Spider-Man: Far from Home ★★★

No offense to the other Avengers, but I think in the wake of RDJ and Chris Evans moving on from the franchise, there's a strong argument to be made for Tom Holland now being the MVP in the MCU arsenal. Spider-Man has always arguably been the most important/iconic Marvel superhero, and now - despite the whole weird shared-character status with Disney and Sony - his role in what will now be a very different looking MCU is clearly going to be increasingly important for at least the near future. Thankfully, it's clear Holland is up to the task. I say that because, despite not thinking SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME is really that strong of an MCU entry, I still walked away fairly satisfied, and that's ALMOST entirely because of Holland.

He's certainly got his work cut out for him, here saddled with a story and script that I personally found to be a pretty significant step down from HOMECOMING. Again, as is usually the case with the MCU, it's not like one could convincingly call this a BAD movie...but it does often feel like a lazy one. As a Phase Three postscript, it works well enough, giving us some additional closure on Tony Stark's fate. But as a stand-alone Spider-Man tale, it's surprisingly half-hearted and unmemorable.

There are a few moments here that are just aggravatingly bad on a script level...especially one scene involving Mysterio laying out his plans that is one of the worst examples of exposition scenes I can ever recall seeing in the genre. In fact, I'm not really sure I GET the character of Mysterio, in general - his motivation is sorta undercooked and his overall plan is kinda silly and unconvincing. It's easy to ignore and even somewhat forgive this, because he's being played by Jake Gyllenhaal, and he IS giving it his all and delivering a heck of a performance (he's another one of the movie's undeniable bright spots)...but still, he's not really as compelling as Michael Keaton's Vulture was. The sequences where Spider-Man has to fight his way through Mysterio's illusions are AWESOME on a visual level, but I'll take Vulture quietly threatening Peter in a car in front of the school dance over those scenes any day, on an emotional, storytelling level.

Speaking of emotional stuff, the movie moves the Peter-MJ relationship to the forefront...but not in an entirely successful manner. I actually like the IDEA of the two of them together, and it helps that Holland and Zendaya have a nice, natural, awkward chemistry together. But when the movie starts, we just suddenly discover that Peter likes MJ now, and later on we're given reason to believe MJ feels the same...but by skipping ahead and not letting us see them get to know each other, we don't really know WHY these two like each other, and the movie doesn't really take the time to flesh it out. It just expects us to gladly go along because we know Peter Parker is supposed to be with an MJ (even if this isn't the same MJ we're used to). Like I said, it still almost works solely because of the actors involved, but there's just not much there between the two on a script level.

And speaking of things that aren't as fleshed out as they could or should be...let's talk about the blip. As much as I loved AVENGERS: ENDGAME, one of the things that made me apprehensive about how it ended was how the MCU would address the surprising and odd decision to restore all the snapped people from INFINITY WAY back into existence FIVE YEARS LATER. This, of course, raised all sort of interesting and even potentially horrifying questions about the sort of chaos this could perhaps cause. I was worried the MCU wouldn't really take the time or effort to address this with the gravity it perhaps needs to feel as important as it should...and while I'm sure FAR FROM HOME won't be the last MCU movie to deal with this fallout, I have to admit I'm still kinda worried. Because, while the film DOES deal with what is now called "the blip," it is almost entirely played for comedy. There's a neat but too-brief moment where we see a charity event for those left homeless by the event, but other than that, every other reference to the blip is a punchline. In fact, let's consider our main characters, almost ALL OF WHOM were snapped (correct me if I'm wrong, but I think Happy is the only main character that wasn't - incredibly enough, pretty much all of Peter's closest friends, classmates, and acquaintances were snapped in the 50/50 random chance) - and yet, literally the ONLY time any of them talk about this is for the benefit of a gag about how someone they used to know as a little kid is now their hunky classmate. That's it! Other that that, you wouldn't know this crazy thing has happened to them, at all. Now, look, I'm not saying a fun Spider-Man movie has to deal with all the potential trauma of this event...but when a kids movie like TOY STORY 4 can deal with existential themes in the form of Forky, I think there's room for FAR FROM HOME to be at least little more complex with this issue. This is something of an inherent problem with having the immediate fallout to ENDGAME be a SPIDER-MAN movie...this series is intent on being even more heavily comedic than most MCU fare (and that's saying something), which isn't really a bad thing normally, but here undercuts the severity of the blip quite a bit.

It doesn't help that the comedy in general tends to fall pretty flat in this one, compared to the last movie. I think this time around it just feels like it's trying too hard. I mean, look, I never thought I would turn down a JB Smoove appearance in ANY movie, but can anyone honestly tell me why this class trip needed TWO comic-relief teachers?

Okay, so far, I know I've been pretty harsh, but like I said, it's to the film's credit that I still walked away from FAR FROM HOME feeling pretty entertained, and that's certainly impressive. As mentioned before, a lot of that falls on Holland's shoulders - for a bunch of nostalgic reasons, Tobey Maguire will probably always be MY Spider-Man, but it's getting harder to argue that Holland is cementing his place as THE definitive cinematic webslinger. He's just so effortlessly charming, and expertly inhabits all the best elements of the character...it's impossible not to root for him every moment he's on screen. He can make a bad scene good, a good scene great, and a great scene tremendous. And yes, Gyllenhaal is going toe-to-toe with him here, making the most out of arguably underdeveloped character. Marvel has had a fairly good track record with villains lately, and Gyllenhaal certainly keeps that alive.

There ARE some good gags (most involving Jon Favreau's Happy, whos is pretty awesome in this one), the mid and post-credit scenes are both a lot of fun (one including a surprising cameo that almost negates any complaint I have about the film), and even though I might have had issue with the lack of gravitas throughout, it's still true that the very light and breezy nature of these Spider-Man movies also helps make them very easy to ingest and enjoy. It's a perfectly PLEASANT movie. It's not as deep or compelling as it maybe could have been, and I think it's one of those mid-tier MCU movies that just sorta starts vanishing from your brain the further away you get from it. But there's no denying that, while you're watching it, it's an absolute thrill to see Tom Holland breathe this character to life. Honestly, that's maybe good enough. I'd gladly watch Holland's Spider-Man even in a far worse movie....not that I want them to take me up on that, and I'll still hold out hope for a better third entry that really blows me away.