Spider-Man: Far from Home review – post-Endgame outing lacks Marvel sparkle

Tom Holland swings into Europe on a school trip that sees Prague under attack, Italy in danger – and Jake Gyllenhaal wearing a very weird helmet.

Well, not too far from home. In fact, we are on pretty familiar ground, despite Spider-Man now going on a hormonally charged school trip to Venice, Prague and other European cities whose national governments have given this film tax breaks.

For all these exotic novelties, this is a very mainstream Marvel picture, written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers and directed by Jon Watts, culminating in the traditional CGI damage to tourist landmarks in the time-honoured final battle-spectacular. A new character has been perfunctorily added in the form of Mysterio (Gyllenhaal) and the film is certainly nowhere near the envelope-pushingly surreal ambition of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, from last year.

But Tom Holland is still very winning as Spidey, still living at home with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) who is embarrassing him with her love life and by referring to her nephew’s spider sense as “Peter tingle”. J Jonah Jameson makes a brief, horrible return as a gruesome Alex Jones-style pundit, and Peter Parker has all sorts of dramatic new problems (it’s important to stick around for those post-credit stings).

We are now in the post-Endgame, post-“blip” world where those who were disappeared have now reappeared and Peter Parker is back in high-school, hanging out with his unthreatening wingman Ned (Jacob Batalon) and romantically obsessing over MJ (Zendaya) who is being pursued by a new suitor, Brad (Remy Hii). Peter is planning to tell MJ how he feels in one of the romantic European locations they are due to visit during the upcoming break.

But Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) has other plans for him: a terrifying storm-like force called an “elemental” is reducing various cities to rubble and so far the only combatant ranged against it is newcomer Quentin Beck (Gyllenhaal) from another dimension, who wears a helmet like an opaque fishbowl and whom the Italian media fatefully dub: “l’uomo del mistero”. Beck struggles mightily against the shape-shifting typhoon in Venice, causing a teen onlooker to gasp: “He’s kicking that water’s ass!” Fury needs Parker to step up and help Beck, to embrace his destiny and to justify the trust placed in him by the late Tony Stark. Is Spider-Man – that fresh-faced kid from Queens – in fact Stark’s true heir ? Those are some big iron boots to fill.

The pieties these teenagers offer to the great generation of Avengers are amusingly drawn, especially the painfully earnest “in memoriam” section of the school’s TV news broadcast at the beginning: we are mischievously allowed us to think that this is going to be the film’s own dead-straight tribute to Stan Lee, before we notice the cheesy production values. Jackson, as ever, puts the ballast of maturity into the movie, needed more than ever now that Robert Downey Jr is now not in the picture. Holland is very good but he needs someone to play against, someone with Downey’s heft. That someone could well be Zendaya, as MJ, the great love of Peter Parker’s life. We shall have to see how the Marvel franchise plays this romance in forthcoming episodes.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is out on 2 July in the US and UK.

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