Thrillingly imaginative ‘Far From Home’

Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) greets Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). The youth can’t even take a vacation in peace, constantly learning lessons in ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home.’ He’s schooled on everything from love to being an Avenger. It’s exciting to watch our young hero, not to mention Holland, take the reins of a promising new direction in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Explaining a joke or an illusion is often considered a surefire way of ruining the fun. That puts me at a disadvantage for reviewing “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”

The film presents illusions and deconstructions in near-equal measure. It is often thrillingly imaginative and even the tried and true elements are entertaining.

Reality vs. fantasy, not to mention how perception plays into that, is a fascinating topic. I’m glad “Far From Home” touched upon it, since the people of the Marvel Cinematic Universe can be forgiven for not exactly thinking clearly.

Within the past five films (five years in-universe), humanity has seen the disintegration and reintegration of 50 percent of the universe’s life. They’ve lost heroes and they’re coping with the idea of life changing not once but twice in an instant.

You could forgive these people for either going insane or fearing they’ve got neurological issues. “Far From Home” doesn’t go that deep, but it does acknowledge the new status quo with some black comedy.

Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) appear at a benefit for people made homeless by “The Blip.” She jokes about reappearing in her former apartment and being mistaken for the new owner’s mistress.

Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr), Peter Parker’s perpetually hapless teacher, casually comments on how his wife faked being blipped so she could run off with another man.

It’s a big, intimidating world (and universe) out there and sometimes you’ve got to be as blunt as MJ (Zendaya). She pushes buttons and gives the appearance of being savvy, but MJ’s learning in the moment like everyone else.

You’ve made it this far into the review, so I hope you’ll forgive the cribbing from Dickens. Tony Stark is dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. Please don’t come crying to me about spoilers. A lot of people have seen “Avengers: Endgame” and Stark’s limited activity is kinda a big deal in “Far From Home.”

“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” Peter is informed.

It’s true. The poor boy can’t even take a vacation in peace. He’s schooled on spontaneity with his would-be girlfriend, judging character and, of course, being an Avenger. There’s more-or-less pretests aplenty throughout Europe, with a final exam in London.

Following a battle that nearly submerges Venice, Peter befriends Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). Claiming to be the sole survivor of an alternate Earth, Mysterio immediately fits into a role different from Stark, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders).

Savvy audience members will easily guess there’s something up with Mysterio. I mean, what’s in a name, right? Before and after the big reveal, Gyllenhaal gives a first-rate performance. You’re taken for a ride, but what a trip.

Which brings me to the weakest element of “Far From Home.” Despite great visuals and exciting backdrops for the battles, the European vacation angle never really justifies itself. The action could be taking place in New York City or Anytown, USA without losing much impact on the story. It is fun to see the whirlwind romance of Ned (Jacob Batalon) and Betty (Angourie Rice), though.

Jon Watts, writer-director of “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” returns to the later role for “Far From Home.” The screenplay is credited to Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (“Ant-Man and the Wasp,” “Homecoming”).

Watts, a talented director, is matched by countless technical directors, artists and other moviemaking wizards. The team shines in sequences including Mysterio’s manipulations of Spider-Man. They’re dreamlike, dizzying and darn entertaining.

“Far From Home” contains a mid-credits scene and a post-credits scene. Both contain the required table setting for future installments, but I give the edge to the mid-credits scene. Until its twist, the scene is charming and reminiscent of another superhero-heroine pairing.

Also in the cast are Jon Favreau as Happy, navigating his own courtship; J.B. Smoove as Mr. Dell, rivaling Harrington for the role of least qualified authority figure ever; Remy Hii as Brad, rivaling Peter for MJ’s affection; and Tony Revolori as Flash, star of a funny running gag.

“(Spider-Man) looks out for the neighborhood, has a dope suit, and I really respect him,” Flash says before insulting Peter.

“Far From Home” has flaws. It never quite reaches a tonal consistency and isn’t above coasting for a while on audience goodwill. I’m happy to say my recurring complaint of too much setup, not enough payoff is mostly mitigated this time around.

There’s also the thrill of watching Peter/Spider-Man, not to mention Tom Holland, take the reins of a promising new direction in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s enough to give you tingles.

I give “Spider-Man: Far From Home” my Recommended rating.

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