Spider-Man: Far From Home

Imagine having to walk onstage and play the cello right after Yo-Yo Ma has performed. That's what it's like for Spider-Man: Far From Home to come out a mere two months after Avengers: Endgame. Following up such an epic, franchise-defining movie brings with it the threat of seeming inferior, no matter how good it really is. Getting out from under the weight of that 400-pound gorilla may take some viewers a little time. Once you do, it becomes clear that this is indeed a very good Marvel picture with some fresh new ideas.

As the story opens, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is struggling with the death of mentor Tony Stark and trying to accept that Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) expects him to fulfill a leadership role within the Avengers. He wants to put all that aside and just enjoy a school trip to Europe, where he intends to profess his feelings for MJ (Zendaya). Calamity finds the students when a water monster shows up to wreak havoc. Also showing up is Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a.k.a. Mysterio. He's a new superhero claiming to be saving the world. Beck's motivations are not quite what they seem, though, which creates a major problem for Peter.

Spider-Man: Far From Home keeps its cards close to the vest for the first hour. There are a couple cool action scenes that nevertheless look fairly similar to those in other MCU installments. The lack of an obvious villain is puzzling, as is the fact that the plot pokes around, not appearing to have any specific direction. One might even think they're watching an entertaining, yet rote sequel.

Then the real gist of the movie is revealed and it becomes apparent that Far From Home has been setting up elements it plans to pay off in a big way. What Mysterio is doing builds nicely on the repercussions implied at the conclusion of Endgame. Even better is the manner in which he does it. Without spoiling anything that wouldn't be apparent to any comic book fan even vaguely familiar with the character, he uses illusion technology to carry out his scheme.

That tech is what gives Far From Home its most dazzling action sequences (which, it should be added, are absolutely eye-popping when seen in 3D). Spider-Man has to find a new way of fighting him, so his brain proves just as vital as the capabilities of his special suit. Intriguingly, Peter is already emotionally disoriented from Stark's death; having Mysterio disorient him physically raises the stakes. Portrayed by Gyllenhaal with a wicked sense of humor, Mysterio immediately jumps to the head of the class when it comes to big screen Spidey villains.

Hour two weaves together the ingeniousness of Mysterio's mission with the character-based material between Peter and MJ, whose relationship develops pleasingly. Aside from liking her, she represents the chance to have a bit of normality in his life. The screenplay by Chris McKenna and Eric Sommers draws a line between Peter's need to be responsible and his perfectly understandable desire to experience the simple joys of adolescence.

Tom Holland is once again superb as Peter/Spidey, making the internal conflict he endures palpable for the audience. All the supporting actors, including Jon Favreau as Happy and Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, bring great additional flavor to Peter's world. Director Jon Watts, meanwhile, invests the movie with a lot of style, and finds the right balance between humor and drama.

Spider-Man: Far From Home ends with a mid-credits sequence that sets up a stunning dilemma Peter Parker will have to face going forward. Based on this and Spider-Man: Homecoming, the web-slinging superhero is in good hands with this filmmaking team. Watching him deal with that new issue should be fun. For now, his battle against Mysterio offers creative surprises and a visually enthralling adventure.

out of four

Spider-Man: Far from Home is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments. The running time is 2 hours and 9 minutes.