Tom Holland is a powerhouse.
Without his talents as the charming and sweet Peter Parker, Marvel Studios’ take on Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Far From Home might collapse under its own weight. To be sure, the film is a well-made actioner with great set pieces, comedy, and a surprisingly emotional tone. But the studio and director Jon Watts can only swing for these heights because they found Holland.
The film opens sometime after Avengers: Endgame with the kids at Midtown High who disappeared in the Snap — though it finally has a proper in-universe name — finishing a do-over of their incomplete year. Peter, Ned (Jacob Batalon), MJ (Zendaya), Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), Betty Brant (Angourie Rice) and a gaggle of the other members of the science decathlon team head for a supposedly educational summer trip to Europe. Peter hopes it will be a chance to clarify the situation with MJ, but Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has other plans for the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.
And get used to that term as Far From Home confronts the tension between Spider-Man’s more local concept of heroism and the reality that he is an Avengers-level character. In fact, one of the movie’s great strengths is leaving you, the viewer, to remember that Peter is just 16 years-old despite going to space in Avengers: Infinity War. Some of the situations Fury puts him in could be construed as child abuse even as it leads to rousing adventure. Nonetheless, the tension is there and leads to something quite unexpected.
But for as much as it leans into big action scenes, Far From Home never forgets its teenager aspect, returning to the other Midtown High kids with regularity. MJ is still speaking truth to power, Betty is still too buttoned down for her own good, and Flash is still an attention seeker. The character traits lead to some great jokes and, at least for two of the characters, hints at why they are the way they are. Meanwhile, Ned continues to be the man in the chair with Batalon once again effortlessly dominating the role of Peter’s best friend. As I said when Spider-Man: Homecoming came out, Ned allowed Peter to externalize thoughts to the audience and the pair make those scenes magic. It continues to be one of the reasons this version of Peter Parker is the best movie Peter to date. Ned also gets a subplot of his own which happens mostly off-screen, but ends up one of the most satisfying aspects of the film. And much like Holland, I can’t imagine these movies working without Batalon and Ned.
That said, there are some quibbles. The running joke about the chaperones’ (JB Smooth and Martin Starr) inability to manage the kids generally lands with a thud. Like most modern theatrical releases, the film is 10-15 minutes too long — a surprise as many of the scenes highlighted in the various trailers do not appear in the film. Nonetheless, the film takes its time setting up all the plots in Europe. In particular, a subplot involving a romantic rival for MJ’s affections — which leaves Peter creeping on her like Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) in the first season of The Flash — takes up entirely too much screentime. Sure, it leads to a couple of funny beats, but it is the least convincing subplot in the whole film.
It also means Peter and MJ spend too little time together, which is a shame as Holland and Zendaya also spark off one another in appealing ways. Even in scenes in which the characters can barely talk to each other, there is a rare magic which makes them the best Spider-Man couple on screen ever assembled.
Meanwhile, Jake Gyllenhaal makes a fine addition as Quentin Beck — aka Mysterio. He’s surprisingly personable, with Gyllenhaal toning down a significant amount of his manic intensity. The result is a Mysterio who serves as a fine replacement mentor for Peter. Well, at least at first. Mysterio is a Spider-Man villain after all and while the film just about convinces you it completely rethought the character, a surprising twist occurs which both makes perfect sense and amplifies Far From Home‘s connection to Marvel Cinematic Universe lore. Also, Gyllenhaal’s manic intensity gets put to good use once the movie reveals Beck’s real plan.
And once his true motive is revealed to the audience, Far From Home becomes a bullet train with inventive action set-pieces that justify the use of CGI and at least three touching moments.
Of course, it is tough to talk about these things without spoiling the movie, but it is safe to say Spider-Man: Far From Home is an overall good time with the things you like in Spider-Man movies. It may not have all the charm and wit of Homecoming, but it is a solid second episode.
Oh, also, the credit sequence stinger scenes return, so stay until the very end for a truly intriguing peak into what the MCU’s Phase 4 may entail.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is open now.