his sequel. The movie ends by setting the stage for a momentous trilogy-capper that could leak into other Avengers movies, but for two hours, Far From Home only has one concern: whisking you away on an all-inclusive trip to Spider-Man’s world.
Spider-Man: Far From Home hits theaters on July 2.