We’ve seen some pretty out-there stuff in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Spider-Man: Far From Home has a scene that tops all others for sheer implausibility. It’s the one that shows teens attending an opera.
That light-comic interlude leads nowhere, though, and is typical of the sputtering, underwhelming first half of the movie, which drifts along with lots of tepid comedy and uninvolving action scenes. Yet things improve considerably in a clever and robustly entertaining second half. Far from Home looks like yet another hit for the Marvel machine, and be sure to stay through the credits.
Played delightfully again by Tom Holland, Peter Parker is still only 16 — the Thanos massacre that erased half of humanity for five years in Avengers: Endgame freeze-dried everyone so they didn’t age while they were gone. Keeping with the John Hughes spirit of Spider-Man: Homecoming (easily the best Spider-Man movie ever), returning director Jon Watts takes a light comic touch, even playing the fates of Iron Man, Black Widow, and Captain America for laughs, which seems off-key and a bit frustrating considering how much emotional investment we put into those characters.
The script by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (two of the six writers credited on Homecoming) isn’t nearly as sharp as the previous effort, taking its time to come to the point. A school trip to Europe, starting in Venice, strikes Peter as his big opportunity to make a play for MJ (appealingly played again by Zendaya), who has him in such a tizzy that he keeps ignoring calls from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Nobody ghosts Nick Fury. But Nick Fury should know better than to put all his chips on a hormonally defined 16-year-old. One funny early scene has Peter using a gadget Tony Stark left for him to try to delete an embarrassing photo on a classmate’s phone but accidentally calling in a drone strike instead.
The first two action set pieces, though, whip up a ho-hum brand of destruction familiar from second-rate blockbusters like X-Men: Apocalypse or The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Four monsters called “Elementals” — personified earth, wind, fire, and water — are wreaking havoc, barely contained by Spider-Man along with a visiting superhero from an alternate version of Earth elsewhere in the multiverse. Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a guy who looks pretty silly with a foggy goldfish bowl on his head, though after he saves the day in Venice and Italian news media start referring to him as “l’uomo di misterio” he at least gets a cool nickname, Mysterio. Beck becomes a kind of replacement for Tony Stark as the cool mentor in Peter’s life, and after appropriate urging from Happy (Jon Favreau, who gets more screen time than usual and doesn’t waste it) and a tongue-lashing from Nick Fury, Peter Parker joins forces with Mysterio to foil the next big attack by the Elementals, this time in Prague. Prague? Peter has this big plan for kissing MJ on top of the Eiffel Tower. Who wants to go to Prague?
Moreover, with so many Avengers available, why is Nick going with Peter, a kid? Can’t they at least wait till he is old enough to drink before they place the weight of the world on his shoulders? And what are we to make of the absence of Captain Marvel? “Don’t invoke her name,” advises Nick. She has godlike powers, she’s the earth’s chief protector, but she can’t be bothered to save Venice or Prague or London? Having Nick serve as essentially Peter’s boss is a bit of a drag on the movie. Things would be more fun if he were winging it.
When Far from Home finally kicks into gear, though, it comes up with a richly imaginative use for its CGI budget, in scenes that conjure everything from The Wizard of Oz to The Matrix to The Lady from Shanghai to Aladdin. Peter Parker bungles a few things in Berlin and finds himself waiting in a jail cell with some Dutch soccer hooligans. (In the Netherlands, though, even the hooligans are nice. After Peter breaks open their jail cell, they politely close it and remain inside.) Happy restores Peter’s confidence with a pep talk and, as we head for a smashing climax over Tower Bridge in London, cues up some inspirational rock to get him in world-saving form: “Back in Black.” Cool, says the kid: “I love Led Zeppelin!”