Grade: A-/B+
Entire family: No
Sci-Fi Action-Adventure
2019, 129 min., Color
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments
Columbia Pictures / Marvel Studios
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital
Trailer
Amazon link

Some franchises age better than others. Spider-Man, in fact, keeps getting younger as the studio aims for a youthful, social media savvy audience. In fact, 22-year-old British actor Tom Holland learned he got the role of Spider-Man three years ago via an Instagram post.

In some respects, Holland has come a long way since he played the lead in Billy Elliott: The Musical, but in other respects he’s still playing that awkward youth who struggles as much with his own self-image as any other adolescent or teen. In Spider-Man: Far from Home—his fifth film wearing the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man costume (counting appearances in Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame in addition to the 2017 film Spider-Man: Homecoming)—Holland as Peter Parker is awkward around girls, unsure of himself, and as reluctant a hero as ever there was.

Director Jon Watts said that audiences responded well to the high school student excursion to Washington D.C. monuments in Homecoming, so it was a no-brainer to take those students abroad. But some parents might wish that the kids traveled with a teacher who wasn’t cut from the Disney Channel template of clueless adults, more cardboard comic relief than flesh-and-blood character. Still, I suppose if Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr) wasn’t so clueless, there’d be no way to quickly and easily move the group from one part of Europe to allow Peter Parker to do his “Peter tingle” job, as his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) likes to call it.

May and Tony Stark’s former right-hand man, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), are on the periphery of this installment, existing either to move the plot forward or provide light comic relief. Even Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) doesn’t have as much screen time as he (and we) would like. This time it’s all the students, Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), and a reluctant Peter/Spider-Man, with Peter’s not-so-secret crush MJ (Zendaya) one of the few characters that knows his secret identity.

The two-strand plot is set in motion when Happy presents Peter with the all-powerful virtual intelligence glasses that Tony Stark invented and wanted him to have, and Peter instead transfers those glasses to a brand new hero that emerges to help London ward off the Elementals—creatures that resemble physical elements. And of course Peter and MJ are in London with best bud Ned (Jacob Batalon) and MJ’s friend Betty (Angourie Rice). Those strands weave together throughout the film as Peter realizes the mistake he’s made and tries to atone.

Today’s superhero movies depend upon another two strand approach—humor that reinforces the comic-book nature of the story and grand-scale action sequences rendered with eye-popping special effects—and Spider-Man: Far from Home delivers on both counts. The Elementals are particularly impressive, and the blend of green screen stunt work and CGI animation is pretty seamless. It’s a real visceral experience, and, unlike so many superhero films, this one is complex enough to make it interesting but not so complicated that it’s confusing. You don’t have to remember a whole lot from previous Marvel Universe films to enjoy Spider-Man: Far from Home.

But if your teens and tweens are looking for strong female characters, I’m not so sure that you’ll find them here. MJ, Betty, and Aunt May seem less than fully involved in the action, and MJ in particular seems a bit bland. Is it the story, the writing, or the acting that makes her that way? Whatever the case, she just doesn’t have the same sort of sparkle as Emma Stone or, before her, Kirsten Dunst. Then there’s the logical problem of Peter needing to protect his identity by keeping Spider-Man at home, but the substitute costume he wears in Europe is the same design as the old suit, even down to the eyes, except that it’s all black.

When those are the only nits you can pick, you know the film is still a pretty good one.

Language: One partially uttered f-bomb, but aside from that there are only a handful of milder swearwords (bitch, damn, dick, shit) and an extended middle finger

Sex: Nothing much here either, except for one instance where a male character is caught in his underwear with a woman, and though it’s innocent the innuendo is there

Violence: The main reason for the PG-13 rating, though the violence is pretty standard for today’s films; it’s mostly large-scale mayhem and destruction, not close-range micro violence with blood, and when there are one-on-one battles they’re mostly fistfights or sci-fi shooting where the focus is on the outcome

Adult situations: There’s one interior bar scene where one character drinks a beer and another downs a lemonade, and one scene where an underage student tries to grab champagne; a bad guy smokes, but other than a toast there’s not much in the way of adult behavior

Takeaway: Far from Home is less confusing than the typical Marvel Universe film, but if you haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame yet, to avoid spoilers you may want to watch it before you check this out

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