It has been a mere three years since Tom Holland took his first swings as Spider-Man, bringing the character into the Marvel Cinematic Universe proper in Captain America: Civil War. It seems as though the young English thespian has been playing Peter Parker and his masked alter ego without a moment’s rest ever since, taking the lead in Spider-Man: Homecoming, appearing in two Avengers films, and gamely showing up for just about any tie-in appearance Marvel slides across the table to him. Like other actors twinkling in the Marvel galaxy of stars, entirely uncertain of which films are home to their performances, Holland simply shows up for work and the mighty Marvel movie machinery makes magic.
A mere ten weeks after carrying a reasonable amount of screen time as the character in Avengers: Endgame, Holland is back as the web-slinger in Spider-Man: Far From Home. In the film, Peter Parker is feeling the pressure of his superhero side engagements in a post-Thanos universe. He’s still taking his lessons at a New York City school, where most of his friends (and, importantly, most famous co-stars) were also among the random half of the universe snapped away in the cosmic event referred to here as “The Blip,” thereby avoiding the awkwardness of sudden age discrepancies complicating established friendships and crushes. Worn down and still mourning his mentor, Peter is anxious to take a break from crime-fighting during a summer trip to Europe with his fellow high school students. Too bad about that pesky “great responsibility” thing.
Across the ocean, Spider-Man gets roped into a battle against giant elemental creatures who swirl up in major cities and start mindlessly marauding. He’s partnered with a costumed, caped, and helmet adorned figure named Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal, an absolutely inspired choice for the role), who picks up the nickname Mysterio because of Italian news reports about the abilities he flashes, putting him roughly in Doctor Strange territory. From there, the complications grow and shift, significantly testing the young hero who’s roamed far from his friendly neighborhood.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is enjoyable, but also a little muddled. It repeats the winning strategy of Spider-Man: Homecoming — most notably mimicking the wit and spirit of the nineteen-eighties teen comedies presided over by John Hughes — with less consistent results, and the burden of the sprawling, interlocking Marvel narrative hangs heavy on it. Director Jon Watts remains adept in his staging and allows space for a welcome playfulness in the interactions between actors. What’s lacking in this outing is a strong visual sense that fully exploits the globe-hopping locales, squandering the opportunity to give the film the feel of a zingy James Bond blockbuster with web-shooters instead of Q’s array of fortuitously helpful gizmos. With ample chances to differentiate the film within the cinematic superhero canon, Watts and his collaborators wind up crafting a work that’s agreeable and fairly forgettable. It’s not a good sign that the overall film is completely upstaged by the requisite tag-on scenes included after the closing credits start to roll.
Not long ago, it seemed Marvel Studios had completely changed how major Hollywood filmmaking worked, sending entertainment executives on a desperate tear looking for properties that could replicate the model. Now, in a summer that has been mostly defined by moviegoers’ yawning indifference to and outright rejection of brand extension as creative motivation, Marvel almost stands alone in filling theater seats with satisfied customers. In the face of that current truth, registering disappointment in Spider-Man: Far From Home is like saying the chocolate ice cream could have tasted better. The accuracy of the statement doesn’t really matter. Like everyone else, I’ll undoubtedly join the line when it’s time to get the next scoop.