Last week was the 4th of July, and while many Americans perched on hillsides to observe fireworks displays to celebrate Independence Day, many of those same patriots settled into cinema seats over the holiday weekend to take in the brand new Spider-Man movie. Swinging back into theaters for the seventh time in the web-slinger’s live action history, Tom Holland’s second outing as the Marvel hero faces a weighty task: to follow up the box office goliath and crowd favorite Avengers: Endgame, and to usher in the next era of the cinematic universe.
After two franchise attempts for the famous comic character under Sony Pictures, fans were elated in 2015 when it was announced that a deal had been struck with Marvel Studios to work Peter Parker into their sprawling and acclaimed shared universe of films. The Impossible actor Tom Holland made his debut in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, and thanks to the young star’s infectious youthful energy and competence with acrobatic stunt work, he earned widespread approval among fans and critics alike. Then in 2017, he starred in his first Spider-Man film.
Opening to a lofty $117 million, Spider-Man: Homecoming boasted the best Spider-Man debut in 10 years, and ranks currently as one of the best installments of any Spider-Man series. By eschewing the well-trodden origin story Peter Parker had already been given twice over, this iteration of Spider-Man felt fresher than ever before. Despite being interweaved into a bloated comic franchise, Homecoming offered a jovial, carefree tone and down-to-earth stakes, with little-known director Jon Watts drawing on John Hughes to deliver relatable high school mischief.
Since then, Tom Holland’s Spidey has appeared in the massive two-part culmination of the Marvel franchise thus far, Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, though there has also been another incarnation of the hero in the Oscar-winning animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. After Thanos (Josh Brolin) used the Infinity Stones to wipe out half of all life in the universe, Peter Parker’s fate was left hanging in the balance for a good year’s time. Thankfully, he returned in the climax to Endgame. Now in Far From Home, it’s up to Spider-Man to pick up the pieces.
The Avengers managed to bring back all of the people that were vanished at the end of Infinity War, but the world is now fundamentally changed. For five years, half the world’s population was unaccounted for in what is now being referred to as “The Blip.” Older siblings are now younger siblings. Teenagers in high school such as Peter Parker have to pick things up at the start of the school year again. Now with a developing crush on fellow classmate MJ (Zendaya), Peter and his friends such as Ned (Jacob Batalonare) are about to embark on a class trip to Europe.
During their first stop in Venice, the students find themselves in the midst of an epic battle between a water monster and a superhero whom they later nickname “Mysterio” (an excellent Jake Gyllenhall). Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are also around, so Spider-Man quickly finds himself working on his vacation, and struggles to find time with MJ. In contrast to past Spider-Man films which all have been relegated to urban New York, Far From Home offers a refreshing change of pace in breathtaking locales such as Prague and the Netherlands.
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The film also contains a pivotal plot twist akin to Iron Man 3 where our presumed antagonist sees a major shakeup, as Beck/Mysterio is revealed to be a disgruntled former employee of Tony Stark with some high-tech holographic drones at his disposal. The change of direction is much-better handled here than in that aforementioned film, but the concept that is introduced lends itself to a wide array of logical jumps that force the viewer to suspend their disbelief. The concept is hard to buy, but the idea lands as fiercely relevant in our present age of rampant misinformation.
With Nick Fury around and talk of world-destroying “Elemantals” being discussed, Jon Watts’ praised low-stakes approach and carefree tone of the first film are threatened here by flashes of more generic superhero fare. Thankfully, however, the director manages to keep things mostly downplayed and casual, although his usual steady hand sees some turbulence as things get more chaotic in the third act. The writing is also not quite as strong this time, with Peter’s ways of fooling his classmates every time he suits up and swings off straining less and less credible.
But that’s the way sequels go, and we certainly couldn’t expect Marvel to up the ante and to be able to maintain the relatable “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” vibe for terribly long. These are minor gripes though, as Far From Home is easily a worthy sequel, and not far from being on par with Homecoming. The film also deserves much credit for following up the mammoth Endgame less than three months prior. That installment featured some grave solemnity, and Holland’s childlike vigor paired with Watts’ breezy style makes for one terrific palate cleanser.
With the film bridging the gap to the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Far From Home also handles the tragedy of Tony Stark’s death with profound grace for such a lighthearted movie, using the opportunity to further Peter Parker’s trajectory into maturity as he questions his worthiness as Tony Stark’s successor. This new direction also raises interesting questions, such as what’s in store for our beloved Spider-Man? With Tony Stark and Iron Man out of commission, is this young kid going to be the new face of the Avengers? I’m excited to find out.