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Spider-Man: Far From Home

(2019) *** Pg-13
129 min. Columbia Pictures. Director: Jon Watts. Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, Angourie Rice, Tony Revolori, Martin Starr, J.B. Smoove.

/content/films/5168/2.jpgThe twenty-three films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—though mega-budgeted and invariably spectacular—function more like an episodic television series tracking a large ensemble of characters. And so it is that Spider-Man: Far From Home carries a major spoiler from turning-point predecessor Avengers: Endgame. Such continuity also means that your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man faces yet greater responsibility to go along with his great power, advancing both Spidey’s story and that of a forever changed MCU.

With tongue knowingly in cheek, Spider-Man: Far From Home plops us firmly into teen-movie territory, even more so than Tom Holland’s first solo Spidey movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming. Peter Parker, “a sixteen-year-old kid from Queens,” just wants to bury his recent pain and focus on winning the heart of classmate MJ (Zendaya), but he’s surrounded by reminders of “the Blip” (the world crisis caused by Thanos and resolved by the Avengers) and fallen heroes.

Peter’s class trip to Europe (another classic teen-entertainment trope) swiftly goes haywire when “an Avengers-level threat” begins laying waste to Venice. With a plume of green smoke, a new hero arrives on the scene to fight the extradimensional Elementals: Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a.k.a. Mysterio. Turns out S.H.I.E.L.D. is also on the scene, in the persons of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders).

Immediately, Beck sidles into the mentorship role Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark has left vacant, meaning Parker has three father figures lowkey competing for primacy in Far From Home: the sensitive Beck, the angry Fury, and the seemingly hapless “Happy” Hogan (Jon Favreau), who has begun seeing Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Putting aside the teen rom com and the superhero theatrics, Far From Home serves above all as a coming-of-age story for Peter, who bears not only the weight of expectations every teen feels but, much worse, the weight of the world as the potential heir to the world’s greatest hero.

A dastardly villain does emerge, a zeitgeisty one who bellows, “I control the truth!” With at least two fake-news jokes, Peter’s lies to cover his secret identity, and a series of illusions and fake-outs, Far From Home demands reflection on not just a post-Endgame Universe, but a post-truth world. For the love of Pete(r Parker), this is a movie that even busts out the George Orwell quotation “The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world.” Marvel deserves credit for the ways it has so far managed to freshen up formula, harness genres to its purposes, and hold a mirror up to contemporary society.

By my count, the story globetrots through eight countries, often with eye-catching scenery of the four countries the production actually visited, and director Jon Watts presides over dizzying, acrobatic action sequences that freely explore the possibilities in following around the high-flying Mysterio and web-slinging Spidey (performance-capture is also used to good effect). On the way to a spectacular, frantic, protracted climax, the story also requires at least one surreal, dream-like sequence that happily pushes the MCU’s visual style.

This action comedy moves with alacrity (super-scored by Michael Giacchino), and if the laughs are often corny, they’re sold well by the cast, including Jacob Batalon, Angourie Rice, and Tony Revolori as high schoolers and Martin Starr and J.B. Smoove as their teacher chaperones—all inadvertently put into harm’s way by the stressed-out Peter. Gyllenhaal’s canny performance goes a long way, and Holland continues to believably channel a teenager who makes mistakes and doubts himself, but finally realizes that he’s the only one with the specialized skills to save this day. (Don’t miss the consequential mid-credits and post-credits scenes, which continue a plot full of surprises and advance the film’s central theme.)

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