What’s a boy to do when his heroes are gone? Captain America is old, Thor set off to be an Asgardian of the Galaxy, and Iron Man – or as Peter Parker knew him, Mister Stark – is dead, having restored balance to the universe after Thanos and the Snap that changed everything. Now that five years when half of all living beings disappeared has been reversed, and that time is now called the Blip. After 10 years and 22 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the obvious question is: What now?

After Avengers: Endgame swept the pieces off the table, now young Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is trying to work out how to live in a world that moved forward half a decade without him. Also, fortunately for him, it also stayed functionally static for most of the important people in his life, as Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), his perpetual crush Mary Jane (Zendaya), and best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) all blipped away too.

This being the MCU, don’t expect any deep existential questions about how ecosystems and economies would recover from suddenly doubling populations; instead, the great return is dealt with by a couple of great one-liners and some fun sight gags, plus an opening in memoriam reel that reminds us that, yes, this is high school heroics, and that Peter is still a 16-year-old who is completely out of his depth, and lacking his mentor.

“I see his face everywhere,” he tells Stark’s old consigliere “Happy” Hogan (Jon Favreau), and it’s the literal truth. There’s a sensation that the world is missing the founding Avenger, expressed in constant graffiti in foreground and background. So it’s no surprise that when a new superhero, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), arrives from another dimension and fights off a horde of Earth-threatening Elementals that Parker would see him as a someone new to look up to. Moreover, with an out-of-sorts Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) pushing Parker to be the next face of superherodom, Mysterio really seems like the adult in the room.

Now comic book fans will automatically go “But wasn’t Mysterio a villain?” and yes, that’s undeniably true. But so were the Skrulls, and Captain Marvel rewrote that bit of lore. What he is here is the kind adult in the room, the only one Peter can turn to who understands his dilemma. Holland nailed the young hero’s nervous enthusiasm perfectly in his initial outing in Captain America: Civil War, and really started to grasp the “friendly neighborhood” part of the character in his first solo outing, Spider-Man: Homecoming. Now he takes him on the road during a field trip to Europe, a pastiche of the “today Berlin, tomorrow Amsterdam” tourism that makes Europeans roll their eyes.

It’s here when he really gets to grips with what it is that makes Spidey tick: the neuroses, the awkward jokes, the need for a father figure, the endless enthusiasm counterbalanced by his imposter syndrome. That’s why Zendaya’s new take on MJ is so perfect – a grumpy goth conspiracy theorist who is just as awkward as he is.

Far From Home never forgets that it’s a teen comedy-drama-romance, just wrapped up in a superhero story. But oh, that wrapping. The big fight sequences are spectacular in the way that the series demands of itself, with the added bonus of some great architecture (if you’ve got tired of NYC getting the brunt of the beating, now see Prague in flames!). Yet the highlight is a psychobattle plucked straight from the warped brain of Spidey’s co-creator Steve Ditko, built on the basic idea that Peter’s most challenging opponent will always be himself. The significant theme here is that a world of endless possibilities is one that is open to conspiracy theories and paranoia, and it’s one that seems set to pick up momentum in the inevitable sequels.

Even though this is produced by Sony and not Disney, MCU producer Kevin Feige has referred toSpider-Man: Far From Home as the coda to the Infinity Stone saga that bound the franchise together. Think of it as the Scouring of the Shire, the vital section of The Lord of the Rings that Peter Jackson somehow forgot to include in his adaptations. It’s when the characters have to go back to their old lives after a conflict that has changed their world, and work out who they are now. That director Jon Watts manages to do that while keeping the style he developed forHomecoming, and writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers keep the same sense of bumbling humor they displayed in Ant-Man and the Wasp, all while setting up the inevitable next phase, and have fun at the same time? That makes it all worth the trip.

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME ( 3 ) Directed by Jon Watts • Starring Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Jacob Batalon • Rated PG-13 • 125 min. • At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Century Marina, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas, Lighthouse Cinemas
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