Considering the apparent “finality” of Avengers: Endgame, it’s easy to forget that the closing film of the MCU’s third phase is actually Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019). It’s an enjoyable, peculiar coda to the high-drama spectacle of the last (?) Avengers episode. In the wake of the world-changing events of “the Snap” and its ultimate reversal, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) returns to his mundane teenage life in Queens. Humorous lip-service is given to the five-year gap caused by Thanos’ attempt at semi-genocide, but for the most part everything is back to normal: except that Peter still grieves for his fallen Avengers mentor Tony Stark. Fortunately, the distraction of an upcoming class field trip to Europe affords Peter the opportunity to shift his focus elsewhere: namely, winning over his secret crush, MJ (Zendaya). As soon as the class reaches Venice, however, a new threat materializes that forces Peter to resume his Spider-Man identity. Together with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), and a new ally, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), he eventually sheds his reluctance to abandon a normal life to confront elementals that have invaded the Earth from another dimension.
Far from Home seems designed, in its first half anyway, to provide light-hearted antidote to the earth-shattering tragedies of Endgame. It’s a more or less successful tactic, if somewhat expected and slight. Holland continues to establish himself as the most likable iteration of this character, and his romcom blustering during Peter Parkers’ European Vacation generates plenty of endearing interactions with MJ, Ned (Jacob Batalon), Flash (Tony Revolori), and his other classmates. Martin Starr and JB Smoove are fun as the class’s ineffectual chaperones, and the introduction of Mysterio and the elemental threat is a solid world-threatening MacGuffin. That said, I soldiered through the first half feeling slightly disengaged, and disappointed that the film didn’t go far enough in its examination of the after-effects of the Snap’s reversal, which might have been an opportunity to really transform the MCU. (Also: can we just stop lionizing Tony Stark already?)
Fortunately, the second half of the film hinges on a twist—an expected one, for anyone who knows Mysterio’s comics backstory—that sends the film into much more interesting territory. Here’s a modest spoiler alert: Mysterio isn’t all he’s cracked up to be. The reveal of his true motives makes the film thematically stronger, as well as transforming Gyllenhaal’s stiff performance into something vastly more entertaining. Even better, the final action setpiece—a frequent weakness of the MCU films—doesn’t lose sight of the emotional stakes for the hero. This makes the wrap-up more satisfying than the usual flashy, technicolor dust-up that tends to close these films out. Overall, this isn’t top-tier Marvel for me; probably a middle-of-the-pack outing. But Holland remains extremely appealing, and it saves its best bits for the final act, which is a nice change.