'Spider-Man: Far From Home' is a twisty, spunky post-Endgame dessert

Tom Holland in  Spider-Man: Far From Home  | Sony Pictures Releasing

Tom Holland in Spider-Man: Far From Home | Sony Pictures Releasing

If there’s something missing from the MCU, it’s good twists.

The idea of a plot point so unexpected that it shatters all your notions about a work’s story is the kind of thing that comics live and die by. Marvel’s behemoth film franchise, on the other hand, rarely uses them effectively. You’d be hard-pressed to classify Thanos’s snap or even the discovery of Bucky Barnes as the killer of Tony Stark’s parents as moments that totally shift the context of what you’re seeing play out on screen. In fact, there may be only one truly shocking turn-things-on-its-head revelation in the entire MCU canon: a nervous Peter Parker (Tom Holland) ringing the doorbell of his prom date only to find the film’s villain (Michael Keaton) opening the door.

That earth-shattering moment in Spider-Man: Homecoming is what it set it apart from the rest of Marvel’s ever-growing collection of superhero tales, proof that writer-director Jon Watts was ready and willing to bring the pulpy, plucky heart of Spider-Man comics to the big screen. Homecoming is far from the most thrilling movie to come out of Kevin Feige’s playhouse, but it is one of the smartest.

Now Watts is back at the helm with Spider-Man: Far From Home, a delightfully charming follow-up to the colossal Avengers: Endgame that takes the twisty success of Homecoming and amps it up to eleven. This may be the first Marvel movie that feels truly unpredictable, turning your expectations on your head so many times it leaves you dizzy. Every plot sequence and action set-piece feels as if it could change on the dime, and it’s all thanks to another solid script from Watts, one that utilizes its premise and a fully hammy Jake Gyllenhaal to their full potential.

Zendaya and Tom Holland in  Spider-Man: Far From Home  | Sony Pictures Releasing

Zendaya and Tom Holland in Spider-Man: Far From Home | Sony Pictures Releasing

This is still the type of friendly neighborhood Spider-Man story you know and love: a relatively grounded tale that gets swept up in the cacophony of the action to come. The film opens with with Peter at crossroads: he and his classmates are struggling to adjust to life post-Snap (here called “The Blip”), with our hero still mourning the loss of his friend and father figure Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). Burnt out by his newfound celebrity as Spider-Man and a few rough years of superhero duty, Peter is looking forward to a break in the form of a European road trip with his classmates, where he’s hoping he’ll finally get the chance to tell his crush MJ (Zendaya) how he feels. His vacation is interrupted by the appearance of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who asks for his help in stopping the Elementals, inter-dimensional monsters that could possibly consume the planet. Helping the pair is Quentin Beck (Gyllenhaal), a.k.a. Mysterio, a Doctor Strange-like hero who claims to be from the destroyed version of Earth where the Elementals originated.

What follows is a spy movie filtered through a John Hughes playbook, one filled with enough towering thrills and charming, awkward romance to please almost any moviegoer. It’s near impossible to find a moment where the movie isn’t having the time of its life, whether it’s exploring the weird idea of what the world would look like if 3.5 billion people randomly reappeared or Gyllenhaal continuing to subvert his beefcake image with a wonderfully weird performance that’s more Okja than Prince of Persia. By placing high stakes in both its ground-level and more fantastical storytelling, Far From Home is one of the few MCU entries that truly feels like a comic book come to life.

Something that helps that notion is the action, which has a kinetic energy most of the other MCU entries fail to match. The franchise has rightfully been criticized for its bland, often forgettable fight scenes, but here Watts gives Spider-Man set pieces that feel truly worthy of the character. Every bit of action, particularly the film’s climatic battle, finally gives Parker’s fighting style a real personality. In a series where even masterful films like Black Panther are let down by so-so action, it’s refreshing to see Parker swing and quip his way through a visuals effects extravaganza that’s actually thrilling.

Numan Acar, Tom Holland, and Jake Gyllenhaal in  Spider-Man: Far From Home  | Sony Pictures Releasing

Numan Acar, Tom Holland, and Jake Gyllenhaal in Spider-Man: Far From Home | Sony Pictures Releasing

It’s also refreshing to see a Marvel movie move off of an Atlanta backlot and into real physical locations, with much of the fun coming from seeing Spidey romp around Venice, Prague, Berlin, and London. The difference in sets is a seemingly small change that plays a big part in making this film feel unique. Whereas other MCU films feel let down by increasingly similar and boring environments (we’re looking at you, Civil War airport scene), the various locations here ensure the film constantly feels worthy of the series’s supposedly global stakes.

On the performance side of things, it’s nothing but bright stars all around. Holland continues to prove himself as the best live-action version of the character yet, a wide-eyed and sensitive web-slinger that’s stumbling through the act of growing up. Holland exudes a pained humility in his eyes, giving Peter all of the drive but none of the ego that plagues his Avengers counterparts. Matching his charming sweetness is Zendaya’s MJ, whose re-characterization as a Daria-type weirdo with a heart of gold plays to Zendaya’s strengths as a quirky performer. Best of all is Gyllenhaal, who lets loose in a universe that normally crushes the spirit of stars of his caliber. To reveal too much about his character is to spoil the fun, but fans who worried about about the plausibility of a big-screen Mysterio will have their fears put to rest by his scene-stealing performance.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is one of the best live-action Spider-Man films to date, a rousing adventure filled with plenty of fun treats for dedicated fans and more than enough charisma to stand out on its own. As is the case with most MCU films, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. But there’s a special, mysterious energy there takes this Spidey adventure to the next level, one that pays tribute to the quippy energy of the comics that inspired it.

Ryan Ninesling