Audiences love a good European road trip. Remember when Clark Griswold and family yukked around the continent in “European Vacation”? Or how the song “Scotty Doesn’t Know” incited a “EuroTrip”?
Well, now we’ve got “National Lampoon’s Spider-Man.”
Actually it’s called “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” but that’s the vibe — teen mischief and trans-Atlantics — except instead of sex gags, we get fights with titan-esque monsters called elementals.
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However, while 2017’s “Homecoming” was the perfect blend of “Boy Meets World” and Spider-meets-Man, “Far From Home” only lands as a nice high school comedy. The action, villainy, twists and overall logic fall short of its awesome predecessor.
(Spoilers below for anybody who hasn’t seen “Avengers: Endgame” and kept it from beating “Avatar” at the box office.)
“Far From Home” is clearly meant as a palate cleanser after the heaviness of March’s “Avengers: Endgame.” We’re quickly told that Thanos’ eradication of half the universe’s population — and its eventual reversal — is now referred to as “The Blip.” Those who were “blipped” returned to the Earth at the same age, while everyone else is five years older. This information bears little on the plot, and turns a near-tragedy into a bit.
Tony Stark is still dead, and, like an accountant on April 16, his protege Peter Parker (Tom Holland) “needs a vacation” after all the end-of-the-world drama.
Conveniently, he’s going on a planned class trip to Europe. His crush MJ (Zendaya) will be there, along with his bestie Ned (Jacob Batalon). Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), who now knows Peter’s secret identity, packs his Spidey suit for the journey, in case some peril pops up.
And wouldn’t you know, it does. Repeatedly. First in the canals of Venice, where Peter encounters a water monster we’re told is an “Elemental.” The beast is valiantly fought off by a hero called Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), who coincidentally has been a supervillian in the Spider-Man comic books since 1964. The two work together with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, still saying “b—h please” a lot) to defeat the foes.
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Through all this, you can see director Jon Watts and the filmmakers struggling to replicate the magic of their first film. But its charm came not from an overabundance of jokes, but from turning Spidey into a school hallway hero whose biggest challenge was girls. Jetting off to Venice, Prague and London and busting up landmarks brings it more in line with the rest of the overly dense Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The other problem here is Gyllenhaal, who is not particularly heroic, or villainous, or interesting. He’s wimpy and around a lot. When Michael Keaton opened the door on prom night in “Homecoming,” it was a breathtaking, threatening, simple moment of pure shock. Nothing here comes even close.
That said, Holland is still far-and-away the best Marvel casting since Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. He throws himself into the role more than any of his more seasoned peers do, and manages to be always funny, likable and sympathetic — even in a so-so movie. Peter’s relationship with MJ has also deepened, and Zendaya sells her goth-itude with great humor. She’ll surely leave you more euphoric here than in “Euphoria.”
The end of “Far From Home” suggests that Spider-Man will likely be at the center of the next phase of the MCU. So, Mr. Watts, do heed the sage advice of Uncle Ben: With great power comes great responsibility … and, ideally, better plotlines.