Spider-Man: Far From Home
Tom Holland returns as Spider-Man in the first Marvel movie since the spectacular events of Avengers: Endgame.
As the first Marvel movie post-Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home presents its director Jon Watts with an unenviable task.
Not only is it impossible to match that timeline-shifting spectacular, but this Spider-Man film starts in a post-snap world that fans of the franchise are less familiar with.
With Tony Stark gone and the Avengers disbanded, former S.H.I.E.L.D. boss Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is understaffed on the superhero front.
Not least because 16-year-old Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is trying to avoid his calls in a bid to take a well-earned break from his Spider-Man heroics.
His desire to be a normal teen makes him determined to join his classmates in Venice for a school trip.
While there, he plans to ask out MJ (Zendaya), who has moved from quirky pal to potential love interest since the events of its direct predecessor Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Things take an inevitable turn when Venice is attacked by a watery Elemental, one of several beings (the others represent earth, wind, and fire) that threaten to destroy the world.
Although Peter's aunt May (Marisa Tomei) has packed his Spider-Man suit, he's forced to try and save his friends without it, having left it in his hotel room.
Luckily, a mysterious new hero, Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), is on hand to help, with laser-like technology and Stark-esque panache.
Quentin, or Mysterio, as Peter dubs him, tells a grim story about how he is from another dimension where the Elementals have destroyed the Earth and killed his family and reveals he has already been working with Nick Fury as a kind of supply hero in the Avengers' absence.
Fury, who wants Peter to join Quentin to tackle the Elemental in Prague, presents him with E.D.I.T.H., a present from his old mentor Tony - a natty pair of sunglasses, that is in effect an artificial intelligence spying tool able to snoop in a way that not even Mark Zuckerberg can dream of.
However, its new owner is initially more interested in using to help his love life than save the world.
If Spider-Man: Homecoming was a Marvel take on John Hughes's iconic 1980s teen movies, Far From Home is in debt to Hughes-penned road trip comedies like National Lampoon's Summer and European Vacations.
It's one that makes for an incredibly fun first act, with plenty of hilarious moments centred around not just Peter and his inept attempts to romance MJ, but also his geeky pal Ned (Jacob Batalon) and his own unlikely love story with prim and proper classmate Betty (Angourie Rice), as well as teachers (Martin Starr and J.B. Smoove).
Instead of National Lampoon's risque moments and mishaps, it's misused drones and Nick Fury's attempts to drag Peter back into his loop they must all dodge.
In its second half though, this Spider-Man story becomes even more interesting, moving towards a plot influenced by very modern fears about fake news and the advance of technology meaning we may no longer be able what is real from what isn't.
It's a formula that has worked many times for Marvel - the fusing of comedy, spectacular superhero set pieces, and cineliterate references to movie classics, while nodding to contemporary concerns. But despite its familiarity, it's one that still feels fresh.
The theme of bending reality also fits well with Far From Home's role as a post-Endgame reset of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Increasing the spectacle after that epic climax would be impossible, so it's clever for Watts to take a meta-approach that in some ways, mirrors fans' relationship to superhero movies.
Just as audiences have come to expect apocalyptic alien invasions, the characters are ready to believe in scenarios that once seemed utterly preposterous because they 'live' in a world where half of all living things have been wiped out and then restored.
Excellent central performances from Holland and a menacingly likeable Gyllenhaal, and a joyous return for Stark's long-suffering assistant Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), also help remind why even non-comic book fans first fell in love with Marvel movies.
Even when they're not huge events, like Endgame, or great cultural moments like Black Panther, they're well scripted, acted, thoughtful, and full of soul and humour as well as special effects.
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