In “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” Peter Parker goes on what becomes a planet-saving working vacation when he joins a group of fellow high school students for a class trip to Europe. Mixing genuinely funny teen comedy tropes with dangers that are both tongue-in-cheek cartoonish and deadly serious, this seventh big-screen outing for the character is his most entertaining adventure yet.
Tom Holland remains guilelessly likable and somewhat more age-appropriate than his predecessors as the brainy but socially awkward add-on Avenger who lives with his aunt. (Holland was 22 playing 16 this second time around, while previous Parkers Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield already were in their late 20s when they first suited up.) On the other hand, it’s still bizarre seeing Aunt May played as a foxy, jeans-rocking, middle-aged hottie by the returning Marisa Tomei. But, hey, who doesn’t like Marisa Tomei?
This latest incarnation of the franchise got off to a so-so start two years ago with “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” the first solo film placing the character within what is known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (His MCU debut technically came as a cameo in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” where he fought alongside and against members of the Avengers.)
Because of rights issues, Spidey’s first five films included no references to other Marvel Comics heroes, so it was nice seeing him finally take his place in their wider world. Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man even became a mentor and surrogate father figure to the newcomer last time around.
On the downside, that 2017 reboot couldn’t resist repeating the mistake of letting too many people know Peter’s secret identity too soon, robbing him of one of the qualities that made him unique. His Inspector-Gadgeted, Stark Industries-supplied costume turned him into a highly weaponized and AI-enhanced Iron Spider, as opposed to the charmingly low-tech Spider-Man from his 1960s comic-book origins. And Michael Keaton was overactingly off-putting as the villainous Vulture.
Also, neither female member of Peter’s iconic comics love triangle (the police captain’s platinum-blond daughter Gwen Stacy or the free-spirited redhead Mary Jane Watson) made an appearance. Although actress Zendaya’s character Michelle casually mentioned at the end of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” that her friends call her MJ, Marvel Studios overlord producer Kevin Feige went on record stating that she wasn’t supposed to be considered “that” MJ. In other words, giving Michelle the canonical and instantly recognizable nickname, which is the only thing anyone calls her in the new movie, apparently was nothing more than an odd prank to fluster and frustrate longtime fans.
True to its title, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” extracts the web-shooter from his friendly neighborhood of Queens, New York, for more exotic locales including Venice, Prague, Berlin, and London. Tracked down by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who apparently still has some unspecified world-protecting gig even though the SHIELD organization he headed was destroyed in 2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” Spidey reluctantly agrees to give up some of his off-the-clock, get-closer-to-MJ time. His task is to help an alternate-Earth visitor called Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) stop a monstrous Fire Elemental creature from destroying the Earth.
A significant plot problem is that this job plainly would be considered far above Spidey’s pay grade. Even though Fury says heavy-hitters Thor and Captain America are unavailable, that still leaves plenty of Infinity War survivors (such as Hulk, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, War Machine, Scarlet Witch, Falcon, and even that village of resettled Asgardians) who might have been enlisted en masse for such an existentially important assignment. He also could have called in air strikes from orbiting Stark Industries satellites, or even employed a few nations’ conventional armed forces. I mean, it is the fate of the Earth at stake, after all.
There’s also a slightly groanworthy twist that splits the story into what feels like a double-feature two-parter. No spoilers, but it’s the kind of cliché device that feels like the most predictable way possible of padding out a screenplay. Call it Hollywood’s version of Hamburger Helper.
The movie survives those stumbling blocks and some other believability issues thanks to how entertaining the good parts are. Holland perfectly conveys youthful enthusiasm, teenage angst, occasional self-doubt, and a heroic sense of duty both in and out of costume. Likewise, his classmates and other supporting characters are so much fun to watch that they could have come from an early John Hughes outing.
Peter’s goofy best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) establishes an amusing new relationship with straitlaced Betty (Angourie Rice). Putdown artist Flash (Tony Revolori) remains Spider-Man-obsessed without realizing his idol is Peter under the mask. And Zendaya’s MJ loosens up to become less of a sardonic Darla and show some non-ironic humanity.
All of them were among the half of all living creatures that vanished for five years and were restored to life in “Avengers: Endgame,” conveniently keeping them the same age in the same grade. That may be statistically unlikely, but keeping the gang together was worth the cheat.
Gyllenhaal shines as the flying Mysterio, whose globe-of-smoke helmet, elaborate caped costume, and green energy bolts fired from his hands are suitably over-the-top.
Studly new student Brad (Remy Hii), who tries making his own moves on MJ, gets one of the movie’s best lines. Watching Mysterio do battle with a giant water elemental that has risen from the Venice canals, someone asks, “Who is that guy?” “I don’t know,” Brad replies, “but he’s kicking that water’s -ss!” (A close-runner up: In-the-know Ned lying to Betty that what very obviously is Spider-Man in a different outfit is a “European rip-off” called Night Monkey.)
MCU spoiler ahead.
A running theme involves Peter (and the world) dealing with Iron Man’s heroic death. Thankfully, Tony Stark’s right-hand man Happy Hogan (a bumblingly endearing Jon Favreau) is still around to help Peter out when necessary. He also has a thing for Aunt May. But who doesn’t?
Also, the movie gets points for not copping out regarding the final shot of the last one, in which May was shocked to discover that Peter was Spider-Man. She still knows, she’s cool with it, and she even insists that he pack his costume for the trip. Just in case.
In addition to handling the “does whatever a spider can” action stuff right, returning director Jon Watts employs some dazzlingly hallucinogenic reality-bending scenes that rival the trippiest moments from “Doctor Strange.” Writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, who co-wrote “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and 2018’s “Ant-Man and The Wasp,” are so good at making the teen scenes enjoyable that the superheroics almost seem like a bonus. And when it comes to surprise revelations, take Nick Fury’s advice and “be ready for anything.”
The end credits include a pair of bonuses. The second one is silly and doesn’t make much sense if given even a little thought. The first, however, is a classic comics-style cliffhanger that you absolutely won’t want to miss, so be sure to stick around for it.