It’s been a tough few years for the people of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A massive purple alien snapped half of all life on Earth five years into the future (an event known as the Blip), and the battle to defeat him took the lives of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) the leaders of the Avengers. Society is piecing itself back together, but it needs a new hero to rally behind. It needs a new Iron Man.
Unfortunately, the person most likely to take that mantle doesn’t really want it. You see, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) thinks he’s great as a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but he’s not so sure he’s cut out to be the head Avenger. He’s a teenager, just getting used to the whole superhero thing, and definitely not ready to live up to the now mythic status of Tony Stark. Plus, being Spider-Man all the time gets in the way of normal teenager things like hanging out with friends, going on school trips, and asking out MJ (Zendaya), the girl he has a crush on. It’s hard being a teenager, but it’s especially difficult when superspies are asking you to fight elemental monsters and your dead mentor keeps gifting you with defense satellites.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is, at its core, a story about Peter Parker learning to trust himself, wrapped in a globe trotting action-comedy. Tired of the pressure to become the lead Avenger, Peter leaves New York on a European school trip with MJ and their friends Ned (Jacob Batalon), Betty (Angourie Rice), and Flash (Tony Revolori) where he hopes to relax and ask out MJ. The idyllic trip is quickly interrupted by the appearance of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a soldier from another world who needs Peter’s help to fight a group of elemental monsters trying to destroy all life on Earth. Peter initially doesn’t want to help, but is slowly drawn into a fight that forces him to face monsters and mysteries as well as his own insecurities.
Tom Holland as Peter Parker is easily the best part of the movie. Holland imbues the character with an awkwardness that never feels like a comedic bit, making Peter Parker the most genuinely relatable person in the MCU. He’s compassionate and intelligent, and the moments where he can show off those qualities shine through in otherwise bland action scenes. His reticence to be Spider-Man never feels selfish, more based in insecurity than the angst or melodrama of previous incarnations of the character. Peter always tries to do the right thing, but his diminished view of himself often leads him to make missteps, seemingly validating his own concerns over his inadequacies. His struggle to live up to the sky-high expectations set before him is portrayed with incredible nuance, building to a scene late in the movie of him designing a suit in a manner eerily reminiscent of Tony Stark that may be one of the most subtly moving moments in the entire MCU.
Quentin Beck (AKA Mysterio) is another stand out element, acting as both a mentor and a bit of a foil to Peter. Beck initially appears to be everything Peter thinks a hero should be, courageous and confident in a fight while also being caring and considerate to those around him. As the movie progresses, however, the differences between their attitudes towards being a hero become increasingly clear. In one scene, Beck explains his motivations to a crowd of his coworkers, showing how badly he wants to be seen as a hero in contrast to Peter’s reluctance to take up the mantle. Gyllenhaal plays the character amazingly well, making him seem likable and open while hinting at some mysterious undercurrents that come into play later in the film.
When Far From Home focuses on these two characters and their growth it shines, becoming one of the few MCU movies to feel like it’s populated by real people and not mythic archetypes. The quieter moments allowing either Holland or Gyllenhaal to show off the quality of their acting stand out far more than the bombastic action or silly comedy. Unfortunately, the movie has a tendency to veer off into less fulfilling territory. The early parts of the movie often succumb to awkward comedy bits involving the side characters from Peter’s school that aren’t particularly funny and don’t really add anything to the overall story. Once the action starts later in the film, it’s rather boring and mostly involves Spiderman facing off against faceless CGI bad guys. This isn’t to say that all the comedy and action is bad; any jokes involving Peter and MJ’s romance or the Blip are hysterical and there is one hallucinatory action sequence that is very intense, but some of it fails to live up to the quality of the rest of the film.
Spider-Man: Far From Home succeeds as a coming of age story and a character study into one of the most interesting heroes in the MCU. While it doesn’t hold up to the scope of Avengers: Endgame (2019), the excellence of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) or even some of the high points of Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), it still represents a solid entry into the franchise and a promising bridge between the Infinity Saga and whatever comes next. If the end credits scenes (which are great by the way) are any indication, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man will be around for many movies to come, and I cannot wait to keep watching this character grow.