There’s a scene in Spider-Man: Far from Home in which Peter Parker (Tom Holland) diplomatically tries to refuse Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) recruitment efforts. Peter insists that he’s just a neighborhood hero, not a world-saving Avenger. With Jackson’s usual arsenal of profanity depleted of f-bombs by the House of Mouse, Fury shoots back, “Bitch, please. You’ve been to space!”
It’s a cleverly self-aware moment that sums up Far From Home’s place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Only a few short months removed from the intergalactic, inter-dimensional epic Avengers: Endgame – literally the biggest box office hit in Hollywood history – this movie has a tough role to play. It needs to scale down expectations and convince its audience of two things: first, that there’s plenty of life left in the Marvel Cinematic Universe after Endgame and, second, that you don’t need an all-star spectacle to tell a really great story.
It might seem odd that Marvel would put this kind of pressure on itself when it clearly didn’t need to. The studio could have taken a year-long victory lap. But Kevin Feige always insisted that Far From Home would be a meaningful successor to Endgame. And if the last decade has proven anything in this crazy world of ours, it’s that Feige is a visionary creator who deserves our trust.
So the good, if obvious, news is that Spider-Man: Far From Home delivers a poignant, heartwarming, and (sometimes) gently paced character study – the very kind on which the Avengers juggernaut was first built. Sure, there are massive set pieces, heart-pounding fights, world-threatening villains. But Far From Home gives us quality time with its lead character, Peter Parker, in a way that the team-up movies of the last few years couldn’t.
The premise is pretty simple. In the aftermath of Endgame’s universe-altering events, Peter is trying to figure out what comes next – as a hero, as an icon, as a teenager. His mentor isn’t around to nudge him in the right direction, and the weight of the world’s expectations seem to be solely on his shoulders. The other Avengers aren’t in play for various reasons and the general public wants to know: who will be the next Iron Man?
Spider-Man is heir apparent, not just due to his courage against Thanos, but because Tony Stark leaves him the actual keys to the kingdom. He’s not sure he’s ready for the job. And he’s not sure he really wants it either. Instead, Peter just wants to have a normal summer, traveling with his friends on a school trip to Europe, falling in love with his crush MJ (Zendaya), and having some time to experience the world’s mysteries instead of being one himself.
If we know one thing about Spider-Man, though, it’s that with great power comes great responsibility. So, when a strange new superhero named Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) shows up, claiming to be on the forefront of an inter-dimensional conflict, Peter can’t help but get involved. The two team-up with Nick Fury and Maria Hill to fight a group of god-like creatures called the Elementals. The villains aim to destroy Venice, Prague, London, and then, surely, the rest of the world.
Things get complicated as Peter struggles with his own agency. He craves someone who can fill the gap that Tony Stark’s death left in his life, and his prospects for doing so come in three forms: the charismatic Mysterio as a familiar model of heroism, Nick Fury as a model of selfless leadership, and Tony’s best friend Happy Hogan (played again by Jon Favreau, who co-founded the MCU) as a model thoughtful humility. Suffice it to say, teenagers have lessons to learn about how the world works.
Far From Home features a number of huge twists (watch through the very end of the credits), so I’ll stay away from the plot. But the movie’s plot isn’t its biggest success, even though it is a great one.
What really makes this movie work is how it operates in the grander scheme of the MCU. With an incredibly talented cast, anchored by Tom Holland, the movie reminds us that interesting characters – both leading and supporting – are why Marvel’s movies work. You don’t spend the movie thinking about off-screen Avengers, for example, because you’re so focused on the people you’re watching.
Zendaya and Jacob Batalon (as Peter’s best friend Ned) bring a lot of depth to the movie. So does Martin Starr, who gets more screen time this go-round as chaperone Mr. Harrington. And don’t miss any of J.B. Smoove’s lines. He’s the lazy co-chaperone, a science teacher who is hilariously convinced that everything bad is the result of witches.
There’s also enough world building in Far From Home to get us excited about the future. In fact, a particularly on-the-nose construction site sits behind Spider-Man in a mid-credits scene, obscured by a banner that reads, “We Can’t Wait to Show You What Comes Next!”
As the closing chapter in Marvel’s decade-long Infinity Saga, this installment also does something special: it acts as a narrative mirror to the franchise’s very first movie. If that movie was Becoming Iron Man, this is Becoming Peter Parker. Where Tony Stark had to negotiate the evolution of human to hero, Peter Parker has to do the opposite. It’s a reverse origin story, of sorts. There’s even a clever equivalent to the “I am Iron Man” declaration here. It’s a nice reminder that life is cyclical – and so are the rhythms, granular and grand, of the MCU.
At one point, as Peter is experiencing a moment of doubt, Happy encourages him with a sharp point – there will never be another Iron Man. That line is actually directed at us. We’ll all miss Robert Downey Jr. and Tony Stark, but we’re in great and capable hands with Tom Holland and Peter Parker.
I, for one, can’t wait to see what comes next.