Marvel’s friendly neighbourhood wall-crawler has never been one to shy away from a great responsibility or two. But in Spider-Man: Far From Home Spidey’s shouldering a weight that would make the Hulk buckle. Not simply a sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming – which somehow made Spider-Man feel fresh after five films and two reboots - it has the unenviable task of following Avengers: Endgame, a film that put a full stop on the MCU’s first decade by (spoiler alert!) killing off its totemic figurehead, Tony Stark.
Far From Home opens in a post-Stark, Romanoff and Rogers world, but is less interested in establishing a new status quo for the Avengers than exploring the void left behind by the man in the iron suit. “The whole world’s asking who’s going to be the next Iron Man,” says Jake Gyllenhaal’s new supporting super Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio. But Tony’s actions have often had unintended consequences, and Far From Home deals with the messy Stark legacy in smart and unexpected ways.
For Peter (Tom Holland), that means stepping up when the world needs him, even if all he wants is to spend a care-free summer (awkwardly) declaring his love for MJ (Zendaya). Because, much like fellow Phase-capper Ant-Man, Far From Home serves as a vital comic palette cleanser following the latest gargantuan Avengers outing, one that’s again imbued with the spirit of John Hughes. Back from ‘The Blip’, Pete and his classmates are whisked to Europe on an educational school vacation. But with the surviving A-Team off-world or unavailable, a recently undusted Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) enlists Pete to fight alongside dimension-hopping hero Mysterio, and eliminate the deadly Elementals that incinerated his alt-universe Earth.
Mysterio’s precise role in the story deserves to remain, well, a mystery. But it’s no spoiler to say that Far From Home does an inspired job of updating the comic book character’s VFX origins, with some surprisingly deep-cut call-backs to MCU movies past. Gyllenhaal is having a hoot as the goldfish-bowl-headed hero, who reads like a cross between Thor and Doctor Strange in action. Speaking of the good Doctor, Watts doesn’t skimp on Mysterio’s mastery of illusion, with one trippy sequence even out-weirding Strange’s soul-coaster.
Holland, meanwhile, cements his position as the finest live-action wall-crawler. His physicality is flawless, but its Pete’s endearingly goofy demeanour that sets him apart from webheads past, the film never forgetting that Pete is a teenager dealing with responsibilities no-one his age should have thrust upon them. When he confides in a sympathetic Mysterio that he wants a break from saving the world, it feels completely relatable, despite the comically exaggerated stakes.
On the opposite side of the divide, the Elementals bring the pixel-pushing spectacle, but the acrobatic action here lacks the intimacy and personal stakes vital for superhero scraps to register as anything other than eye candy in this era of anything-goes CGI. Compared to the astonishingly ambitious Into The Spider-Verse, this is a much safer Spider-Movie. And, unlike Homecoming’s sublime Vulture rug-pull, there won’t be anyone who doesn’t see Far From Home’s big bit of narrative trickery coming a mile off.
What’s slightly peculiar is that Far From Home saves its only real surprises for a pair of unmissable post-credits scenes that drop paradigm-shifting bombshells and joyous treats, as well as unlocking a subplot you won’t even realise has been running through the entire film. Needless to say, a threequel picking up the threads is inevitable. Tony and co. may be gone, but the future of the MCU is in safe hands.