Spider-Man: Far from Home (Jon Watts, 2019) 3 out of 4 stars.
As I feel compelled to write whenever I review a new Marvel film, I am no diehard aficionado of the superhero genre. I dabbled in some reading of comic books when younger – enough to understand the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe without knowing all the details – but did not comprehensively ingest each and every character’s backstory over their many iterations. Furthermore, I do not understand fan culture; I never have. The vigorous online debates over which actor would work best for which part, or the cheering in a theater when a beloved character makes an appearance, leave me mystified, no matter the long-form series in question.
I therefore always come to these movies (and I’ve seen them all, for better or worse) hoping to watch a fun sci-fi action/adventure that can stand alone on its own merits, though I certainly do not mind if they are part of something bigger. Sometimes I am disappointed, sometimes not. I did not like Avengers: Infinity War, for example, but very much enjoyed Avengers: Endgame; I disliked Captain America: Civil War, but had previously loved Captain America: The Winter Soldier; I hated the first two Thor movies, but had a great time watching Thor: Ragnarok. And on it goes.
Which brings us to the new Spider-Man entry, Spider-Man: Far from Home. It follows the 2017 Spider-Man: Homecoming, which I thought was decent fun, if borderline unnecessary, given the number of earlier Spider-Man films we had already seen. Young Tom Holland reprises his role as Peter Parker/Spidey, fresh off his appearance in the last Avengers movie. He, along with the other lead characters from Homecoming, was part of the 50% of the universe’s population that had been erased by Thanos in Infinity War, brought back to life in Endgame. Following all that mayhem, death and derring-do, all Peter wants to do now is chill out, enjoy his summer vacation and screw up the courage to tell classmate MJ how much he loves her. If that means ignoring Avengers head Nick Fury’s repeated attempts to contact him, so be it.
So off Peter goes to Europe on a high-school “science trip.” I put that phrase in quotes since there is no real science explored by students or teachers, alike, nor a viable plan to do so, it seems. It’s really just a screenplay device to get Peter away from New York and into scenic international locations that can be beautifully destroyed as the plot moves into high gear. For yes, it turns out there’s a reason Nick Fury needs him: with all the other Avengers either dead or traveling, Spider-Man is one of the few around who can help defeat a brand-new threat.
It seems there’s a group of “elementals” from another dimension that have broken through into our own universe and, one at a time, are destroying various cities through earth, wind, water and, soon to come, fire. Fortunately, a new hero arrives in the form of one Quentin Beck – played by Jake Gyllenhaal (Velvet Buzzsaw) – also from that other dimension, and he offers powers and know-how that more than make up for the loss of Tony Stark/Iron Man. Given how much Peter misses Tony, Quentin also doubles as a lost father figure. Looks like this time Peter will be able to mostly just assist.
Or not, since the story quickly develops complexity just after the defeat of one of the elementals. But most of the audience – true fans, unlike me – knew this, already (based on the noises they made), once Quentin Beck acquired the name “Mysterio.” I guess the joy is in the reenactment, though the likes of me was just along for the ride, even if I suspected something had to happen, given that we were not quite halfway through our running time. And a good ride it was, too, well realized and with solid fight scenes and comedy to go along.
Holland is, as before, an engaging presence, switching gamely from lovesick youth to powerful Avenger, his aching heart worn on his web-slinging sleeve. Zendaya (The Greatest Showman), as MJ, makes a nice (and fierce!) romantic foil, and Jacob Batalon (Blood Fest), as best friend Ned, provides, as before, a good deal of the comic relief, especially once he unexpectedly hooks up with a classmate. The rest of the large cast is equally appealing, and director Jon Watts, who also helmed Homecoming, moves things along briskly; the film may be over 2 hours long, but never drags. Spider-Man: Far from Home is hardly high art, but definitely solid summer entertainment.