Spider-Man: Far From Home has a lot on its plate.
The follow-up to director Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Homecoming has to explain the ramifications of Avengers’ most recent battle with Thanos, provide answers as to where the MCU can go next, and function as a solid solo Spider-Man story. But most of all, Far From Home has to deal with Iron Man’s death, and how Peter Parker — and the rest of us — can go about moving on in the hero’s keenly-felt absence.
Luckily, Far From Home successfully satisfies all of these story threads and delivers quite a few surprises along the way. Carried by two stellar performances from Tom Holland and Jake Gyllenhaal, Spidey’s new adventure is at turns hilarious and tear-jerking, a fun, twisty romp that also chronicles Peter’s struggle to fill Tony Stark’s mythically large shoes and become his own hero.
Spider-Man: Far From Home takes a break from the classic New York City setting, jetting around various European locales. Peter Parker, along with his classmates MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon), is on a school trip for the summer, wanting to take a vacation from superheroics and find a way to capture MJ’s affections. But as any good Marvel Cinematic Universe fan knows, Peter Parker never catches a break, and soon Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) interrupts Peter’s vacation to enlist him in a battle against creatures called the “Elementals” alongside supposed superhero Quentin Beck (AKA “Mysterio”).
Balancing a desire for a normal life against the massive responsibility of the Spider-Man mantle is not a new concept for Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, but this time there’s added pressure. The world needs a new Iron Man, and Peter, stricken with grief, isn’t sure he’s up to the task. Holland authentically portrays Peter’s conflict and anxiety, his grief at Tony’s death palpable and his stuttering, awkward interactions with MJ painfully endearing. It’s a performance that solidifies Tom Holland’s place as the very best live-action Spider-Man.
But the best performance in Far From Home isn’t given by Tom Holland — it’s given by Jake Gyllenhaal, who leans into his role as Mysterio with a manic commitment that makes his every scene exceedingly fun to watch. His transition from slightly smug father figure to sadistic illusionist is masterful.
Indeed, Mysterio is Far From Home’s greatest strength — longtime fans of the character will be delighted with the film’s take on the villain. The script is unafraid to use Mysterio’s penchant for illusion to its most deadly, gutting effect. At one point, in the film’s best scene, Beck sends Peter through a trippy maze of his own nightmares, culminating with Peter being plopped in front of Tony’s gravestone and told “maybe if you were good enough, he’d still be alive.” Ouch.
And make no mistake, Tony’s death is the emotional throughline of this film. Peter’s arc revolves entirely around becoming the hero that Tony knew he could be, and learning to wield the power that Tony left to him correctly. By the film’s end, Peter is not “the next Iron Man” but simply the best Spider-Man he can be. And that’s exactly what Tony would have wanted.
The fact that these emotional sequences can coexist with some of the best comedy in the MCU is a testament to Jon Watts’s mastery of tone. Much like Homecoming, the superhero antics of Far From Home are successfully blended with elements of teen movies and romantic comedies. From the hokey opening tribute set to Whitney Houston to the “Peter tingle” to Ned and Betty’s love story, Far From Home mines an incredibly talented supporting cast for sharply-written laughs. Additionally, MJ and Peter’s courtship is nothing short of adorable, buoyed by Holland and Zendaya’s genuine chemistry and sweetly written moments like their nighttime walk on Charles Bridge. What we all wouldn’t give to recieve a murder-themed necklace from Tom Holland!
Of course, not everything works. The subplot with Happy and Aunt May is underwritten and odd, and there isn’t nearly enough of Aunt May and Peter’s relationship. The consequences of “the blip,” as the film calls it, could have been better explored. Peter and Ned’s dynamic, and Ned’s position as “the guy in the chair,” was given a bit of a backseat here. But a few nitpicks can’t change the fact that Far From Home is an affecting film that will have fans anxiously awaiting Spider-Man’s adventure (seriously, those two post-credits scenes are insane).
So, yes: Far From Home certainly had a lot on its plate, not the least of which was answering the question of whether or not the MCU will be able to survive without Tony Stark. But fans need only look to Peter Parker, constructing his own suit and proclaiming “I love Led Zeppelin!” with AC/DC’s “Back in Black” blaring in the background, for their answer. There’s no replacing Tony Stark, but as long as one friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is still around, his legacy will always live on. And that’s something that none of Mysterio’s illusions can ever erase.
Spider Man: Far From Home is in theaters now.