We learn many things in SPIDERMAN FAR FROM HOME. We learn that not only are the Dutch polyglots, but also that they are the nicest people on earth, even when a private jet is making hash of their iconic tulip fields. We learn that saving the planet is just as important as getting that first kiss from the girl you love. And we learn that a clever script can fool you into thinking that it’s flimsy pastiche before pulling out all the stops with both plot and special effects.
In the Marvel Universe, it’s not long since the passing of Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), aka Iron Man, and the return of those who had disappeared after five years in what has been termed the Blip. That would be what happened when Thanos snapped his fingers, making half the universe disappear, and then what happened when Stark snapped his. For Peter Parker (Tom Holland), aka Spiderman, it means still being 16, and having to start his academic year from the beginning even though he had made it through midterms before blipping. Fortunately, his best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon) also blipped, as did Peter’s crush, the brainy and sardonic MJ (Zendaya). Even more fortunately, they are all spending the summer on a class trip to Europe to soak in science and culture, and where Peter will be declaring his feelings for MJ on top of the Eiffel Tower. And it would have been a great plan if it weren’t for the interdimensional Elementals threatening to destroy the planet with only new superhero Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) to stop them with the help, of course, of Nick recently unblipped Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and a reluctant Peter.
Will Peter be able to resist Fury’s call to save the world? Will he find time to save the world and find his happily ever after with MJ? Will he be able to live up to Tony Stark’s faith in him as the future leader of the oddly absent Avengers? And what’s up with Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and Stark factotum, Happy (Jon Favreau)?
If nothing else, FAR FROM HOME provides a welcome tonic to the darkness of AVENGERS: ENDGAME, albeit one with Iron Man’s looming image popping up everywhere in tributes, which also tidily echoes the looming shadow under which Peter feels he is caught. Splicing a superhero movie with a touching tale of teen angst told with snark and irony is pure fun, while Holland’s performance keeps a film with little reality involved nicely grounded in an existential space that is all too real. Be it chafing under Aunt May’s attempts to keep him her little boy, or struggling with his fears that Stark’s faith in him was misplaced, or a perfectly executed half-skip of unfettered exhilaration quickly squelched for fear of being seen, he has a range that is technically impressive and emotionally immediate. When he summons up the necessary resolve to make things right after a series of impulsive decisions, it signals the end of childhood, and it’s a peak moment that is a culmination, not a deus ex machina.
As for the effects, they are dazzling. A smoke monster with a face twisted in rage; a water spout with biceps and a serious anger issue; and a sequence of harrowing illusions that explores Peter’s agility and strength while also presenting him with Jungian tropes and Freudian nightmares.
In the regular world, he’s dealing with the nightmares of Ned finding love with a prissy classmate (Angourie Rice), and the class hunk (Remy Hii) making a move on MJ on the class trip from hell chaperoned by JB Smoove as a science teacher obsessed with witchcraft and another (Martin Starr) who is desperately chipper while making fanny packs even less cool than they already are.
SPIDERMAN: FAR FROM HOME takes the coming-of-age story into complex territory with an imperfect hero whose vulnerabilities serve as his imperative to prevail. Plus, a cracking good story that races across the screen the way Peter’s heart does when he sees MJ.