“SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME” — 3 stars — Tom Holland, Zendaya, Samuel L. Jackson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jon Favreau, Jacob Batalon; PG-13 (sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments ); in general release; running time: 129 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Once 2012’s “Avengers” got the whole Marvel band together, the next year's “Iron Man 3” kind of felt like a letdown. Now, in the aftermath of 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame” juggernaut, Jon Watts’ “Spider-Man: Far From Home” arrives in a similar position, and though it may draw a similar reaction to the third Iron Man outing, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the web-slinger’s — and Marvel’s — future is still bright.
(While the following review will be discreet toward “Far From Home,” readers should be warned that “Endgame” spoilers will follow.)
As “Far From Home” returns us to Spider-Man’s not-always-friendly neighborhood in Queens, New York, we find Peter Parker (Tom Holland) struggling to readjust to life as a high school student. He has the support of best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), who are both in the secret identity loop, but Peter is feeling pressured to take the torch from his recently deceased mentor, Tony “Iron Man” Stark.
Peter is happy to make some public appearances as Spider-Man to support May’s charity efforts, but when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) comes calling with a new mission, the teen stops taking his calls, preferring to join his classmates on a European tour.
A big part of this has to do with Peter’s burgeoning affections for MJ (Zendaya), his aloof classmate with a Tim Burton-level affection for the macabre. Unfortunately, Peter has competition for MJ’s affections in the form of Brad (Remy Hii), a nerdy youngster-turned-super stud.
Even after swinging off to Europe, trouble comes calling, and before long Spider-Man is dragged back into action against a band of otherworldly monsters called Elementals, which draw on the powers of earth, wind, fire (insert your favorite 1970s soul/funk joke here) and water. On the plus side, Spider-Man has the help of Fury and an inter-dimensional hero named Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), but as Peter tries to fight the bad guys and protect his classmates, the conflict threatens to overwhelm a hero who still feels like he’s not ready for prime time.
The easiest way to sum up “Far From Home” is to say that Watts’ new and improved “Spider-Man” formula — with its sharp and fun sense of humor, engaging action and immensely likable lead — is fully intact on the heels of 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” There’s even another song from Queens natives the Ramones on the soundtrack.
The story content, however, is a little more on the shaky side. It’s pretty compelling if you think of it in light of its greater superhero movie context, and there are a lot more twists and turns than in your usual Marvel outing, which certainly keeps things interesting. But you come away with the feeling that “Far From Home” is carried much more by its charisma than its substance.
For many fans, though, that may not matter at all. As a follow-up to “Endgame,” “Spider-Man: Far From Home” is a reassuring reminder that the Marvel films to come will retain the same element of fun and personality that made that first 10 years such a great ride. And true to form, the filmmakers have given fans a pair of after-credits scenes that are worth hanging around to see. If Peter Parker really is to be the heir apparent to Tony Stark, then at least as far as superhero movies are concerned, we’re all in good, web-slinging hands.
Rating explained: “Spider-Man: Far From Home” is rated PG-13 for considerable CGI-driven superhero violence, as well as some profanity and mildly suggestive content.