“It’s easy to fool people when they’re already fooling themselves,” says the villain in “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” the first superhero movie to address life in the era of deepfake videos and daily governmental gaslighting. But to be fair, it’s not just that we’re gullible — the same technology that brings all the world’s information to our fingertips has also made it easier to trick us, and the red flags of disbelief are slower to rise when you’ve witnessed actual scientific miracles. Now that I’ve seen with my own eyes a machine that “prints” three-dimensional objects, I could probably be convinced of the legitimacy of a fake teleportation device if you put some effort into it.
Things are especially uncertain for the residents of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where half of them recently blipped back into existence after a five-year absence, and where the first known contact with aliens occurred only a few years before that. At this point, some people are ready to believe anything; others are questioning whether any of it is real.
Peter Parker (Tom Holland), the preternaturally zealous and wholesome 16-year-old Queens, N.Y., kid who can do whatever a spider can (except inject his prey with poison, mummify it, and eat it), has been eyewitness to a number of surprising things, including enough deaths to make him a candidate for chief Avenger, maybe even a “new Iron Man.” He doesn’t want the part — he wants to be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man — but as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) points out, “Bitch, you’ve been to space.”
Peter has been dodging Nick’s calls, much to the amusing consternation of Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), the late Tony Stark’s righthand man who inherited stewardship of Peter and supervision of the expensive Stark techno toys Peter has been given). As in “Homecoming,” the previous chapter in this Spider-thread, Peter’s primary concerns are more mundane. He wants to use the upcoming class trip to Europe as an opportunity to tell MJ (Zendaya) he likes her, and he wants a vacation from being Spider-Man.
Alas, there is a crisis, and other Avengers are busy/not under contract for this film. As seen in the film’s prologue, a group of inter-dimensional monsters called Elementals, made of earth, water, wind, and fire, have come to our world to wreak havoc. Seemingly the only person who can stop them is Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a scientist from a different version of Earth (he says there’s a multiverse) who failed to prevent the Elementals from destroying that one and hopped over here to save ours. Wearing a medieval-inspired suit of chain mail, a grand cape, and a fishbowl on his head, Dr. Beck comes to be known in the press as Mysterio when he defeats an Elemental that rears its giant damp head in the canals of Venice. Peter, in a non-Spidey suit to conceal his identity, assists and is thereafter taken into Mysterio’s confidence. Nick Fury and SHIELD agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) trust him, too.
Gyllenhaal’s earnest, shouty performance as Mysterio is a perfect complement to Holland’s sincere Spider-Man, a simpatico and seemingly less cynical big brother to replace the departed Iron Man. The film’s superheroics are duly impressive and high-energy, including a zippy, inconsequential sequence aboard a speeding train in the Alps. The teen-romance stuff, with Peter having a rival for MJ’s affections while his pal Ned (Jacob Batalon) woos Betty Brant (Angourie Rice), is relatably goofy and not merely a distraction from the action. (Jon Watts returns as director, with two of the previous film’s writers, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, credited on the screenplay.)
But like Peter, I miss the old neighborhood. Venice is just one of several European cities that Peter’s class, led by chaperones Martin Starr and J.B. Smoove (both funny but not given much to do), gets to visit, and it’s neat and all, but you miss the good old-fashioned web-slinging and mugger-thwarting. And as cool as it is for him to keep getting Stark technology (this time it’s a pair of magic eyeglasses called EDITH), it’s also a reminder that this version of Spider-Man is never going to be independent of the Avengers. None of his adventures are going to be self-contained. This one, with its cheerfully low stakes, is probably as close as we’ll get, and it’s still packed with references to Tony Stark.
That being said, the mid- and post-credits scenes hint at ways for subsequent sequels to introduce classic Spider-Man elements that have been M.I.A. so far in this reboot. With a perfect, scrappy little guy in the lead, the growing number of excellent supporting players, and a fun-loving director who’s determined not to let Peter Parker grow up too fast, there’s plenty of potential. This entry keeps the momentum going.
B (2 hrs., 9 min.; )