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Dustin Putman

Spider-Man: Far from Home  (2019)
2½ Stars
Directed by Jon Watts.
Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Angourie Rice, Tony Revolori, JB Smoove, Martin Starr, Remy Hii, Peter Billingsley, J.K. Simmons, Ben Mendelsohn, Sharon Blynn.
2019 – 129 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, some language and brief suggestive content).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, July 2, 2019.
2017's light-hearted "Spider-Man: Homecoming" had the misfortune of following two better, more consequential big-screen iterations: Sam Raimi's terrific Tobey Maguire-fronted original trilogy (2002's "Spider-Man," 2004's "Spider-Man 2," and 2007's "Spider-Man 3") and Marc Webb's solid Andrew Garfield-led series (2012's "The Amazing Spider-Man" and 2014's "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"), the latter coming into its own just as Sony frustratingly pulled the plug. Yes, there was some excitement involved in web-slinging teen Peter Parker (Tom Holland) finally joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but by then this franchise had been rebooted so many times in such a short period it was difficult not to feel jerked around and fatigued. If "Spider-Man: Homecoming" never quite escaped the shadow of its superior previous adaptations, "Spider-Man: Far from Home" manages to liven things up with an exotic change of scenery and characters given a chance to more fully come into their own.

In the aftermath of what has been labeled "the blip"—that is, the five-year period portrayed in 2019's "Avengers: Endgame" in which half the population vanished, only to reappear having not aged a day—16-year-old Peter Parker is eager to return to a modicum of normalcy. Joining his classmates on a school trip abroad where he plans to profess his feelings to unspoken crush Michelle 'MJ' Jones (Zendaya), Peter has no sooner arrived in Venice when the city is accosted by a destructive creature made of water. Former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) want Peter to pick up the late Tony Stark's mantle and join them and multiverse superhero Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) in a fight to save the world from four rampaging Elementals made of earth, air, fire and water, but he is torn between accepting this mission and what he feels is a selfish desire to be a normal kid for a while. When all is revealed to not be what it initially seems, however, Peter has no choice but to swing into action.

"Spider-Man: Far from Home" retains the jokey yet earnest tone of its predecessor, "Spider-Man: Homecoming," but returning director Jon Watts and writers Chris McKenna and Eric Sommers seem to be reenergized by their new globe-trotting locales and a story which expands its scope in creative ways. When the initial CG water monster bursts from the Venice canals near the end of the first act, a "been-there-done-that" tinge of weariness rears its head. Fortunately, there are plenty more intriguing turns to come, and at least one new fantastic addition: Jake Gyllenhaal (2016's "Nocturnal Animals"), so commanding and impeccably suited as Quentin Beck/Mysterio it is rather amazing this is the actor's first superhero film.

Tom Holland (2018's "Avengers: Infinity War") effortlessly reprises Peter Parker with all the boyish charm one could hope; the energy he brings to the role isn't necessarily better than that of Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield, but it is undeniably different, going a long way here in avoiding strong feelings of déjà vu. It helps that the picture also poses as a picturesque travelogue, one which takes its players from Venice, Italy, to Prague, Czech Republic (where the Carnival of Light is in full swing), to London, England. That much of the exteriors were shot on location adds to the attractive authenticity of taking a European vacation.

While Peter's torch for MJ comes seemingly out of nowhere (in "Spider-Man: Homecoming," there was almost no suggestion at all that he had any special feelings for her), their eventual romance proves winning precisely because it strikes as so honest, full of all the doubt and tentativeness of young people falling for each other but unsure if their feelings will be reciprocated. Zendaya (2017's "The Greatest Showman") is a true original as MJ, getting a chance to more deeply explore and make her own a character who was mostly deadpan comic relief in the earlier picture. Jacob Batalon and Angourie Rice (2017's "The Beguiled") also get more to do as Peter's best friend Ned Leeds and aspiring high-school reporter Betty Brant, their whirlwind romance an amusing counterpoint to Peter and MJ's more timid yet soulful connection. And, as Peter's caring Aunt May, the forever-welcome Marisa Tomei (2018's "The First Purge") is again underused. How much fun might it have been to have May chaperone the trip rather than be sidelined back home in New York for the duration?

"Spider-Man: Far from Home" will not be going down in the annals of great superhero features, but it is a solid one, averting expectations in a positive way when a climax setting itself up to take place in one of the laziest and most boring of places—a nondescript warehouse—leads into a set-piece altogether more mind-bendingly inventive. At 130 minutes, the film feels as long as it is; tightening up the final cut by shaving off fifteen minutes would have done wonders for what sets itself up as a vacation-set romp that just so happens to include dastardly plans to wreak havoc on the planet and control Stark Industries' weapons and databases. Still, there's plenty of fun to be had, and a mid-credits coda teases the setup for a truly enticing and provocative third installment. This rendition might still have a way to go to match the heights of what Sam Raimi achieved with his 2002-2007 trilogy, but "Spider-Man: Far from Home" is a satisfying step in the right direction.
© 2019 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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