In 2016, I thought who needs a third Spider-Man after Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield just did it so recently? The superhero was exhausted after Sam Raimi’s trilogy “Spider-Man” (2002-2009) and Marc Webb’s reboot “The Amazing Spider-Man” (2012-2014). It was obvious Sony contractually needed to keep rebooting the franchise before the rights fell to Marvel.
Today, I stand corrected, as Tom Holland may be the most believable Peter Parker of them all, first catching our attention in “Captain America: Civil War” (2016) before carrying his very own spinoff in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017). Now, the web-slinger returns in the new sequel “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” a totally enjoyable ride with a commendably creative premise.
The plot picks up after the events of “Avengers: Endgame,” as the world mourns its fallen superheroes. Peter makes it his mission to do Tony Stark proud, carrying on the legacy of his mentor, while wooing his crush MJ. He gets the chance at both during a high-school field trip to Europe where he battles anthropomorphic natural disasters known as the Elementals.
Despite his penchant for spoilers during press interviews — the Russos purposely kept him in the dark on the set of “Endgame” so he wouldn’t reveal plot details — Holland personifies the title role as written in Stan Lee’s comics. He is both more likable than Maguire yet more nerdy than Garfield, and at 23 years old, he is the perfect poster-boy for coming-of-age adventure.
Here, his romantic chemistry with Zendaya is adorable, building to an earned embrace unlike the forced kiss between Amy Adams and Henry Cavill in “Man of Steel” (2013). The 22-year-old Zendaya is sarcastic, but not overly so, as a “too cool for school” teen with a confident exterior and big heart underneath. Kudos to the hair, makeup and wardrobe departments for making her look younger than “The Greatest Showman” (2017) across a decade-older Zac Efron.
Their co-star Jake Gyllenhaal was once in their shoes before building a quietly impressive resume: hallucinating criminals (“Donnie Darko”), macho troops (“Jarhead”), closeted cowboys (“Brokeback Mountain”), time travelers (“Source Code”), obsessive journalists (“Zodiac”), pharmaceutical reps (“Love & Other Drugs”), gritty cops (“End of Watch”), twitchy detectives (“Prisoners”), creepy paparazzi (“Nightcrawler”), tortured doppelgängers (“Enemy”), punchy boxers (“Southpaw”), grieving widowers (“Demolition”) and paraplegic survivors (“Stronger”).
Now, he finally adds superhero to the list, just like his sister Maggie in “The Dark Knight” (2008). Gyllenhaal shines as Spidey’s world-saving rival Mysterio, who swoops in to save the day with his own metal suit outfitted with the latest Stark technology. The dual saviors start out with mutual admiration before one-up-manship ultimately pits them against each other.
The premise is actually quite genius in its conceit, arguably one of the most creative in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. The only flaw comes in its reveal, using a lazy monologue where the villain overexplains his evil plan with blatant exposition to cheering henchmen.
No matter, the script is still a big win for screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, who worked together on TV’s “Community” before penning “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017) and “Ant-Man & The Wasp” (2018). Their creativity sparkles again here, featuring witty repartee between S.H.I.E.L.D. leaders Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), comical bickering between chaperones Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr) and Mr. Dell (J.B. Smoove), and — best of all — a hilarious running joke on Peter’s “Spidey Senses” tingling.
From a structural standpoint, the script deftly juggles the parallel action of saving the world vs. teen romance, not only in the love triangle between Peter, MJ and rival beau Brad Davis (Remy Hii) but also a blossoming romance between his buddy Ned (Jacob Batalon) and MJ’s friend Betty Brant (Angourie Rice). There’s even a third romance between Aunt May (Marissa Tomei) and Stark holdover Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), which is intriguing if underdeveloped.
Romantic subplots aside, the A-story action rocks from Venice to London, mining the locales for all their worth as battlegrounds, right down to the Crown Jewels. Director Jon Watts returns to craft impressively surreal sequences with trippy imagery, at times feeling like an acid dream of “Doctor Strange” (2016) meets “The Matrix” (1999). It’s an outside-the-box approach to a teeny-bopper setup, but I actually kind of dig it. Time to grow up, Spidey.
When the credits roll, you’ll absolutely feel like you got your money’s worth. Stick around for the mid-credits sequence, which includes a really fun cameo. However, you can skip the post-credit sequence, which is amusing but undercuts its own story, proving that the Avengers franchise is past its expiration date of meaningful stakes, even as it remains super profitable.
That’s what this is all about, right? Feeding the box-office juggernaut? Any Marvel sequel that arrives after “Endgame” instantly dilutes the notion that there was ever an “end game” to begin with. It’s a false promise begging the question: How can we celebrate a franchise as an intricate, 22-film masterwork (as we’re lead to believe) when there is always another phase?
In the big picture, “Far From Home” is the second best “Spider-Man 2,” better than Electro in 2014 but behind Doc Ock in 2004. Although, can you really call it a second installment if Holland was already in “Civil War” (2016), “Homecoming” (2017), “Infinity War” (2018) and “Endgame” (2019)? Technically, it’s “Spider-Man 5” for Holland and “Spider-Man 11” if you count the animated “Into the Spider-Verse.” That’s 11 in 17 years; quite the convoluted web.
Thus, the arc of movie history will forget it, but it gets the job done this July Fourth weekend.