“Spider-Man: Far from Home” isn’t really a superhero movie. It’s a wholesome teen comedy disguised as a superhero movie. “Andy Hardy Goes Radioactive.” “Archie and Jughead Save the Great Monuments of Europe.” “Marvel Comics, 90210.” Something like that.
The latest live-action iteration of this particular intellectual property — not counting last year’s animated “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and forgetting that the two Andrew Garfield/Emma Stone “Spider-Man” movies ever existed — is lightweight, antic, and pleasurable. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is more frankly a kid, beset with homework and high school romantic woes, and the collision between his two selves, self-conscious teen and masked web-slinger, is played for ingratiating comedy.
“Far From Home,” the second of the Holland “Spider-Man” movies, after “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017), is essentially a school summer trip abroad with a backdrop of super-villainy. Peter and his classmates fly out of New York to visit Venice, London, Paris, yet everywhere they go they run into the Elementals, titanic beings of water, fire, etc, who like to smash things and are being fought off by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in concert with a new superhero, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal).
Mysterio has a smoky fishbowl on his head and the ability to fire glowing green triangles with his hands, and Gyllenhaal gives the character the smile of a man who’s been around the block; the early scenes between Mysterio and Peter are warm and avuncular. For reasons not apparent unless you’ve seen “Avengers: Endgame” — you have, haven’t you? — Tony Stark/Iron Man isn’t around to give the kid advice this time, although he has left behind a pair of Henry Kissinger spectacles that are like Google Glass hooked up to the US nuclear arsenal. I’d have trouble handing a teenager a set of car keys, but maybe that’s just me.
“Spider-Man: Far From Home” does indulge in the genre’s usual destructo tendencies, and if you’ve actually visited Venice, you might feel genuine pain this time: The reduction of the Rialto Bridge and the Campanile di San Marco to rubble is awful to contemplate even via pixels. But a surprising amount of the movie is spent with Peter and his school peers, in particular his best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon), the officious Betty Brant (Angourie Rice), and the mono-monickered Zendaya, who has to be the chillest, most self-possessed Mary Jane Watson yet. She and Marisa Tomei’s uncanonically attractive Aunt May are two of this series’ most enjoyable curveballs.
In one scene, Peter says in exasperation, “I didn’t think I was going to have to save the world this summer,” and that’s pretty much the plot and point of “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” I must confess I wearied of the Mysterio storyline — its punch-ups and showdowns and airborne battle-bots and endless “Arghs!” — and perked up whenever the movie got back to the kids and the issue of when, if ever, Mary Jane would figure out why Peter keeps having to run to the men’s rooms for hours at a time. Trust her to catch on sooner or later: Now that Tony Stark is out of the picture, Zendaya’s MJ is probably the smartest person in the entire Marvel Extended Universe.
Well, her and the kid sister played by Letitia Wright in “Black Panther.” Now there’s a team-up we deserve to see.
Note: Stick around for the usual mid- and end-credit tag scenes, the first of which made the dedicated Marvel fan-bro in front of me (he showed up wearing a web-shirt) completely lose his mind, and the second of which makes no sense at all but is in keeping with the loosey-goosey spirit of the movie as a whole.
SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
Directed by Jon Watts. Written by Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers. Starring Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zendaya, Samuel L. Jackson, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau. At Boston theaters suburbs; Jordan’s IMAX, Natick and Reading. 129 minutes. PG-13 (sci-fi action violence, some language, brief suggestive comments).