Oh what a tangled web...

'Spider-Man: Far From Home' bears the Marvel standard

With tongue knowingly in cheek, "Spider-Man: Far From Home" plops us firmly into teen-movie territory, even more so than Tom Holland's first solo Spidey movie, "Spider-Man: Homecoming." Peter Parker, "a 16-year-old kid from Queens," just wants to bury his recent pain and focus on winning the heart of classmate MJ (Zendaya), but he's surrounded by reminders of "the Blip" (the world crisis caused by Thanos and resolved by the Avengers) and fallen heroes.

Peter's class trip to Europe swiftly goes haywire when "an Avengers-level threat" begins laying waste to Venice. With a plume of green smoke, a new hero arrives on the scene to fight the extradimensional Elementals: Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a.k.a. Mysterio. Turns out S.H.I.E.L.D. is also on the scene, in the persons of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Colbie Smulders).

Immediately, Beck sidles up into the mentorship role Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark has left vacant, meaning Parker has three father figures competing for primacy: the sensitive Beck, the angry Fury and the seemingly hapless "Happy" Hogan (Jon Favreau), who has begun seeing Peter's Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Putting aside the teen rom-com and superhero theatrics, "Far From Home" serves above all as a coming-of-age story for Peter, who bears not only the weight of expectations every teen feels but, much worse, the weight of the world as the potential heir to the world's greatest hero.

A dastardly villain does emerge, a zeitgeisty one who bellows, "I control the truth!" With at least two fake-news jokes, Peter's lies to cover his secret identity, and a series of illusions and fake outs, "Far From Home" demands reflection on a post-truth world. Marvel deserves credit for the ways it has so far managed to freshen up formula, harness genres to its purposes and hold a mirror up to contemporary society.

By my count, the story globetrots through eight countries, often with eye-catching scenery, and director Jon Watts presides over dizzying, acrobatic action sequences that freely explore the possibilities in following around the high-flying Mysterio and web-slinging Spidey (performance-capture is also used to good effect).

This action comedy moves with alacrity (super-scored by Michael Giacchino), and if the laughs are often corny, they're sold well by the cast, including Jacob Batalon, Angourie Rice and Tony Revolori as high schoolers, and Martin Starr and J.B. Smoove as their teacher chaperones -- all inadvertently put into harm's way by the stressed-out Peter. Gyllenhaal's canny performance goes a long way, and Holland continues to believably channel a teenager who makes mistakes and doubts himself, but finally realizes that he's the only one with the specialized skills to save this day. (Don't miss the consequential mid-credits and post-credits scenes, which continue a plot full of surprises and advance the film's central theme.)

— Peter Canavese

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