far from home

How does one follow the end times? Well, director Jon Watts (“Cop Car,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming”) and writers Erik Sommers and Chris McKenna (both “The LEGO Batman Movie,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp”) decided to follow the end times with a vacation, taking one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) smaller scale heroes on a globe-trotting adventure with “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”

Tom Holland (“In the Heart of the Sea,” “The Lost City of Z”) continues to be his charming self as the MCU’s version of Peter Parker. Holland has cemented himself in the role now, thanks to successful supporting roles in recent Avengers films and his own solo feature. He’s almost reached Chris Evans or Robert Downey Jr. status, with the personality of his Marvel hero becoming almost inseparable from his real-life personality, apart from his British accent.

This isn’t a bad thing though; like Evans or Downey, it makes his chemistry with the rest of the cast flow smoother. Whether it’s chatting with his best friend Ned, played by Jacob Batalon (“Every Day,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming”) or acting adorably awkward around his crush MJ, played flawlessly by Zendaya (“Euphoria,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming”), Holland’s charisma and chemistry are effortless.

The biggest and best character in the entire film is played by Jake Gyllenhaal (“Prisoners,” “Donnie Darko”), who is clearly having a blast as Quentin Beck aka Mysterio. This is nothing short of an actor loving the role they’ve been provided, giving a terrifically fun performance in more ways than one. 

Samuel L. Jackson (“Pulp Fiction,” “Attack of the Clones”) returns as Nick Fury, the secretive one-eyed leader, and Cobie Smulders (“How I Met Your Mother,” “They Came Together”) reprises her role of Agent Maria Hill as well. Thankfully, Watts managed to give her more to do in this film than in the entire last decade or so of the MCU. The same goes for Jon Favreau’s (“Iron Man,” “Chef”) Happy Hogan who, in addition to some great scenes with the disappointingly sidelined Marissa Tomei (“The Wrestler,” “The Big Short”), gets the most exercise he may have ever seen in an MCU film.

Where this film shines is in providing a natural point of growth for Peter’s journey after the events of “Homecoming” and the previous Avengers films. Whereas, most of the MCU sequels have blown up the scope of their stories, “Far from Home” still keeps it as small scale as it can. Even when the bigger action scenes and threats are taking shape, it still feels like something a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man can handle on his own.

This helps everything feel far more natural for these high school-age kids. While much of the simplicity of the high school setting is gone, the intricacies of the friendships still play a huge role here; not as big as in the previous movie, but they’re still essential.

The larger scale of this film does mean most of the more practically done sequences from “Homecoming” have been eschewed in favor of larger, more CGI laden scenes. They’re still excellently done, with some great execution and a heavy lean towards multiple viewpoints throughout.

However, Watts can’t maintain peak control of the entire film. The first act, mostly until Mysterio arrives, contains some uneven pacing and weird edits that make it the weaker chunk of the movie. It also contains the largest collection of jokes that don’t really work. Most get at least a slight chuckle, but the comedic moments that really shine don’t pop up until the latter half of the film.

By the time the third act comes around, the film has done a full swan dive into the deep end of the weird pool in the best way possible. Some of the sequences, or “nightmares,” are incredibly well done and perfectly balance the emotional weight with the crazy nature of what’s happening.

“Far from Home” also manages to balance its tone remarkably well. Especially on the heels of “Endgame,” Watts and his crew have delivered just the right balance of amusement and threat to make this a solid viewing experience. This is made even more impressive as the darker themes about the perception of truth that come into play still don’t feel disconnected from the rest of the film.

It may not be the same emotional gut punch as the past few Marvel movies, but it's still able to resonate when it needs to. The third act revelations that occur pop up more as moments of obviousness than they do profound revelations, but they get the job done effectively nonetheless.

“Spider-Man: Far from Home” is an excellent adventure for New York’s friendly neighborhood wall-crawler. While its start is a little rocky and it’s not as downplayed as the first, it still excels in delivering an enjoyable summer movie experience with tons of great chemistry and charm. Tack on some intriguingly dark underlying themes and some true shakeups for the entire MCU by the end, and it’s easy to see why Spidey’s latest adventure is another, albeit shakier, home run. 4.5/5

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