Everyone needs a vacation after the exhausting marathon of “Avengers: Endgame,” no one more than Spider-Man.
Luckily for us – though not for Tom Holland’s teenage do-gooder – a class trip to Europe goes very awry with explosions and supervillains galore in “Spider-Man: Far From Home” (★★★ out of four; rated PG-13; in theaters nationwide Tuesday). Also serving as an “Endgame” epilogue, director Jon Watts’ sequel isn’t as tightly focused or effortlessly charming as 2017’s “Homecoming,” yet it continues Holland’s amazing Spidey run and introduces Jake Gyllenhaal in his top-notch first comic-book role.
“Endgame” fixed Thanos’ snapping half of the universe out of existence, with some folks – like Peter Parker (Holland) and his best friend, Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) – coming back after being gone for five years while others never left. “Far From Home” picks up eight months later, as the kids of Midtown Tech are still dealing with the effects of what’s widely known now as “The Blip.”
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Peter Parker (Tom Holland, left) is shocked to find his aunt packed his superhero suit when going through customs in "Spider-Man: Far From Home." (Photo: JAY MAIDMENT)
Things have been especially hard for Peter after losing his mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who’s left large shoes to fill protecting Earth. Peter doesn’t want to think about any of that – or take his supersuit – on his trip to Europe, where he intends to tell his oddball, conspiracy theory-loving pal MJ (Zendaya) that he really likes her.
Soon after touching down in Venice, a water monster attacks and busts up sightseeing plans, a mysterious fishbowl-headed hero named Mysterio (Gyllenhaal) flies in to save the day, and Peter grabs a Carnival mask to help out (and keep his secret identity intact). Superspy stalwart Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), annoyed by having to work with a teenager, gives him the rundown: Mysterio is a good guy from an alternate universe who’s now on our planet (Earth 616, for the record) to stop these elemental creatures that destroyed his home.
Spider-Man (Tom Holland, right) makes a new superfriend in Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) in "Spider-Man: Far From Home." (Photo: JAY MAIDMENT)
Watts’ two “Spider-Man” films are aces at prioritizing the high-school experience over the superhero stuff: “Far From Home” tackles young romance, summer flings and the way two kids can “fall in love” in just a matter of hours. Marvel hasn’t always done that sort of stuff well – look how many movies it took Captain America to finally kiss soulmate Peggy Carter – but there’s a fun “Will they or won’t they?” push-and-pull between Holland and Zendaya.
The movies have also given Holland a chance to dig into different layers of his teen hero: Peter is torn between being MJ’s potential new boyfriend and being the next Iron Man, even though neither is a sure thing. Mysterio fills the role of wise father figure for Peter when he doesn’t know what to do, and Gyllenhaal and Holland share a natural brotherly dynamic. The Spidey actor effortlessly communicates Peter’s goofball qualities – he can invent web fluid but doesn’t know classic rock bands – yet he adds weariness to Peter this time around that tells the toll of his Avengers adventures.
MJ (Zendaya) catches a ride from Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in "Spider-Man: Far From Home." (Photo: JOJO WHILDEN)
“Far From Home” has a lot more boxes to check than “Homecoming” in terms of storytelling, and while it’s always enjoyable, the film feels unfocused in parts. Everything changes when a major turn happens – of the story-exploding, can’t-talk-about-it-at-all variety – and the last half takes on a very meta vibe with some of the craziest visuals Marvel has unleashed in a while and a stellar understanding of what Gyllenhaal can do so well on screen.
With quirky references (get ready for an unexpectedly awesome Whitney Houston needle drop) and plenty of big-time “Avengers”-style fights leveled at the main kiddo, the new “Spider-Man” definitely feels to fans like coming “Home.”
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