Two of Peter’s classmates have a whirlwind romance on a school field trip. Nick Fury is grumpy about his calls going to voicemail. And to Peter’s consternation, Happy and Aunt Mae are flirting. “Spider-Man: Far From Home” flips the cliché of a blockbuster where we marvel at the action sequences and yawn at everything in between. My mind did wander at times during the film, but it was during the bravura special effects – because we live in an age where everything that makes it to theaters has bravura special effects.
The first post-“Avengers: Endgame” Marvel Cinematic Universe entry is a fresh start for everyone from “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017) who got “blipped” by Thanos’ finger-snap and its subsequent reversal, meaning they jumped ahead five years while the other half of the population aged normally. Conveniently, Peter (Tom Holland), best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and girl-of-Peter’s-dreams MJ (Zendaya) all got blipped, so their relationships continue from “Homecoming” as the school science team goes on a trip to Europe. Not so conveniently, Brad (Remy Hii) has grown in five years from scrawny twerp to Peter’s suave rival for MJ’s affections.
And conveniently for the audience’s amusement, Martin Starr (“Freaks and Geeks”) and J.B. Smoove (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) are the chaperones. Mr. Harrington and Mr. Dell don’t have substantial arcs or huge personalities, but the mere presence of these smart-comedy veterans keeps “Far From Home’s” tone where it needs to be.
Holland, a youthful 23, is the truest screen incarnation of the teenage web-crawler, and director Jon Watts and writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (all returning from “Homecoming”) smartly lean into the teen issues again. It’s not rare for MCU films to be funny, but it is rare for them to be this delightfully, unapologetically corny. “Far From Home” doesn’t shy away from any expected gag, particularly those that rom-coms specialize in. Most brazen is the thread of Ned and Betty (Angourie Rice from “The Nice Guys”) hitting it off. Would the chubby gamer and the Tracy Flick-type be the opposites who attract if “Far From Home” was interested in super-realistic teen drama? No. But I went with it, because that’s the tone of this movie.
They aren’t the cutest potential couple in the film, though; that would be Peter and MJ. It’s the age-old story of the hero failing to strike up a relationship (… or a conversation … or eye contact) with the girl because superhero-ing keeps getting in the way. But “Far From Home” is impressively unsubtle about its aims, to the point where I was hanging on this relationship while the explosions and noises merely filled the spaces in between the duo’s encounters. Indeed, I wish all the sound and fury could’ve been shortened a bit.
Since Peter is the titular hero, we mostly get his POV, but we get a little of MJ’s perspective, too. I love the fact that she’s kind of shy and hesitant, like he is. Some of this storyline is wish fulfillment for nerdy guys, sure, but Holland and Zendaya are so good at playing off each other that it’s easy to imagine there’s something genuine in there.
While I might not remember the action sequences any more than I do those from “Shazam!” or “Captain Marvel,” the villain’s arc has serious topical relevance here – and it also requires a SPOILER WARNING.
Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) uses drones in a way that may or may not be scientifically feasible in five years (I wouldn’t mind reading a “The Science of ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ ” book to find out). He constructs images and a narrative, arguing that people believe things because they want to believe them, not because they are interested in the truth. Ultimately, he uses his technology and manipulation skills to paint Spider-Man as a villain. In short, Mysterio makes the very best fake news.
I suspect upcoming “Spider-Man” films will delve into the notion of Spidey doing his thing without the support of the populace, like Batman in “The Dark Knight.” However, I’m not sure I buy into the idea that the masses are that dumb. It’s too much to ask that the next film will open with Spidey being exonerated of all charges in the court of public opinion, but I hope we see a robust section of the populace that still loves him and knows he was framed.
It used to be too much to hope for a superhero franchise to be that smart, but I’m not putting it past the MCU. “Endgame” closed one grand chapter, but this new one is off to a confident start. In and of itself, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” is breezy and even corny (in the best way), but it also plants the seeds for something bigger.