The follow-up to Marvel‘s era-ending Avengers: Endgame is a deliberate attempt to lighten the mood with a superhero epic where the character comedy is far more memorable than the action.
The 23rd episode in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and already Tom Holland’s fifth outing as a juvenile Spidey, this doesn’t have the sting of Spider-Man: Homecoming and it’s obvious returning director Jon Watts isn’t nearly interested in Jake Gyllenhaal’s silly-looking, neon-armoured ‘Mysterio’ as he is in the plight of the cast of amiable (supposed) high schoolers.
Beginning with amusingly ironic use of that infamous Whitney Houston classic, we watch as Holland’s Peter Parker tries to deal with Spider-Man’s celebrity while keeping his identity as a 16-year-old kid a secret (and Holland, who recently turned 23, does look pretty youthful). The inconvenient reappearance of half of the world’s population at the climax of Endgame (now called ‘The Blip’) has led to global confusion, which is treated with a degree of light-heartedness quite at odds with the earlier film’s sombre tone, and this is tonally juggled rather nicely with Peter’s haunted guilt over – spoiler alert – the death of Tony Stark.
Peter and his pals are going on a multi-country European trip, something which surely these kids and their school couldn’t possibly afford, and when he and the gang are in Venice they just happen to be present when a huge, watery monster (an ‘Elemental’) emerges from the canals and proceeds to smash up a few tourist spots. Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio (as the Italian media call him) is on hand to fight the thing, and this leads to the no-spoilers-necessary revelation that he’s working closely with Nick Fury (the great Samuel L. Jackson, of course) and he’s also from another dimension, which prompts a quick gag to distance this from last year’s charming Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse.
We keep being distracted by the winning antics of the kids and their panicky teachers as they proceed to Prague and beyond, and a couple of tricks kick in that might leave purists unhappy with such diversions from the original comics. And the characters persistently steal the limelight: Peter’s bestie Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalan) is funny as he unexpectedly hooks up with prim Betty Brant (Aussie Angourie Rice), ‘Happy’ Hogan (Jon Favreau, naturally) is sweet in a few goofy scenes with Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), and Peter is still crushing on the deadpan MJ (Zendaya), which intermittently takes his mind off all the computer-generated explosions.
Of course like all Marvel movies, there are a handful of final credits sequences and cameos that, for Spider-Man fans, are certainly worth sticking around to the bitter end for.
Spider-Man: Far From Home (M) is in cinemas now