Another Marvel movie is out today

WARNING: Avengers Endgame spoilers ahead

Coming so soon off the back of the gargantuan Avengers: Endgame (which is still in cinemas and trying to beat Avatar's box office record), it's a relief that Spider-Man: Far From Home is a lighter, more contained Marvel movie.

Which is not to say that it's small - no, it's certainly not that. It just is next to Endgame.

One of the most appealing aspects of this version of Spider-Man's predecessor, Spider-Man: Homecoming was that it was a comparatively small movie that mostly took place within a few blocks and had a relatable villain who turned out to be his girlfriend's father. It's such a high school twist.

Knowing that Far From Home was going to push beyond those borders - far beyond - could give one pause to wonder if there's a mandate that every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, even the ones from Sony, has to increase in scale until it's unrecognisable from its many, many compatriots.

An unfailingly polite hero.
An unfailingly polite hero.

Thankfully, director Jon Watts and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers have managed to take the character and his little corner of the MCU on a global adventure without feeling like they're leaving behind the essence of Peter Parker and Tom Holland's intensely charming and aw-shucks presence.

Set eight months after the events of Endgame, the world is trying to piece itself back together after what the in-universe citizens are calling "The Blip" - though NPR's Glen Wheldon's moniker of the Snapture is much catchier.

It's a confused world that's grappling with what happens when half the population disappeared and returned unchanged to the exact spot from which they were plucked from the timeline.

Far From Home only skims the surface of this rich vein of storytelling because this is very much Peter's story.

Peter is mourning Tony Stark's death, as is the rest of the world and certainly in New York where makeshift memorials and murals abound.

He's gained notoriety as one of the heroes who saved mankind, and even though he said yes to being an Avenger, after realising he wasn't ready at the end of Homecoming, he's still grappling with the responsibilities that come with heroics when all he really wants is to be a normal teenager.

And part of being a normal teenager is going on what seems to be a totally kickarse school excursion to Europe.

Yes, it seems totally coincidental that Peter, his mate Ned (Jacob Batalon), his crush MJ (Zendaya), his foil Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) and Betty Brant (Angourie Rice) - i.e. the kids from the first movie - all happen to be in the same small science class that is going on this trip, and they all happen to have been snapped away and therefore unaged. You'll just have to suspend your disbelief.

All of Peter’s friends happened to have snapped away and then returned.
All of Peter’s friends happened to have snapped away and then returned.

Joining the group is new character Brad Davis, who was a pipsqueak kid but in the time the others were Thanos-ed, grew into a ripped teen hunk, played by 30-something Australian actor Remy Hii (ah, that ever-youthful Asian skin goes a long way, if not the whole way, to playing half your age).

Peter has an elaborate, teenboy plan to reveal to MJ that he's crushing on her, but his John Hughes plot line keeps being interrupted by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who needs Peter to rescue the world from the Elementals, a group of huge monsters made up of, um, the elements - water, fire etc.

He introduces Peter to Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a caped superhero who says the Elementals have already destroyed his Earth.

Beck steps in to function as a mentor-type for Peter now that Tony is gone and Nick Fury's personality is more suited to the prickly uncle than a father figure.

Gyllenhaal is an excellent choice for Beck - an actor of his calibre can easily pull off the range demanded for this iconic Spider-Man character. To say any more would be to spoil the fun, and it is fun.

Jake Gyllenhaal is perfectly cast as Quentin Beck.
Jake Gyllenhaal is perfectly cast as Quentin Beck.

Peter's emotional pull between his high school life and his hero life is literally manifested in Far From Home against the backdrop of Venice, Prague, Berlin, the Netherlands and London.

Holland, well, at this point, do you really need to say that Holland is nailing this characterisation of Peter Parker, an unfailingly polite, often-awkward teen who nevertheless has a maturity that even he's not aware of?

It's that unspoken maturity that anchors his emotional journey, one that's textured and resonant.

Holland has oodles of charisma, and even at his most earnest, he's not annoying or cloying, which he could so easily be if the performance was calibrated one degree over. His Spider-Man is fast becoming the definitive live-action Spider-Man. Sorry, Tobey Maguire.

Nick Fury doesn’t really do mentoring.
Nick Fury doesn’t really do mentoring.

The locations look great and there's an energy coursing through Far From Home that achieves a balance between this very specific character story and the greater demands of a superhero epic that exists within a massive cinematic universe.

One of the key reasons Far From Home, and Homecoming before it, works is that it never loses sight of the fact it still needs to work as a teen movie.

And it's to its credit that it does that really well - it's a John Hughes movie with superpowers and without the '80s-era problematic sexual politics.

Peter is so winsome because he's sweet and grounded in this teen world he exists in, with all of its teen foibles and love rivals. He just happens to have super powers.

In offering his services at one point, he says, "I can help, I'm really strong and sticky." It encapsulates the character - keen, confident but humble and well-intentioned.

Awkward teen courtship, so sweet
Awkward teen courtship, so sweet

All the characters in Peter's "normal" life feel lived-in and real, and even without his Spidey sense, or "Peter tingle", Far From Home would still be a fun high school road trip flick - and that's actually the stronger aspect of the film.

Even though it never lets you forget that it's an MCU movie (and variations of Alan Silvestri's "Avengers" theme is sampled throughout), Far From Home works on its own.

It also functions as the last movie of MCU's Phase Three, and you'll definitely want to stick around for both the mid-credits and end-credits scenes which are both absolute rippers and set up some interesting future stories.

That’s one way to get the black Spider-Man suit on screen
That’s one way to get the black Spider-Man suit on screen

It would be remiss to not mention that Far From Home is also just really funny and cheeky, playing off the Spider-Man movies' witty and light tone, and the two-hours running time just flies past without notice.

Spider-Man: Far From Home had a lot of boxes to tick, needing to service its characters, its narrative universe, the wider MCU and long-running fans. And it does all that and manages to say something chillingly relevant about the times we live in - which we won't reveal because it would be a huge spoiler.

It's exciting storytelling and a jubilant chapter of the Spider-Man story - you'll want to see it again.

Rating: 4/5

Spider-Man: Far From Home is in cinemas from Monday, July 1

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