“Spider-Man: Far from Home” is so cute you want to pinch its cheeks and remind it to wear sunscreen before it goes out to play.
It’s a super-hero movie slapped on top of a teens-take-a-trip-abroad comedy, fizzy and funny and more than a little slap-sticky — emphasis on “sticky.” That’s a great use to make of Tom Holland’s version of the web-slinger, a kid anxious to grow up and be a “real Avenger” one second, a boy who just wants to have fun with his peers and make time with the snarky Goth-girl MJ (Zendaya) the next.
Jon Watts, the director of the latest incarnations of this venerable franchise, shows his comedy roots (He worked for Onion TV, for Peter’s Sake.) even more openly in this new outing, giving us more double-takes, more Samuel L. Jackson (single) eyerolls, and a goofier name for Peter Parker’s famed “Spidey Sense,” his ability to forecast danger.
“Peter Tingle” Aunt May (the effervescent Marisa Tomei) calls it. Avengers aide de camp Happy (veteran funnyman Jon Favreau) repeats it. Because it’s funny.
Peter is ready to tell MJ “How I really feel” on this summer class trip to Venice, Paris, etc., chaperoned by a couple of clueless teachers (Martin Starr and J.B. Smoove).
Pal Ned (Jacob Batalon) is coming. So are MJ and their high school’s blonde class TV anchor Mary (Angourie Rice).
But Nick Fury (Jackson) is calling, and Peter is “ghosting” him. Happy’s not happy about that. Imagine how angry the guy named “Fury” gets.
There’s a new menace, these elemental monsters “The Elements” — versions of wind, Earth, water and fire that “have a face.” Fury, with so many Avengers lost in the mass die-off non-Avengers now jokingly call “The Blip,” needs a replacement. Peter will have to do. Only the kid is determined to have his vacation.
There’s a possible new recruit, Beck, or “Mysterio” (Jake Gyllenhaal), who seems up to the task of taking on the monsters. But like Captain Marvel, he’s not of this world, or this version of it.
“You guys DO have ‘sarcasm’ on this Earth, right?”
Better to rely on your Friendly Neighborhood You-Know-What when the Elements start acting up . A hormonal “16 year-old from Queens” is not the best choice to put the weight of the world on, but you play the hand The Blip gave you.
The series’ ongoing bout with Peter’s sense of responsibility isn’t new. And even as the effects grow bigger, they’re kind of senses-dulling as this stage of the superhero movie onslaught.
What makes “Far from Home” a winner is its sense of play. It begins, after a noisy action prologue, with a mocking “In Memoriam” for the superheroes lost (something a tactless teenager with a TV show and Edit Pro would do) and finds its laughs in relationships, high school “types” (Tony Revolori is back as rich-dope “Flash”) and one-liners.
Three guesses as to who gets to say that.
The love story lacks the heat or heartbreak of the first Peter/MJ pairing, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. The only performance worth calling that, really, is Gyllenhaal’s.
The plot holds few surprises, the fan pandering so common to this genre is handled flippantly and the action is now so digital as to make one long for the more tactile effects and fights of those now-ancient Maguire/Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” pictures.
But “Far from Home” gets that all-important “tone” just right, over-the-top silliness in which no one involved, from screenwriter and director to cast and crew, ever lets us forget that they’re in on the joke.
Maybe that’s why Spider-Man never wears out his welcome, either in his “friendly neighborhood,” or “Far from Home.”
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments
Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau and Marisa Tomei
Credits: Directed by Jon Watts, script by Chris McKenna and Erik Summers. A Sony Pictures release.
Running time: 2:09