Spider-Man is a superhero who hasn’t been affected by my Marvel movie malaise. Mainly, it’s because he’s one of my favorite fictional characters who has so much storytelling potential. The concept of a regular guy having to deal with the difficulties of being a teenager and being a superhero adds a nice layer of drama. We root for Peter Parker as much as Spider-Man because he ends up in situations we’re all too familiar with, while simultaneously having to save New York City from whatever criminal mastermind is up to no good.
Most superheroes have alter-egos people struggle to connect with. Sure, we feel bad for Bruce Wayne after losing both parents in a senseless tragedy, but do we really relate? He’s a cold, mentally traumatized billionaire, obsessed with dressing up like a bat and fighting crime. Superman is an alien who can do almost anything and spends his days as a super-attractive reporter, struggling to fit in. Wonder Woman basically is a ridiculously hot goddess in human form. Black Panther is royalty who lives in the most technologically advanced society on Earth.
Peter Parker is just an awkward kid who was bit by a radioactive spider. His first instinct is to use his powers to cash in and make money. It leads to the untimely death of his uncle, and learning a valuable lesson about power and responsibility. It helps make him one of the most human characters in comic books. He’s unshackled by the concept of destiny and fate that hang around the neck of other superheroes like a gilded, rotting albatross. Last year’s exceptionally good animated movie “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” perfectly characterized what makes a good Spider-Man; the fact he (or she) could be anyone.
I realize I’ve spent a lot of words on talking about the character of Spider-Man/Peter Parker and not his latest movie, “Far From Home.” It feels necessary since most of my issues with the movie come from the scope of the film and world in which a new incarnation of Spider-Man exists. As part of the interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is one piece of a huge heroic tapestry. This version fights alongside Avengers and criss-crosses through space to take on universe-level threats. The world he exists within is enormous. He’s mentored by Iron Man. As Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) remarks “Bitch, please, you’ve been to space.”
The creative minds behind “Far From Home” are tasked with making Peter feel relatable and his world compact while at the same time dealing with the aftermath of an event where half the living universe was snapped into oblivion by a giant purple alien named Thanos. In fairness, they don’t do a terrible job. We catch up with Peter after the events of “Avengers: Endgame,” where we learn he’s about to go on a summer trip with his classmates, including the girl of his dreams, MJ (Zendaya). He’s worked out an elaborate plan to profess his raging hormonal impulses. Unfortunately, his plan to take a vacation from being Spider-Man is upended by a potential world-threatening event. A bunch of elemental monsters have showed up in Europe and are doing damage to some lovely vistas.
Nick Fury introduces Spider-Man to Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaall) and goes on a journey of self-discovery as he deals with trying to be a hero, a teenager and the heir apparent to take on the threats that used to be handled by Iron Man and Captain America. All of it seems daunting to Peter, and Tom Holland does a great job making Parker relatable and sympathetic in spite of the largesse of this comic book cocktail. The fact no elements of this epic story feel ludicrously out of place is a testament to writer Chris McKenna and director Jon Watts. Underneath the bombast and hinky effects work is something that manages to be occasionally charming.
Marvel movies so often feel interchangeable in terms of scope, visuals and story. This particular corner manages to feel different than the rest, mostly because Parker is still allowed to be a stupid, flawed kid while the stakes are still kept relatively small in scale. Mind you, this is a scale where on one side you have a glove that can destroy half the universe with a snap and talking trees, hence the use of the word “relatively.” “Spider-Man: Far From Home” is an entertaining, sticky mess. It’s a fun, over-the-top, logic-free, romantic road trip that is both pleasing and perplexing.