‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ is a funny, heartfelt romp

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Like its protagonist, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” is a film with divided priorities. On the one hand, it’s the sequel to the relatively low-stakes “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” As such, it needs to further develop the character of teen superhero Peter Parker (Tom Holland).

On the other hand, it’s the 23rd film in the cosmically-focused Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie series. As such, it needs to advance the narrative of an epic film saga that just reached a major climax with “Avengers: Endgame.”

Consequently, it wouldn’t be a surprise if “Far From Home” was a convoluted mess like the ill-fated “Amazing Spider-Man 2.” However, like its titular superhero, the film manages to avoid those pitfalls and tells a funny, heartfelt story about a young man figuring out what it means to be an adult. And though it’s not as engrossing or emotionally satisfying as “Endgame,” it’s still one of the better MCU movies.

**This review contains spoilers for “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and “Avengers: Endgame”**

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Happiness and Responsibility

The film begins like a great many “Spider-Man” movie sequels; with Peter wanting to step away from his alter ego. Eight months after returning to life and losing his mentor, the teenage hero is in desperate need of a break. Thankfully, the movie provides him with one in the form of a class trip to Europe. Peter is excited about it because it allows him to court his crush, the sardonic MJ (Zendaya).

However, the world of superheroes and villains isn’t interested in giving him any time off. Shortly after crossing the Atlantic, Peter’s class is confronted by a giant water-based monster called an Elemental. A new hero named Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) subdues the beast, but Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) still wants Peter back in the game. He also has a gift for the young hero; a powerful artificial intelligence system left to him by Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.).

“Far From Home” spends much of its runtime contemplating the legacy of Iron Man. The late Avengers co-founder saw great potential in Peter, but the boy is ambivalent. He doesn’t know if he can live up to the universe saving standards set by the older hero. He also has mixed feelings about dedicating himself entirely to heroism.

Despite the well-worn nature of that plotline, the film makes Peter’s conflict engaging. In the post-“Endgame” MCU, the personal cost of superheroism feels heavier than before. As such, Peter’s anxiety about sacrificing his potential happiness and safety never feels self-indulgent. Furthermore, his reflexive desire to be responsible gives the film a palpable sense of pathos.

As such, “Far From Home” establishes the Holland Spider-Man as the best cinematic iteration of the character.

The Villain’s Journey

While “Spider-Man: Far From Home’s” hero has a fairly rote character arc, his antagonist has a much more complicated journey. As anyone familiar with Spider-Man media or Western storytelling might guess, Mysterio isn’t exactly who he says he is. The character initially claims he’s from an alternate Earth and was transported to the Avenger’s world because of the Snap. Moreover, he claims that the Elementals are also from his Earth and that they killed his family.

While Mysterio’s background might seem like the product of lousy screenwriting, the film quickly reveals his origins are purposefully hokey. In truth, the character presents himself as a bland superhero archetype on purpose. His actual background and motivations are much more interesting. In many ways, he is a dark reflection of Tony Stark. He embodies Iron Man’s ingenuity, charisma, and gift for improvisation, but he lacks the selflessness that made Stark a genuine hero.

Though the character isn’t as impressive as the MC’s greatest villains, Gyllenhaal makes him thoroughly compelling.

Early on, he conveys a sense of dashing heroism and kindness that quickly wins Peter’s admiration. After working together, Spider-Man sees Mysterio as a trusted avuncular figure, a perception he uses to carefully manipulate Peter. When that tactic stops working, Gyllenhaal tries to undermine the hero with a combination of maniacal intensity and obvious self-loathing.

The character’s psychological complexity makes him more of a Thanos or Killmonger than a Malekith.

Ending One Chapter, Starting Another

As with most MCU characters, Mysterio isn’t much like his comic book predecessor. However, in this case, the film version of the character is much more compelling than his four-color counterpart.

When the current iteration of Spider-Man was introduced in “Captain America: Civil War,” he was established as a protégé of Tony Stark. Not only did Iron Man bring him into the Avengers, but he also gave the character his iconic blue and red suit. In “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Stark helped Peter fully embrace his power and responsibilities. And in the last two “Avengers” films, Tony and Peter teamed up on one final father-son adventure.

In many ways, “Far From Home” feels like a coda to those films. Indeed, Marvel has promoted the movie as the capstone of its third phase. As such, “Far From Home” can’t help but feel less like a Spider-Man movie and more like the latest installment of the episodic multimedia saga that began with the first “Iron Man” movie. Because the MCU films are so enjoyable, this storytelling quirk isn’t a real problem. But it does suggest future Marvel movies will be more interconnected and less idiomatic than before.

Moreover, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” features a mid-credits sequence that has significant implications for the next phase of the Marvel saga. Not only does it radically upend Peter Parker’s life, but it also sets up several ideas that will likely play out in forthcoming MCU movies and TV series.

Ironically, the film revolves around Spider-Man coming to terms with the fact that he can’t replace Iron Man. But it effectively establishes him as Tony Stark’s successor in one fundamental way; he is now the fulcrum of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If nothing else, that shift promises that significant change is coming to the long-running franchise.