I love Spider-Man. I thought Spider-Man Unlimited was a cool cartoon as a kid. I grew up reading Ultimate Spider-Man, even into Miles Morales's introduction and onto the end of the Ultimate Universe. I think the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride at Universal Orlando is one of the greatest rides in the world. I loved Homecoming. All of Tom Holland's MCU outings have been amazing to excellent, including Avengers: Endgame just months before. December's Into the Spider-Verse is the superior Spider-Man, even above the amazing Spider-Man 2, and both are endlessly rewatchable. And I bet if I had a Sony PlayStation, the new Marvel's Spider-Man game would be one of my favorites of all time. I don't say all that to come off as an expert; just someone who strongly digs this property.
So maybe it was because it was preceded by two years of consistently great Marvel and Spider-Man stories - many of which were the best in the genre. Maybe it's because I saw the excellent Knives Out trailer moments before leaving for the theater. Maybe it's because I accidentally spoiled the last end credits scene for myself on Wikipedia, or maybe because I overslept and almost missed my screening, or any number of small things. But somehow, I found Spider-Man: Far From Home good, but not spectacular.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is Tom Holland's fifth outing as Peter Parker, the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. A lot's happened since Homecoming. The world's aged five years while he was dead. He fought a big purple alien and his armies twice. His mentor and father figure died to save the universe. And as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) points out, he's been to space. So it's understandable he'd want to shirk his responsibility as Spider-Man and just enjoy a European vacation with his friends Ned (Jacob Batalon, Every Day) and MJ (Zendaya, The Greatest Showman).
Unfortunately, that's not in the cards as the activity of Elemental monsters attract the attention of Fury and his band of merry men and women (is he Team S.H.I.E.L.D. or is he running as an independent?), introducing them to Quentin Beck, better known as Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler). Traditionally a villain in the comics, he now teams up with Fury and Peter to take on these beasts, draw together strands from the previous movies, and set up a Spider-Man movie unlike any we've ever seen before on screen.
There's a lot to like with Far From Home. There are plenty of clever visual and musical references to the other MCU films. Peter's processing of grief over Tony Stark's death leads to rewarding moments for long-time viewers. Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny) as Happy Hogan and Aunt May are hilarious together, and positioning Betty Brant (Angourie Rice, Every Day) as Ned's summer girlfriend serves as pretty great comic relief, even if the two are given little else to do with all the other functions the film's trying to serve. Zendaya, as a different and interesting MJ, and Holland continue to have remarkable chemistry that make them one of the greatest parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though it would've been nice to see them interact more than the story lets them. It's often funny, and when Mysterio starts using illusions like his comic book counterpart, the sequences are on par with the psychedelic heights of Doctor Strange.
However, this Spider-Man sequel has a lot on its shoulders. It has to close loose threads left after Endgame, while setting up what's to come in Phase Four. It also has to show a world without Avengers - with much of the previous guard dead, retired, off-world, preoccupied, or unavailable - while continuing Peter Parker's story. It also has to be a great film on its own. While it succeeds at most of these things, it can't help but come across as functional, stealing from its identity as a Spider-Man movie. As a result, its highest highs come more from its last-minute teases than the drama in the moment. In fact, the Spider-Man story that's suggested in the mid-credits scene is so massive, personal, and unlike anything we've seen on screen, that this one feels small and unimportant in comparison, as if they were holding back here because the best ideas were there.
VAGUE SPOILERS BEGIN NOW.
Far From Home wants to be about not everyone appearing to be how they are. In minor ways, this is done with about every character in the film. Flash (Tony Revolori, The Grand Budapest Hotel) loves Spidey but hates Peter. The science teacher believes in witches (ironic considering Thor called magic a science unknown to humans in Phase One). It's not a field trip, but a hijacked ruse. Is May and Happy's budding relationship on the same page? Is MJ in love with Peter, or just trying to figure out Spider-Man? In major ways, it's most obvious with the secret villain of the film, who appears to be one thing (not too unlike the Mandarin in Iron Man 3) but actually having bitter ties to Iron Man's past.
As a result, the beloved Tony Stark could fall under this theme, which would be an interesting thing for Peter, his protege, to tackle with. After all, Tony (at some unknown point in the canon) practically entrusted him with his mantle and legacy, but his failures over the past decade or so still color both. However, like with Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, it's a gray area more mentioned than seriously explored. Peter never has to deal with it and never has to see Tony any differently than he did when he was an "intern" in 2016 or the kid in a toy mask in 2010. And because Peter is just collateral in the villain's grudge against Tony, he doesn't feel like a personal threat like Michael Keaton's Vulture did in Homecoming, where everything in Peter's life came to a head because of him. There's nothing like "The Dad Talk" in Far From Home.
That said, the theme is represented in a big way with Nick Fury. It's just that that has minimal bearing on the film as a unit; more of a way to reinterpret a performance and set up future movies than have any major implications for Far From Home.
END OF SPOILERS.
If you enjoy the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you should see this film. If you will see anything Spider-Man, you should see this film. I don't think anyone should not see this film, despite my surprising ambivalence towards it. I would still give it a Roger Ebert thumbs up. My score would still be fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. I just was let down by it, though it is a good movie.
I'm looking forward to seeing Tom Holland in spandex again and seeing how the next Marvel saga shakes out. I wish those feelings were accompanied by the feeling I saw a great MCU movie and a great Spider-Man movie. Instead, it felt like business as usual, dwarfed by much stronger standalone stories.