The Avengers might have entered and exited their endgame, but not Spider-Man. He’s in his prime. At least according to Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Far From Home, a zippy and even giddy adventure movie that wants you to believe despite having starred in 11 movies, counting animation and crossovers, the faithful Web-Head is just getting started. And to its credit, the grin on my face attests to the film’s effectiveness.
The first Marvel movie since the studio “ended” its saga, as well as the sequel to 2017’s bubbly reboot, Far From Home has the unenviable task of justifying the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s continuation on top of maintaining the “low to the ground,” sideways-slouched aesthetic of its predecessor. And honestly, it has way more success when it’s being a Spider-Man movie than a post-Avengers, MCU movie. Yet when it succeeds, it is nothing short of jubilant about the opportunity to put on a joyful show, stopping just short of actually buttering your popcorn mid-scene. Not that you’ll want it to stop.
Picking up shortly after Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) life resumed in Avengers: Endgame—but five years after being dusted into oblivion in Avengers: Infinity War—life has carried on as it used to. There is plenty of humor to be found about everyone important in Peter’s orbit having been “blipped” out of existence and back again. Now they simply act like it was barely an inconvenience, so don’t expect any scenes dealing with that existential angst that might stem from seeing what undiscovered country lies beyond. Instead, Peter is just thrilled about heading somewhere way cooler for any American high schooler: Europe.
Indeed, if Homecoming emulated John Hughes’ high school comedies, Far From Home much more accurately duplicates the silliness of one of Hughes’ Vacation flicks. With stops in Venice, Prague, London, and Paris, Peter is ecstatic to put the death of Tony Stark in the rearview and hit the holiday road while spending time with his buddy Ned (Jacob Batalon) and potential girlfriend MJ (Zendaya). It should be the best field trip ever, but his grand tour is repeatedly cut short by interlopers like Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and a new superhero named Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), aka Mysterio. Fury is about six Avengers short these days, and Mysterio has arrived to tell him that he is from another dimension where “Elementals” destroyed his Earth… and they’re coming for ours next! This is pretty heavy, doc, but more so for Pete because these water, fire, and air monsters keep targeting cities where he is trying to get some R&R and maybe have his first kiss in a Venetian mask that isn’t red.
There are actually a lot more twists and turns to the plot—maybe a few too many—but at the end of the day, this is really an excuse to spend time with Holland’s fizzy take on Spider-Man when he’s letting his hair down. And both in and out of the costume, this proves to be an irresistible way to spend two hours. More comfortably relaxed in the role than he’s ever previously been, Holland further cements himself as the definitive live-action Spider-Man with this movie, able to channel his own version of Peter Parker into a specific kind of mania that is as infectious as it is decidedly youthful.
Unlike the other big screen Spidey, and probably the comic book ones too, Holland’s Peter loves being the wallcrawler and invites us to the party. Yet by having him leave his status as “out of office,” Spider-Man: Far From Home still finds a path toward the quintessential Stan Lee dilemma: How do I have a normal life when this superhero shtick keeps getting in the way? Want to spend some time touring the canals? Boom, there’s a hydro monster. Want to romance the girl you like? Oh wait, some fire deity needs to be extinguished and Nick Fury is cursing in your Bluetooth. It both updates and maintains the timeless Spider-Man formula.
Of course formula has its drawbacks too. After Sony Animation’s groundbreaking (and Oscar winning) take on this character in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, there can be something faintly synthetic about how allergic Marvel Studios movies are at earnestness or sincere drama. The cliffhanger that Aunt May knows Peter is Spider-Man from Homecoming is more or less discarded as a punchline here, and the angst and adolescent rollercoaster that was a staple of the comics and Sam Raimi’s movies remains mostly window-dressing. Like Homecoming, the first half of Far From Home can occasionally veer close to sitcom territory.
The upside of this is that Far From Home doesn’t leave a single joke on the table. The supporting cast of Peter Parker’s high school class, Zendaya, Batalon, Tony Revolori as Flash Thompson, and Angourie Rice as Betty Brant, all get more to do than in the last movie. Feeling like a true ensemble piece, the high energy with which these personalities bounce off each other meets Holland’s manic twitchiness and matches it, with Batalon and Rice in particular getting some genuine comic dynamite to detonate time and again. Zendaya, meanwhile, has an easy chemistry with Holland that is much more laid back than the romantic melodrama of the Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield eras while also being quite cute and maybe a little more truthful about teenage awkwardness. Plus, comic book fans will jump at one uniquely MJ moment in this movie.
What feels less like a Spidey comic might be so much emphasis on Peter’s role in the Marvel Universe now that Iron Man is gone. With an almost total lack of the meta-irony about thrusting the status of mascot on him since Robert Downey Jr.’s contract is up, there are multiple scenes of Nick Fury, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), and Mysterio telling him he is the future of the Avengers. It is a crown that neither fully fits the character or this movie—although Mysterio does like a velvet glove. As with Michael Keaton before him, Gyllenhaal makes a fantastic entrance into the MCU’s Spidey movies and proves that Marvel Studios knows how to handle the most important characters in Spider-Man’s sandbox.
All wide-eyed intensity, Gyllenhaal remarkably is able to play his scenes with both enthusiasm and guile. He even gets a speech about the need to wear capes to get anything done these days, showcasing a keen sense of meta-humor given that this is the Nightcrawler and Brokeback Mountain actor finally getting his superhero thing on. And he does so marvelously with the best action sequences in a non-animated Spider-Man movie since Spider-Man 2 in 2004. The way his illusionary powers are realized and contrasted with Spider-Man as they team-up and bounce off each other does a better job than any film to date at recreating the trippier artwork of Steve Ditko. They even manage to make that fishbowl look cool.
Gyllenhaal’s zeal and Holland’s wobbliness find an equilibrium that elevates the last act of the film and places it in the rare company of MCU movies with an ending that actually improves on what’s come before. Taken together it is a remarkable ride that not only bends over backwards, but does a reverse, triple-corkscrew cartwheel in its desire to entertain you. Also for the first time since the era came to pass, Far From Home is a live-action Spidey that’s accepting of Raimi’s legacy and incorporates some of that high-flying iconography instead of running from it. Whether Far From Home is as timeless as those best efforts, or even the admittedly meatier and more innovative Into the Spider-Verse, is harder to say, but it will leave you anxious to swing on its good vibrations again.
Spider-Man: Far From Home opens on July 2. The full schedule of upcoming Marvel movies can be found here.