“I didn’t think I was going to have to save the world this summer,” a pouting Peter Parker confesses in “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”
It’s the 23rd installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s the same old character arc for the teenage superhero who’s perpetually coming of age and never quite getting over the hump.
With great power comes great responsibility? Yeah, yeah. But Peter (Tom Holland) is still a high-school kid, and he has big plans: a class trip to Europe and a chance to romance girl-next-door MJ (Zendaya), maybe steal a first kiss atop the Eiffel Tower. So when S.H.I.E.L.D. asks for help battling interdimensional monsters threatening to engulf the planet in elemental energies, he decides to take a pass.
It isn’t just about the raging hormones. After the death of his idol, Tony Stark, the Avenger wannabe isn’t sure what he wants to be anymore. “Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” just isn’t ready to take on the mantle of the martyred Iron Man. But S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury — a role that has been redefined by Samuel L. Jackson’s signature bad-assery — has no patience for adolescent angst.
“Bitch, please,” he pshaws. “You’ve been to outer space!”
There’s nothing surprising about the setup, and the first big twist — involving a new superhero dubbed Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) — is fairly easy to predict, even if you’re not an expert on the source material. (The character was first introduced in the comics in 1964.)
And yet “Far From Home” ends up being one of the more entertaining and satisfying installments in Marvel’s never-ending story cycle, thanks to a tautly constructed narrative that packs in plenty of fan service without getting overly complicated.
The plot skillfully taps into contemporary anxieties over “deep fakes” — “People need to believe, and nowadays they’ll believe anything” — without puncturing the lighthearted mood. And unlike the overstuffed epics in the four-part “Avengers” series, there’s room here both for thrilling CGI action and for down-to-earth character development as Peter negotiates the emotional minefield of high-school relationships.
The in-jokes, of course, are half the fun, ranging from sight gags referencing Captain America’s shield (wielded without Cap’s expertise) to an embarrassing new way to describe our hero’s “spidey sense,” which Aunt May (Marissa Tomei) calls his “Peter tingle.”
After a whiz-bang finale, “Far From Home” ends with a cliffhanger that promises Spider-Man’s battle with deep fakes is far from over. And, this being a Marvel movie, you should make sure to sit through all the credits. Maybe you saw that first twist coming — but you definitely won’t predict the last one.
Rating 4 Stars