Tom Holland is the third actor to play a live-action Peter Parker and his superhero alter-ego Spider-Man, and yet, within a brief three-year window, he has been featured in the role five times — as many times as Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield combined. Spider-Man: Far From Home is Holland’s second solo outing since the character officially joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the stakes seem to be quite high.
The world of Far From Home is caught in a surreal transitional phase. As viewers know, Avengers: Infinity War set up the cataclysmic battle between Thanos (Josh Brolin), armed with the all-powerful Infinity Stones, and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes/the Guardians of the Galaxy, which left the good guys and the universe reeling as Thanos snapped half of all life on Earth out of existence. The Avengers: Endgame follow-up presented an Ocean’s Eleven-styled time traveling plan to gather the stones before Thanos did in order to reverse his snap and return everyone who had been lost.
It’s no surprise to say that the plan was successful and Thanos was eventually defeated, which is where Far From Home picks up. Spider-Man was among the characters snapped out of existence, but after the defeat of Thanos, he returns exactly as he was when the snap occurred. Those who survived the snap lived and aged during the five-year period between Infinity War and Endgame, setting up some startling changes for everyone. Even more traumatic for some, like Spider-Man, is dealing with the loss of heroic mentors. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) held Peter Parker in his arms as he turned to ash in Infinity War and Peter was by Stark’s side as he succumbed to his injuries at the conclusion of Endgame.
Stark, who recruited Spider-Man for his alternative Avengers team in Captain America: Civil War, became a father-figure/mentor to Peter. He created a high-tech suit for the neighborhood wallcrawler, provoked his curious mind and inspired him to take on greater responsibility as a hero.
What’s fascinating about this dynamic and the role of Spider-Man in the MCU is that all of this has happened without Peter receiving a proper origin story. There has been no re-enactment of the radioactive spider, the amazing first recognition of Peter’s powers, or his fledgling attempts at using them. Most importantly, we haven’t seen how Peter deals with the tragic loss of his Uncle Ben, a direct result of him not using his powers at a key early moment, which teaches him the lesson that “with great power comes great responsibility.”
Instead, we see Peter as a hapless teen with an ever-expanding number of people who are in on his secret. His best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) discovers Peter’s secret identity in Spider-Man: Homecoming and his aunt May (Marisa Tomei) finds out at the end of that movie. (Coincidentally, they are all victims of the Thanos snap.)
Peter, as I imagine him, is a far more complex character than Far From Home even allows him to be because of that initial — and unseen — tragedy. His guilt stems from the fact that his Uncle Ben was his first father figure, the man who he watched and longed to emulate. He then latched onto Stark and had to deal with returning from the dead along with losing yet another mentor.
Far From Home finds him running away from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and weirded out by the budding relationship between his aunt and Stark’s former assistant/bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). When he is pressed to partner with Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a mysterious hero from another dimension in the multiverse, Peter jumps at the chance to connect and lay down a portion of the burden he feels he’s not ready to shoulder: being the hero to replace Stark’s Iron Man.
What I enjoy about Holland, as both Peter and Spider-Man, is his youthful naïveté and the sometimes little-boy-lost look that crosses his face in moments of crisis. More than with Maguire and Garfield, we get to appreciate how this kid has been thrust into a situation far beyond his emotional and psychological comprehension. We also see that, as long as he doesn’t have much time to consider the epic level of tragedy he has had to face thus far, Peter (and the entire MCU) will be just fine. What more should we expect from our comic book heroes? (In theaters) (PG-13) Grade: A-