**1/2 out of ****
Rated PG-13
(for sci-fi action violence, some language, and brief suggestive comments)
Released: July 2, 2019
Runtime: 130 minutes
Directed by: Jon Watts

Starring: Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zendaya, Jon Favreau, Jacob Batalon, Samuel L. Jackson, Marisa Tomei, Cobie Smulders, Tony Revolori, JB Smoove

On the heels of the two-part Infinity / Endgame epic finale, with that first ever female-led entry Captain Marvel sandwiched in-between, the latest Spider-Man solo adventure is little more than a bloated MCU afterthought.

It doesn’t hold up any better when compared to its direct reboot predecessor. After such a spectacular debut two years ago with Spider-Man: Homecoming – one of the best films yet in the ever-evolving Marvel Cinematic Universe – Spider-Man: Far From Home is a considerable letdown.

Lazy, rushed, and often defying basic common sense, Far From Home is – despite still having the best, most exuberant (and grounded) Peter Parker yet in Tom Holland – a clunky, desperate follow-up. Painfully, Far From Home gets increasingly cheesy at it goes and, hooo boy, some moments are real eye-rollers.

It’s about six months after the events of Avengers: Endgame, and Peter Parker is trying to get back into the groove of high school life. In fact, “normal” is what he desperately wants, resisting the pressure from others to become Tony Stark’s heir apparent in the Avengers super group. Peter has his own self-doubt and angst about taking on that responsibility and legacy but, more than anything for him, it’s simply a matter of “not yet.” He’s a teenager, and he wants to be one for the short time he has left to live it.

But while on an extended European summer trip with his high school quiz decathlon team, evil forces called The Elementals – giant monsters that take on the form of water, fire, and so on – rise up from another dimension. A brand-new superhero comes along with them: Mysterio (a scientist named Quentin Beck, played by Jake Gyllenhaal). He has experience battling the Elementals, so Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) tasks Spider-Man to team up with Mysterio and defeat the beasts together.

As a plot construct, Far From Home rehashes many of the same beats as Homecoming, from the teen comedy schtick (which drives much of the first hour here but less credibly, more Freeform-y) to Peter’s awkward crush on a classmate (Zendaya’s MJ, stepping in for Homecoming’s Liz) to Beck’s mentor role for Peter (replacing Tony Stark for, er, obvious reasons).

The teen comedy threads are typical and tired, not as fresh or alive (or surprising) as they were before, resorting to soapy melodramatic formulas, petty prattle, and a sudden, gushy romance that exists simply for cutesy (yet conventional and repetitive) comic relief.

Gyllenhaal’s Beck starts out intriguing enough but, as the plot unfolds, his Mysterio becomes outlandishly manic (and if you’ve seen Jake in Okja, you know just how obnoxious that can get). Everything here becomes one miscalculation after the next, in a way that feels like a collision of random ideas cobbled from a brainstorming session, slapped together in an episodic script that speeds through its contrivances like an early draft in need of more narrative (and character) rigor.

Holland, God bless him, invests every ounce of himself into what’s heaped upon him, and he brings a conviction to the material that it otherwise lacks. For returning director Jon Watts it never seems like his heart is in this one, dutifully fulfilling the task set by Marvel producer Kevin Feige to tie up loose ends from Phase 3 while setting up Phase 4, all while being creatively handcuffed. Far From Home feels like a product, not a movie.

Everything here is so far-fetched, relishing in the kind of B-level absurdity that has often kept comics from garnering artistic respectability. A good comic movie doesn’t require graphic novel grit, darkness, or existential anguish, but it shouldn’t be this simplistic and over the top either.

When intelligence is so readily sidelined, legitimate nitpicks start to pop up constantly, whether it be in things like Parker’s ongoing habit to demask himself in public (it never backfires on him, either) to even bigger lapses in logic (like the extended, private romantic moment in the wake – and center — of the finale’s public destructive climax).

The tacky sci-fi is bad enough, but the vacuum within which it all occurs (across major European landmarks, no less) without any military intervention, emergency first responders, or any semblance of media coverage is what ends up straining credulity. Plus, for the second non-Avengers movie in a row, this Cinematic Universe has quickly become over-reliant on shape-shifting deceptary. It’s all just so…dumb.

The two shocking bonus scenes (one mid-credits, the other at the very end) – as satisfying as they initially may be, and vitally important to where Spider-Man and the MCU is headed – are completely ridiculous when you start to think about them even in the slightest (which is a perfect descriptor of the whole film they tag). Marvel is so desperate to have our minds blown that they’ve ditched Spidey-sense for nonsense.

I won’t get into it because of the massive spoilers involved, but the plot holes inherent to these twists are gaping – the first especially, with a cliffhanger that should easily be resolved for any number of basic reasons.

For all my (sincere) gripes, Far From Home is a passable blockbuster diversion so far as it goes, but it remains an all-too-typical entry that you can basically take or leave, and the only things that actually matter (regardless of how poorly constructed they are) are the end credit scenes.

As the Marvel franchise broadens its mythos to include alien metaphysics and truly limitless tech, the Phase 4 future of the MCU looks way too ridiculous for its own good.

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