“I can help! I’m strong ... and sticky!” — Peter Parker, offering his assistance to a superhero he’s only just met in “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”
If you’re still recuperating from the enormous and magnificent but, let’s be honest, also exhausting and sometimes very heavy feast that was “Avengers: Endgame,” the Marvel Universe has just the entree for you: How about a little “Spider-Man” light?
It’s a zesty and sweet and satisfying but not overly dark slice of entertainment, bursting with pyrotechnics and sprinkled with sharp humor and infused with just enough life-and-death ingredients to keep you interested throughout.
Directed with style and flair and a deft touch by Jon Watts, with a clever, witty and sometimes downright loopy screenplay by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, and featuring winning performances from a cast led by Tom Holland, the best movie Spider-Man of the bunch, “Far From Home,” is a refreshing, well-timed, down-to-earth chapter in the Avengers saga — in more ways than one.
The relatively light tone is set up in a couple of early scenes, including one in which Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May hosts a benefit for returnees from “the Blip,” the Thanos-induced finger-snap of destruction that erased half the population, who returned five years later exactly as they were, only to learn time had kept ticking for everyone else.
If you were 16, like Peter Parker, you were 16 when you returned from the Blip. But someone who was 13 at the time would now be 18. Or consider Aunt May’s plight: When she suddenly showed up in her old house five years down the road, another couple had long been living there, and the wife thought Aunt May was her husband’s mistress.
Mind-blowing stuff — and that’s just a neat way of preparing us for an adventure in which every time we think we know what we’re seeing, the CGI rug is pulled out from under us, and we have to hang on for dear life and ride out the latest plot twist.
And yet, amid all the ups and downs, twists and turns and city-leveling battles between mega-powerful entities (much of our world is pretty much in a constant state of rebuild due to all these superhero franchises), there’s plenty of room for a high school road trip movie and, how about this — a budding romance between Jon Favreau’s Happy and Tomei’s Aunt May. (Note to the Marvel costume folks: Just because you’ve got Aunt May wearing a lot of denim, including some high-waisted “mom jeans,” we’re not fooled. That’s Marisa Tomei.)
At 23, Tom Holland himself looks like he’s just “Blipped” back into character, as he’s still plenty convincing as the teenage Peter Parker, who’s a handsome lad but still sounds as high-pitched as a junior high schooler.
Still in mourning for his mentor and father figure Tony Stark, and hoping for a respite in which he can just be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man by night and a regular high school kid by day, Peter is excited to join his science classmates on a trip to Europe, especially because that means the promise of spending quality time with Zendaya’s M.J., who is smart and funny and a little dark and mischievous.
Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury grows increasingly frustrated by Peter’s constant ghosting of him, but Peter finally puts aside high school things and gets serious about his Avengers duties after an enormous monster seemingly made of water starts tearing apart the city of Venice. (Which already has more than enough water.)
Fury and his trusty associate Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) introduce Peter to the man who flattened the water monster thingy: one Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), who, with his leading-man looks and super-cool super-power suit and big-brotherly ways toward Peter, is reminiscent of a certain recently departed and much-loved billionaire/superhero.
The somewhat mysterious Quentin even gets a superhero moniker: He’s Mysterio. It’s a bit of an upset he’s not immediately hit with cease-and-desist letters from any number of magicians.
As mayhem seems to follow the field trip from city to city, “Far From Home” loses a little steam and a chunk of credibility, mainly because certain plot elements can’t really move forward without some normally super-intelligent people suddenly experiencing a serious drop in common sense and intelligence.
Also, because this is a stand-alone “Spider-Man” adventure, we get some truly lame explanations for the absence of certain Avengers (we’re told they’re “off-planet” or “otherwise occupied”), while others aren’t even mentioned. (Perhaps the members of the latter group are soaking in giant ice tubs, still shaking off the effects of the “Endgame” battle.)
Ah well. What we’re given is entertainment enough. Gyllenhaal gets the opportunity to scream at the top of his lungs as if he’s doing Shakespeare. Jon Favreau as the sometimes hapless Happy gets to court Aunt May in the States and huff and puff around London while valiantly trying to protect Peter’s classmates. And Tom Holland and Zendaya are so lovely and authentically awkward but sweet together, we could watch a whole movie about their budding romance without a single frame of anyone flying or anything blowing up.
But that would have to happen in, like, a completely different universe. ￼