With the events of Avengers: Endgame, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was forever altered, but Spider-Man: Far From Home shows it really hasn't changed at all. Half of the population blinked out of existence and then blinked back five years later, but Peter Parker still has to go to high school. That's the lesson of Far From Home's amusing opening, featuring a charmingly low-tech video produced by a couple of his classmates. They concisely explain how the events of the last two Avengers movies affected everyday people, and complain that the returned students are still required to take midterms.
Peter (Tom Holland), his best friend Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon), his nemesis Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) and the unrequited object of his affection MJ (Zendaya) are back from oblivion, and they're headed on a class trip to Europe. After helping to save the universe from Thanos, Peter just wants to spend time as a typical teenager, enjoying his vacation and working up the nerve to tell MJ how he feels about her. He even tries to leave his Spider-Man suit at home, but his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), now all-in with her nephew's role as a superhero, packs it for him anyway.
It's a good thing she does, because Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has decided Peter is going to be the replacement for the late Tony Stark as the world's preeminent superhero, and he recruits Peter to help with an apparent extra-dimensional threat from giant monsters known as Elementals. According to Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), who shows up to stop an Elemental attack in Venice, Italy, the monsters have come from an alternate Earth, his home. With his powers of flight and energy blasts (and his clouded domed helmet), Beck is dubbed Mysterio, and he teams with Fury and Peter to stop the Elementals from potentially destroying this world the way they did his.
Fury also gives Peter a gift from Stark, glasses that control a sophisticated artificial intelligence and weapons system, but Peter feels unworthy of the responsibilities he's being asked to take on. The tension between the expectations of Peter as a superhero and his desire to lead a relatively normal life is the movie's main theme, as Peter has trouble accepting the legacy of Iron Man, whose face is on memorials and tributes nearly everywhere he turns. Screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers and director Jon Watts use Peter's internal conflict as a way to keep the story grounded while still acknowledging the universe-shattering events of Infinity War and Endgame.
As was the case in Homecoming, the entertaining teen comedy is as much the draw here as the action, and the filmmakers succeed with both aspects. Zendaya has a much larger role this time as MJ, who develops into a more well-rounded character and not just someone for Peter to pine for from afar. Holland and Zendaya share great chemistry, and the characters make for a perfect match. A subplot between Ned and overachieving classmate Betty Brant (Angourie Rice) is just as enjoyable, and Watts captures enough of a relaxed-hangout vibe that the movie probably would have been satisfying just as Peter Parker's European Vacation.
But there are also plenty of strong action sequences, as Peter takes on the Elementals and another threat that emerges afterward, tying into the film's themes of responsibility and self-doubt. Watts creates set pieces that carry meaningful stakes without having to put the fate of the universe on the line every time, and he always brings the action back to Peter's concern for his friends and his future. As in Homecoming, Peter is sometimes a little too powerful, due to his various pieces of Stark technology, but he's always the same nervous kid underneath the armor. Holland continues to make Peter a likable, relatable teen whose awkwardness is just as endearing as his earnest commitment to helping people.
Gyllenhaal is a welcome addition as the mysterious Beck, whom Peter initially views as another mentor figure along the lines of the departed Stark, and as a better option than the gruff Fury, who has no patience for the teen's insistence on maintaining his high school life. Jackson showed some new dimensions to Fury in the 1990s-set Captain Marvel, but in Far From Home he's more of the one-dimensional curmudgeon the actor often plays these days, and Cobie Smulders has almost nothing to do as fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. veteran Maria Hill.
With the burden of dealing with some heavy MCU continuity, Far From Home isn't quite as refreshing as Homecoming, and its lively tone sometimes feels off for a movie that essentially takes place in the aftermath of the end of the world. But it also provides an effective epilogue and new beginning for the ongoing cinematic universe, looking ahead to the future without discounting the consequences of what came before. Along the way, it works as a warm and funny high-school dramedy, an exciting action-adventure, and an old-fashioned superhero/supervillain battle. Who needs to save the universe when you can accomplish all of that?
Opening July 2, director Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Far From Home stars Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, JB Smoove, Jacob Batalon and Martin Starr, with Marisa Tomei and Jake Gyllenhaal.