*This review contains no spoilers.
Spider-Man: Far From Home, Marvel’s new edition to its cinematic universe, feels like a weird amalgam of High School Musical (minus the singing) and Hamlet (minus Yorick’s skull), but that is not the whole story. Besides teenage angst, boy-girl crushes, and mourning a lost father figure, there are huge new adversaries that challenge Spider-Man (a fantastic Tom Holland) to be the Avenger that the late Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) believed that he could be.
The greatest challenge for Far From Home is it being the first Marvel film since the catastrophic events of Avengers: Endgame. In a way, Spider-Man is a perfect character for this assignment since Peter Parker sees his job as local – your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man – as opposed to the larger scale threats that the Avengers used to face. Here he’s forced to come to a realization of what it means to be an Avenger.
The film starts with a video memorial to those lost besides Stark – Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlet Johannson), and Vision (Paul Bettany) – done by Peter’s fellow high school students. They also bring up “the blip” when Thanos (Josh Brolin) snapped his fingers and killed half of humanity. Those lost in the blip and restored by the Avengers’ actions in Endgame have come back to a world that went on for five years without them.
Peter confides in BFF Ned (the very funny Jacob Batalon) that he has a plan to let MJ (Zendaya) know how he feels about her on their upcoming school trip to Europe. In an awkward moment MJ overhears some of their conversation, but Ned salvages the situation though not completely.
Before going on his trip, Peter decides to leave the Spidey suit home, even though his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) thinks he should take it. The set-up is that you can take the Spider out of the city but you cannot take the Spider out of the boy.
When arriving in Venice and going through customs, Peter discovers Aunt May packed his suit, and he is stopped by an agent not for it but rather for an overripe banana. Soon after Peter, his teachers, and classmates are roaming the city of canals and, conveniently, the first sign of trouble arises in the form of the Elementals – the first one a water beast that seems unstoppable as it starts destroying the city of Venice.
Peter, having left his suit back at the hotel, puts on a jester’s mask to try to conceal his identity as he battles the beast, but he’s clearly not making headway until a new hero – later named Mysterio by Peter and his friends who share it on social media and the name sticks – (played with flair by Jake Gyllenhall) comes and helps defeat the creature by emitting fluorescent green beams of light into it. Mysterio also wears a strange globe helmet that looks like it is filled with swirling clouds.
Once the battle is over and Peter’s friends are safe, Peter and Mysterio (whose name is Quentin Beck) go back to S.H.I.E.L.D headquarters for a debrief with Nick Fury (the always terrific Samuel L. Jackson), where we learn that Beck is from another dimension and that these Elemental beasts have come from there. Fury attempts to recruit Peter to work with Beck in this huge battle, but Peter just wants to get back to MJ and his friends – in other words he’s a kid wanting to be a kid instead of a superhero.
The rest of the way is spoiler territory, but suffice it to say there is a huge twist that takes Spidey into places he has never been before, and in that way he is tested, hurt, and he and his friends are placed in mortal danger. Director John Watts (who also helmed Spider-Man: Homecoming) has provided enough over the top action sequences in Prague, Berlin, and London to make Chevy Chase’s European Vacation seem rather tame.
There is no doubt that the huge presence or Tony Stark/Iron Man hangs over this film. Tony’s right hand Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) tells Peter that he will never be Iron Man but that even Tony had a hard time being him. The gift left by Stark for Peter is Stark’s shaded glasses, and they give Peter access to EDITH – giving him a full range of technical and weaponry capabilities. Peter wears the glasses but feels like they are not a good fit and supposes that they never will be.
In the Hamlet aspects of the story we are dealing with a boy who has basically lost his father figure – Stark being the father Peter never had and Peter being the son Stark never had. That great loss haunts Peter and, in some ways, he would like revenge even after the death of Thanos. Like the Prince of Denmark, Peter procrastinates before taking action as well because he understands what is being asked of him is too much. Instead of living life like a normal 16-year-old kid from Queens, Peter is being asked to do things even men cannot do.
Far From Home is much bigger in scope than Homecoming, and that is because the stakes have never been higher. By making this a fish out of water story, Peter grows as a character and it is obvious Holland has come a long way since the tenuous first steps he took in Captain America: Civil War. Rising to the most extreme challenges that he faces here, Peter proves Tony Stark right, and in some ways this whole film is an affirmation for the work all the Avengers have done to save humanity from threats big and small across 23 films beginning with 2008’s Iron Man.
Matthew J. Lloyd’s cinematogrophy is stunning, capturing beloved foreign cities as backdrops for huge battle sequences with help from the special effects squad led by Norman Baillie. Michael Giacchino’s back (Homecoming) and the music is bigger, bolder, and especially supports the battle sequences in an amazing way.
One other thing to note that besides having to bring us up to speed as to what happened to the world after Endgame, this is the first Marvel film without a cameo from the late great Stan Lee. Each one was small but extremely memorable for fans and they will be missed.
Spider-Man: Homecoming has the heft of the big blockbuster that it is, but at its heart there is a love story that is artfully woven throughout. MJ and Peter’s awakening as a couple is handled as what it is – MJ using the veneer of cool to keep people away and Peter being split by trying to be two people at once. Peter does not want MJ to find out about Spider-Man but also wants a relationship with her. Watts explores these scenes with sensitivity and a touch of humor that fully ingratiates both characters with the audience and have us rooting for them as a couple.
Holland has taken Peter from Queens to outer space and all over Europe, and his presence is stronger in this film as he fully realizes the dichotomy of his character’s life. He wants to do what is expected of him to honor Tony Stark’s memory – but he also wants to find a way to balance things in order to experience things like a normal teenager. As he battles against the bigger and more dangerous adversaries, Peter should know that somewhere Tony is very proud of him.
This film comes highly recommended. Please note that there are two extra scenes at the end of the film, and it would be wise to stick around for both!