Spider-Man: Far From Home Brings Back Levity and Charm

Picking up the pieces of the past while looking to the future, and moving from gravity and magnitude into something much lighter and charming, Peter Parker puts a final exclamation point on the Avengers saga. And maybe an ellipsis.

Spider-Man: Far from Home is the airy, refreshing epilogue we all need from Marvel, as the scale and overwhelming nature of Endgame morphs into a story with welcome humor, different stakes, and a compelling lead character that isn’t particularly resolute. Following the events of the latest Avengers film, where all those snapped away ‘blipped’ back into existence, 16-year-old Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is looking forward to a European vacation with his high school class. And spending time with his crush, MJ (Zendaya). He is still mourning his mentor Tony Stark, who bestows him with a powerful gift, but seeks desperately a normal summer free from saving the world.

And of course that can’t really happen. This sequel to Homecoming and in fact the fifth time we’ve seen this iteration of Spider-Man on screen (the MCU version, I suppose) finds Stark’s shadow looming large, and analyzes how Peter, the world, and I suppose the viewing audience, grapples with losing its most important Avenger. He wasn’t an alien, a super soldier, or a wizard, and the void of brainy-human-turned-superhero looks to be easily filled by Peter – if only he wants it.

His reluctance, and indeed inability, to take on the mantle of lead Avenger, or Earth Avenger, or go-to Avenger or whatever it may be is at the heart of this tale which balances wonderfully all the mythos and superhero stuff with hormones and teenage awkwardness and the highs and lows that come with being young.  Peter wants to be a kid, at least for a bit.

So when a cape-wearing, green smoke-shooting warrior from another dimension shows up alongside familiar government agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) to fight off some giant elemental monsters, Peter’s European vacation gets derailed. As usual, Fury serves to explain along the superhero jargon stuff while cracking jokes; he doesn’t particularly work as a father figure to a Peter very much in need of one. But perhaps this new hero, dubbed Mysterio by the media, and played with stoic valor and nonchalance by Jake Gyllenhaal, can help guide an impressionable young man trying to balance living up to high standards with growing up his own way.

Because this is a movie in an interconnected universe though with a template to follow, it’s not all cute asides, emotional introspection, and well-placed music; it’s explosions, and people running, and a lot of dazzling effects. Before Far from Home heads to its blockbuster finale, there are some impressive sequences, including an oozy fire beast, a trippy nightmare,  a lively montage in Venice, and lots of comical misunderstandings. Supernatural tangents effortlessly weave in and out of Peter’s quest to woo MJ, do the right thing, and be a teen.

There are some truly sweet sequences to the film, reminding the audience if they perhaps forget amid the grandness of Endgame that Marvel and Disney have become very good at distilling the essence of these heroes into relatable traits while giving them a lot of funny lines and self awareness. Like Homecoming, which was also directed by Jon Watts, Far from Home is energetic and optimistic. It’s less shambolic than the Ant-Man movies, more grounded than Thor, and less serious than all the others (although like all the others, it has an insignificant villain, a loud third act, and a character with dad issues).  Still, it’s optimistic and determined; less about saving the universe or galaxy and more about figuring out your place in it by making a lot of mistakes along the way.

Most importantly though, it’s winning, and simply a lot of fun, inviting the audience alongside, without pandering or condescension or even requiring a ton of recall or inside comic knowledge. Endgame notably didn’t have an end credits sequence; it was the close of the era, but for the youngest Avenger it was the beginning of a new chapter. Far from Home is  essentially one long end credits scene: tying some things together, serving fans, and setting up much, much more to come.

 

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