What’s Summer Without Spider-Man?

After relishing in the magic of Avengers: Endgame, I wondered what more the Marvel Cinematic Universe could offer. That seemed like enough, didn’t it? It is even there in the title — that is the end.

Then the rumors of a multi-verse began running rampant on the Internet, and [insert eye-roll emoji]. I didn’t know if I had it in me to keep up with two, three, five, fifty universes. This event or person or thing happened on regular Earth but wait, there’s another something happening on an Earth that exists that has never been shown on screen? I don’t know, man. Seems a bit much even if it is a staple of the comics I loved as a child.

Then one of the early trailers for Spider-Man: Far From Home made mention that one of the central characters was from another dimension, world, or whatever. Oh hell, I thought. Here we go. 

But what occurs in the most recent Spider-Man movie — released July 2nd — not only helped me with my eye rolling issue, but it pumped me with a little more faith in Kevin Feige and the never-ending Marvel machine.

Tom Holland (Pending);Jake Gyllenhaal (Finalized);Numan Acar (Finalized)

All that to say, Spider-Man: Far From Home goes down like an ice-cream sandwich on the 4th of July. Not to mention the fireworks. Minus the rah-rah, America junk.

The basics are this: Spider-Man, a.k.a Peter Parker, is back from the Snappening (now called “The Blip”) as well as the rest of half of the universe. Young Peter is trying to get used to being a high school student again even though pivotal people have now aged five years. Adjustment includes a nice trip overseas with other classmates. If you’ve ever watched movie, you know trouble ensues. I’ll leave it at that.

What director Jon Watts and writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers nail so well is that the relationships rule both the action and the story. When M.J. (Zendaya, better than ever) and Peter (the pitch perfect Tom Holland, who has done more for the role than any other incarnation of the character) are on the screen together, it is just as engaging as it is when Spider-Man is swinging through the sky and battling a host of baddies. The stakes are between these kids, and it’s touching at times.

It’s to the credit of the supporting cast that the fun of their bonds don’t end between those two leads: the film smartly places Ned (Jeb Batalon) in situations that gives him a lot more to do than sit behind a desk and deliver quips to Holland’s webslinger, who needs no help carrying the movie. The actors fit the roles much better than in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Many, like Ned and Flash Thompson, foster endearment rather than previous annoyance. That’s saying something, too, as Flash Thompson is a character designed to piss off Peter. Tony Revolori works now.

Zendaya, though, is as bright as any young actor. She tempers her portrayal of M.J. with more nuance than before. Her snark belies a deeper, more complex young lady who is a teenager with a brain and emotion.

Tom Holland allows Peter Parker to wrestle with the death of Tony Stark in a few key scenes, and therefore brings shades to Peter we saw blossoming in the last two Avengers outings. Much of that work happens between Holland and mystery man Jake Gyllenhaal. Stark’s death looms heavy, was necessary to address, and Gyllenhaal is doing fine work, albeit predictable on paper. Peter and M.J. give the movie two definitively drawn characters that you want to spend more time with. When either of them aren’t on screen, it’s felt. I’m looking forward to the next installment of this franchise, though maybe not all of the installments of the entire M.C.U. At least not yet.

It’s still not Shakespeare in the park, of course.

The film does only perfunctory explanations of how life changed for the world, especially those who were gone missing. Though no one believes that Spider-Man needs to be an episode of The Leftovers (damn, how great would it be if it was, though?), it still would be nice to see more than two minutes of the mental and emotional damage for the characters, both those that were gone and left behind.

And then there’s the problem of a little less could be more. J.B. Smoove as Mr. Dell stumbles in the movie. It’s obvious that he’s meant to give the goofy one liners that he’s known for inserting, but the film would be just as fine without him and just as funny with the use of the natural awkwardness of the teenage Peter, M.J., Ned, Flash, and Betty Brant (Angourie Rice, with more welcomed screen time after a very different performance in a recent episode of Black Mirror).

And there’s the expectation that these movies end with at least one mid-credit scene and a post-credit scene, which is starting to be a bit exhausting even for some die-hard fans. Often the final scene exists simply to bolster hype for the next piece of the M.C.U. While there’s a bit of that here, it shows that not only is there promise, but that there could be life in coming stories. It’s a tense as one that I remember in a while.

Besides, what’s a summer these last few years without Spider-Man? It’d almost be un-American.

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