How do you follow up the most ambitious superhero movie ever made – one that starred everyone, made a kajillion dollars, spanned galaxies and multiverses and pretty much rewrote the comic-book movie rule book? You take things back to street level.
Spider-Man: Far From Home, which officially closes off Marvel’s Phase Three, is another new flavour for the studio: a fresh, youthful romp that also takes things back to basics. Far From Home feels like a Spider-Man movie first and an MCU movie second, and it’s all the better for it.
Kicking off with essentially a post-Endgame world explainer, Far From Home finds us in the aftermath of the Snap reversal (“The Blip” as the whole thing is now called). Most of the main Spidey crew were conveniently snapped, meaning Peter (Tom Holland) and his mates – including MJ, Betty, Ned and Flash – are still school kids while Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), also snapped, is still young and hot.
Though Peter is mourning the loss of Tony and struggling with his own identity, he’s also newly focused on being a normal teenager. So when a school trip to Europe pops up, he’s desperate to go, especially if it gives him a chance for some alone time with MJ (Zendaya)…
Far From Home begins like a colourful teen rom-com, ticking off memorable European locations underpinned with a jaunty score uncharacteristic of the MCU. The tone is light and funny, including slapstick sequences that largely land (don’t worry, this isn’t Mr Bean’s Holiday). Even when the first set of villains arrive on the scene to ruin Peter’s holiday and threaten the very existence of the world as we know it, things never get too dark.
Returning director Jon Watts had a relatively low profile before Spider-Man: Homecoming – with his most prestigious movie probably being the festival hit Cop Car, starring Kevin Bacon – and what these movies really showcase is how good Watts is working with a young cast, playing on but also subverting high-school tropes. Ned (Jacob Batalon) gets a wistful romance, MJ is cool and independent, while Peter is highly sympathetic as he struggles to live up to Tony’s – and the world’s – expectations of him at the same time as wanting to be a normal kid. It’s a credit to the actors and the script that much of the heavy lifting is done by relative unknowns playing in a multi-million-dollar sandbox.
But the A-listers have a blast here, too. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Quentin Beck, who later adopts the nickname Mysterio, is one of the absolute highlights of the film – a charismatic stranger with intriguing powers who arrives out of nowhere just at the right time to become something of a much-needed mentor to Peter, at first at least.
Meanwhile, Nick Fury and Maria Hill get a decent chunk of the action, too, showcasing their lighter sides. Even Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan, sporting what he refers to as his “Blip beard”, is allowed his own subplot, and for once a chance to (maybe) be happy.
Compared to what’s come before, it’s all very sweet-natured and human-focused. But don’t be fooled into thinking Far From Home is low key. The film sports some of the most interesting and innovative VFX sequences we’ve seen in the MCU so far; one extended set piece in particular, which throws Peter inside a living nightmare, is incredible. Mixing visual styles, these scenes are most reminiscent of Spider-Man: Into The Spider-verse, and while Far From Home skews a little older and doesn’t quite hit the heights of the Oscar-winning animated sequel, there are tonal similarities.
Fans of the comics and of the ’90s animated series should delight in this joyful take on the awkward teenager dealing with more responsibility than his years have prepared him for, and while Far From Home isn’t as emotional or heavyweight as some of the MCU’s best entries, it never tries to be. The friendly neighbourhood running time of 129 minutes helps Far From Home feel like one of the most fun and crowd-pleasing intstalments, though do make sure you stay for both the mid- and post-credits sequences – they’re equally enjoyable and actually add to the story.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is way more than an Endgame epilogue or a Phase Three coda, though. Instead, it’s a lively adventure reminiscent of what superhero movies looked like before expanded universes were even a thing.
Spider-Man: Far From Home opens in UK cinemas on 2 July