Spider-Man: Far From Home
Directed by Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Jake Gyllenhaal, Marisa Tomei
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments
2 hrs. 9 min.

The studios, and those who try to anticipate box office earnings, have had a dull summer. Aside from Toy Story 4, the parade of sequels has marched into a wall. Even Dark Phoenix did not perform as expected. This is where the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe stands apart. On the heels of the record-setting Avengers: Endgame and the seismic debut of Captain Marvel comes Spider-Man: Far From Home. Spidey as summer savior at the Cineplex: It couldn’t have happened sooner for Hollywood, or fans.

All of Marvel’s bankable superheroes and supporting characters have evolved well beyond Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s venerated, pulpy, original vision. For example, Peter Parker’s comic book Aunt May was a withered dowager. By no stretch of the imagination could that be a description of Marisa Tomei, who plays May in this film. Mysterio was a helmet-headed villain that used an anesthetic mist to conduct his crimes. In Spider-Man: Far From Home, he’s a superhero — Jake Gyllenhaal donning the mystic cape, and playing it to the hilt. The stories in the MCU also have linear fabric woven into them, the connective thread being Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

As a relieved world mourns heroes lost (Iron Man, Captain America, et al) and adjusts to those returned from the five-year “blip” (when half the population was vaporized by Thanos at the end of Avengers: Infinity War), Peter Parker (fresh-faced Tom Holland) and his classmates are off on a summer vacation trip to Europe. Spidey is still Spidey: anxious, full of teen angst, crushing hard on MJ, now played by Zendaya.

Peter is more or less dragooned into duty by Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D when a menacing series of Elements take gigantic forms and start wiping out masses. With Fury is Quentin Beck, a superhero survivor of a now-destroyed sister planet of Earth. After Beck defeats a leviathan water Element that’s risen from the canals of Venice, Italy, he becomes known as “Mysterio.” Spidey’s then drafted to destroy the final Element, a humongous fire entity so massive and enflamed that a superhero might need a monstrous tube of Preparation H to cool and quash it.

That’s more or less the stage on which the twists, turns and deceptions, the clever wit and emotions play out. It’s web-slinging fun. I’ve said it before while describing films from the MCU: The humor leavens the thrill-seeking and special effects. It provides texture, softening the blow of what might otherwise be a panoply of mayhem. Credit script writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers and director Jon Watts for their work. 

Sharing in the thrills are Peter’s best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon), his galactically simple-minded teachers/chaperones, played by Martin Starr and J.B. Smoove, and Tony Stark’s once right-hand man, Happy (Jon Favreau). As imagined long ago, Peter is a conflicted lad, his brain not fully grown, but his powers mature. Tony Stark saw his potential. Watching him live up to it is a pleasure.

Iron Man’s legacy looms large in Spider-Man: Far From Home. It makes me think of the Oscar-winning Birdman, whose central character abandoned his hit movie franchise to try and realize his true worth as an actor, only to lose his sanity. Robert Downey Jr. will have no such inner struggle. And don’t look for Jackson or Holland to ever willingly walk away from their MCU roles. They’re too good, and that Universe too great. As the post-credit teasers let on (stay until the lights come up!), there’s more to come.