★★★★ - SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- In Spider-Man: Far From Home, Peter Parker is still struggling to reconcile his desire to be an ordinary high-school kid with his obligation to help save the world whenever he’s asked – which is often.
His crush on his classmate MJ (the singer Zendaya) has reached the point where he’s almost ready to tell her how he feels and, with any luck, he’ll make it happen during their forthcoming school trip to Europe. But his de facto boss, Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson being as bolshie as ever), has other plans for him.
Aftershocks from the cosmic disruption that tore up the planet in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame have unleashed a quartet of monsters. Tagged the Elementals because of their ability to harness the destructive effects of water, fire, earth and air, they will demolish much of Venice, Prague and London before they’re done.
But somehow, director Jon Watts keeps the action down to an intermittent roar while the script mines the humour to be found in the kids’ European holiday.
In the history of Marvel superheroes, Spider-Man has been the busiest of them all – the pivot of more spin-offs, reboots and reimaginings than anybody else in the business.
He came to the party in 2002 when Marvel franchises were yet to mature. Sony bought the rights to him and for a while it reaped generous rewards. But Sony’s box-office successes were eventually eclipsed by Disney and Warners as the two studios went on to snap up battalions of Marvel and DC characters.
Spidey began to lose his way after his first three films and he did not get back on track until 2014 when he returned to the Marvel fold. An agreement was struck between Marvel’s guiding force, Kevin Feige, and Sony’s Amy Pascal. They would both produce and the on-screen Peter Parker would be reincarnated yet again.
Young British actor Tom Holland was cast as the 16-year-old Peter and eased into the “Marvel cinematic universe” with a spot in Captain America: Civil War before moving to the centre of the frame in 2017's aptly named Spider-Man: Homecoming.
And the Feige formula, with its crafty blend of high-school comedy and top-of-the-range spectacle, overlaid with a jaunty, tongue-in-cheek tone, has worked.
Everybody here hits the right note. Cast as one of Peter’s attractively nerdy classmates, Australian actress Angourie Rice reveals a knack for delivering the script’s deliberately cheesy dialogue with a straight face.
Zendaya’s MJ is still maintaining her dead-eyed candour, brightening it with an occasional glimmer of humour. And Peter is still thoroughly intimidated by her.
Holland’s Peter is an appealing character – smart but awkward and convincingly conflicted in his efforts to find a compromise between duty and adolescent self-interest. He has a rival. Another of his classmates (Crazy Rich Asians’ Remy Hii) also has a yen for MJ and he’s much smoother than Peter will ever be. Even in his suit, he’s accident-prone and there are plenty of heavy landings built into the action.
Jake Gyllenhaal makes his Spider-Man debut, laying on the charm in his role as the enigmatic Mysterio, who seems to be shaping up as a replacement for the mentor Spidey lost with the death of Iron Man.
It seems he has recently arrived from one of Earth’s many parallel dimensions, an explanation that Spidey accepts so readily he could be explaining that he’s just flown in from Clacton-on-Sea.
The script comes up with a series of plot twists, with two of the most significant occurring in the post-credits sequence, and the denouement is a demolition derby with historic monuments toppling in all directions.
I suppose it would be possible to adopt a moralistic attitude to this with so much destruction going on in the real world, but the movie’s up-market silliness has little connection with the here and now. Marvel really has created a parallel dimension and, like it or not, it’s going to be around for a while. Feige’s talents have taken care of that. And he does extract more fun from it with more consistency than anyone else in the busine