PLOT Peter Parker’s field trip to Europe is interrupted by shape-shifting monsters.
CAST Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jake Gyllenhaal
RATED PG-13 (action violence)
BOTTOM LINE An entertaining segue into the post-Avengers era.
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” says Happy Hogan, the burly Marvel mascot played by Jon Favreau in "Spider-Man: Far From Home." He's quoting Shakespeare as a way of telling Peter Parker (Tom Holland) that in a post-Avengers world, he must step up and be the hero people need.
Not just people — Hollywood needs him, too.
With the original “Avengers” franchise at an end, Marvel is entering its next phase. Its fortunes now lie with new heroes played by new stars, like Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang, of “Ant-Man.” Tony Stark, the beating palladium heart of the Avengers played by Robert Downey Jr., once pinned his hopes on Spider-Man to carry the legacy. That means Marvel has, too.
Not to worry. Spidey already passed his first test with 2017's "Spider-Man: Homecoming," a charming, funny teen film that just happened to be about a superhero. (Think "Freaks and Geeks" with capes and tights.) Director and co-writer Jon Watts returns for the follow-up, which repeats the formula with surprising success. "Spider-Man: Far From Home" welcomes us back into the engaging teenage world of Peter Parker, just another high school kid struggling with encroaching adulthood, his feelings for a girl (MJ, played by an endearingly quirky Zendaya) and — oh, yes — his secret identity.
The film begins with Peter ducking the calls to adventure he receives from Avengers commander Nick Fury (the dependably arch Samuel L. Jackson). Peter has a big school trip to Italy coming up, and he'd rather spend it wooing MJ than fighting evil. Fate intervenes when Venice is attacked by a monstrous creature made of water — part of an army of Elementals — and Peter contains it with the help of a newly arrived superhero dubbed Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal, in purple cape and cloud-filled space-helmet).
Initially, it all feels like "Peter Parker's European Vacation," thinly plotted and a more than a little predictable. As Spidey and Mysterio bond — "Let's get a drink," the older man says, always music to a younger man's ears — the movie seems to be getting too earnest too soon. That's intentional. As we'll learn, in a terrifically staged scene that splits the story in two, Mysterio has more dimensions to his personality than Peter realizes.
Once again, Watts handles the action nicely, especially in the climactic battle on London's Tower Bridge, but it's the little moments that sustain us: the social jockeying, the awkward moments, the shy kisses. The young actors — Jacob Batalon as nerdy Ned, Tony Revolori as the obnoxious Flash Thompson, Angourie Rice as good-girl Betty — all feel like beloved regulars even after just two films. Not to mention Holland, who as a 23-year-old Brit is pretty convincing as a high-schooler from Queens.
"Spider-Man: Far From Home" may not break new ground or push any envelopes, but that's all right. It's a letter to fans that says: Everything will be just fine.