After all the mass destruction and cosmic resurrection in Avengers: Endgame, it’s about time that the characters in a Marvel blockbuster had a holiday – and that’s what they get in Spider-Man: Far From Home. It’s a holiday for the viewer, too. For a change, we aren’t asked to worry about the fate of the universe; we’re invited to tag along with the 16-year-old Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and his schoolmates as they head off on a tour of Europe. Souvenirs, not supervillains, are his main concern.

Of course, he has baddies to fight and innocent bystanders to save, but this is the lightest and silliest of Marvel’s films, which is what makes it so enjoyable, but also, ultimately, what makes it so forgettable. Always choosing jokes over logic, it’s a fast-paced, scrappy teen comedy in which hardly anything seems to matter. Even the obliteration and resurrection of half the planet’s population in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame is played for laughs and then forgotten, and the same goes for everything else. Drone strike on a school bus? Oops! A friend figuring out your secret identity. Never mind!

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At the beginning, Peter’s aunt May (Marisa Tomei) slips his Spider-Man costume into his suitcase without telling him, so it is spotted by an Italian customs official. The resulting awkwardness is quite funny, but it is an early indication that nothing will really be at stake in this feel-good mix of farce, hormonal soap opera, and Austin Powers-style espionage-thriller parody. If Peter’s aunt isn’t bothered by the prospect of his being outed as Spider-Man, then the viewer can’t care, either.

Now that Tony Stark is no longer around, maybe Mysterio is the hero that the Earth needs – and the father figure that Peter needs

It’s also slightly cruel of May to put his costume in the case, because her nephew has just told her that he wants a break from superheroing. He is desperate to hang out with his nerdy buddy Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon), to declare his romantic feelings for his sardonic buddy MJ (Zendaya), and to visit some museums with his bungling teachers (JB Smoove and Martin Starr), so you might think his aunt would have let him relax. Still, it turns out that she knew what she was doing. No sooner has Peter checked into his hotel in Venice than he is abducted by two Shield agents, the ever-interfering Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and his sidekick Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), who inform him that he has to “step up” and take on the late Iron Man’s world-saving duties. His first task is to go into battle against the Elementals, four rampaging alien giants made of air, earth, water and fire. One of these dull monsters is due to pop up in Venice – and Prague and London are next on their itinerary – so Peter has to balance sightseeing with alien-bashing.

Strangely, it doesn’t occur to anyone to use a fire hose on the fire Elemental or liquid nitrogen on the water Elemental, both of which would seem to be a better bet than the sticky string Spider-Man shoots from his wrists. But Peter does get some help from Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a noble super-soldier from another dimension who sports the beard which is de rigueur for male Marvel characters, plus battle armour he could have borrowed from Thor and a goldfish-bowl helmet he could have borrowed from Buzz Lightyear. Now that Tony Stark is no longer around, maybe Mysterio is the hero that the Earth needs – and the father figure that Peter needs.

There have been four actors playing Spider-Man in the last 20 years. Holland may well be the best of the lot

Or maybe not. I’ll try to obey the latest Marvel hashtag, #dontspoilspidey, but anyone who has read a Spider-Man comic will know that, where Mysterio is concerned, things are not always what they appear. The film’s recurring theme is illusion: people are disguised, information is misleading and disasters are staged using smoke and mirrors. The film’s director, Jon Watts, and his screenwriters, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, are commenting on the rise of deception in the post-truth era, as well as the inherent fakery in movie-making itself, but they are playing a dangerous game. One problem with superhero blockbusters is that their climactic fight scenes tend to replace physical performers and actual locations with CGI, thus distancing the viewer from the action. However in Spider-Man: Far From Home, we are repeatedly reminded that these scenes are phoney, so the distance is greater still. I’ve never been more aware, while watching a superhero movie, that each flurry of explosions and collapsing buildings has been cooked up on a computer. 

What makes it even trickier to suspend your disbelief is that this is the eighth Spider-Man film in the last 20 years. And if you count Jake Johnson in Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, those films have had four different actors starring as Peter Parker. Holland may well be the best of the lot. His Peter is a lovably awkward but well-meaning adolescent. But it’s hard to grow too fond of him when so many moments in his Spider-Man series are reminiscent of moments in previous iterations of the character. Between the glut of Spidey films, and this one’s knockabout tone and plot revolving around conjuring tricks, the web connecting Peter Parker to our emotions is stretched to breaking point.

★★★☆☆ 

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