As the stakes got higher and the spectacle got more spectacular in the MCU movies, Spider-Man: Homecoming almost felt like a palate cleanser. It was a ground-level story of a kid who wanted to be a superhero, but hadn’t quite figured out how—a true friendly neighborhood Spider-Man with aspirations for more who wrestled with typical teenage concerns as much as he did with the bad guys. With its working-class if technologically enhanced villain (who figured in a killer plot twist), Homecoming was a scaled-down entry in the epic franchise that nonetheless fully delivered on the action and humor, with a terrific cast, as it charted Peter Parker’s journey to earning the Spider-Man suit.
The thing is, you can only tell a story like that once, and the follow-up necessarily had to up the ante. So Spider-Man: Far from Home loses a bit of its predecessor’s real-world charm as it spins another saving-the-world scenario. Its characters, however, remain immensely likable, and its placement in the MCU saga gives it a built-in hook for plenty of drama and humor, as it is set eight months after the restoration of half of humanity seen in Avengers: Endgame. Their five-year absence is referred to as “The Blip,” and the opening act amusingly addresses the ramifications of so many people dropping back into the world, through the prism of Peter (Tom Holland) and his high-school milieu. His best buddy Ned (Jacob Batalon, once again stealing scenes) and Peter’s closest circle have all spent that time away without having aged, including MJ (Zendaya), Peter’s potential love interest. (One classmate who did not Blip out provides a clever way to introduce a necessary plot device.)
A class trip to Europe offers Peter what he believes is a perfect setting to profess his affections to MJ, and also a respite from hero duty and the chance to be a teenager for a while. He now knows that with great power comes etc., and is not sure he’s ready for it. His taking on of those responsibilities has been hastened by the death of Tony Stark, an event that sent the world into mourning; there are tributes to Stark everywhere Peter goes, reminding him that the capacity of the next Iron Man is his if he wants it. Stark has bequeathed to Peter a pair of tech glasses code-named “Edith” that can speak with Peter (shades of Homecoming’s “Karen”) and give him access to and control over all of Stark’s considerable AI and communications tech—and serves as the plot’s MacGuffin as well as an embodiment of Stark’s legacy. Holland is once again terrific as the conflicted Peter, who’s just a kid and yet so much more, making us feel for his extraordinary situation as well as his more romantic yearnings for MJ. Zendaya makes her a perfect foil—smart and snarky, clearly into Peter yet keeping that attraction covered up under her surface attitude. Their bantering, burgeoning relationship is the identifiable through-line underscoring all of Far from Home’s Big Action.
That begins when the group’s stop in Venice is interrupted by one of the Elementals, a giant made of water who rises from a canal to wreak vividly depicted havoc. Flying in to the rescue, with a little help from Peter, is Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), introduced as a super-powered man from one of many alternate Earths whose own planet was ravaged by these beings. He’s welcomed as a new savior by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, bad-ass as usual), and as a mentor for Peter—one upon whom he can displace his feelings for and about Stark, emphasized by moments in which Gyllenhaal bears a resemblance to Robert Downey Jr. Of course, anyone familiar with Mysterio from the comics or animated series will know that there’s more to him than meets the eye.
As Far from Home skips from one picturesque location to another, it loses some of the tight focus that distinguished Homecoming, yet returning director Jon Watts nonetheless keeps a sure hand on the storytelling. As he orchestrates the huge special-effects blowouts with skill and excitement, he and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (also encoring) find ways to personalize the fantastical elements in smaller set pieces, as when Peter first tries to employ Edith during a bus ride. In the most impressive sequence, Watts and his team even take the opportunity to whip up the biggest blast of hallucinatory surrealism seen in recent mega-moviemaking. Through it all, they find room to give the engaging supporting players their moments, as sparks strike between May (Marisa Tomei) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), and Ned and Betty (Angourie Rice), in counterpoint to Peter’s pining for MJ. Gyllenhaal, who’s been long overdue for a place in the screen-superhero world (he was once a candidate to play Spider-Man himself), fits as perfectly as expected into this environment, and he and Holland play extremely well off each other.
Even as they venture into the more typically expansive territory of the MCU, the creators of Spider-Man: Far from Home maintain a lighter tone that keeps this particular branch appealing; they don’t let the great responsibility of both following up Endgame and setting the stage for the next MCU cycle weigh them down. Easter eggs hinting at future directions are actually kept to a minimum, though the mid-credits scene showcases a wonderful cameo appearance by a familiar face (and probably not the one you’re expecting), which points the way to a new exploration of Peter’s place in the world—one that will bring his story back down to Earth.