Spider-Man: Far From Home (Watts, 2019)

Spider-Man: Far From Home has something that has been increasingly hard to find in the Marvel Cinematic Universe he last few years: fun.

From its winking opening scene of a high-school closed-circuit television show paying tribute to the fallen Avengers to its final post-credits teaser for the MCU’s intrafilm story arc, Far From Home refuses to succumb to the studio’s snowballing weight of gravitas. Yes, Spider-Man has been to space and fought Thanos, but he’s still just a boy standing in front of the girl, asking her to like him.

Going all the way back to Captain America: Civil War, the casting of Tom Holland has been the leaven that has raised the spirits of a franchise whose stakes had become so vast that its characters bore little resemblance to human beings. Holland’s rendition, full of the life and joy and energy of youth, makes one realize how much previous installments relied on Tobey Maguire’s basset-hound eyes or Andrew Garfield’s tormented grimaces.

Actually, one of the most refreshing accomplishments of Holland’s iteration is the way is the fearlessness with which it is willing to tweak fundamental parts of the Spider-Man mythos. Aunt May is not the fragile old spinster who must be protected at all costs. Flash is not a jock-bully dropped in from Riverdale. MJ (Zendaya) has some agency. Peter’s mistakes, when he makes them, have are sometimes understandable errors of an impulsive and immature kid rather than cosmically tragic choices existing only to create bumper-sticker mantras.

You’ll notice I haven’t said much about the movie itself yet. Sorry about that. The studio’s been peppering me with e-mail’s threatening to put a lean on my house and kill a dozen innocent kittens if I reveal much of anything that happens or why. I think I’m allowed to say that Peter and his class go to the opera in Prague, and that Jake Gyllenhaal shows up as a totally new character named Mysterio whose resemblance to any particular character in the Spider-man comics may or may-not be an illusory red-herring.

Part of why I find the spoiler paranoia for this movie so strange is that Peter Parker is probably the one character in the MCU whom the movies seem to feel is as interesting as his alter-ego. The Spider-man movies are character driven, making the superhero exploits set pieces that happen at intervals rather than centerpieces that serve as the films’ reasons for being. (That being said, the visual rendering of the climactic battle between Spider-man and he-or-she-who-must-not-be-named is visually creative in a way a fight seen hasn’t been in a superhero movie in a long, long time.) What makes this movie fun is not some unexpected, mind-blowing plot twists but rather the pleasure of seeing Peter trying to talk Nick Fury (am I allowed to say he’s in the movie?) out of impressing him for duty or how a note from Tony Stark can make him (and us) laugh again.

Even the title Far From Home is a winking joke at the whole weight of the MCU franchise. Sure, Spidey has met Captain Marvel, watched Iron-Man die, returned to and from being dust. And once he has, the differences between fighting The Vulture in America and fighting [a different villain] in London don’t seem quite so huge. Far From Home takes place in Marvel’s cinematic universe, but its characters and stories are of this earth — and it is all the better for it.

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