Most of the way, Jon Watts' sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming feels like an appropriately comic epilogue to the last two Avengers movies. It feels true to the spirit of Marvel Comics to treat with levity what so shortly before had seemed the ultimate disaster or tragedy. So here we get a lot of riffs on the the comical complications of the event now known as "the blip," the five-year absence of half the people of Earth, followed by their very abrupt return. It seems like almost everyone in Peter Parker's science school suffered this fate, so all the characters we met in the last film look no more than two years older now. Far From Home leans even more toward teen comedy than Homecoming did, using a class trip to Europe as its framework like a special episode of an old sitcom. Writers spend so much time developing the teen plot -- in short, Peter (Tom Holland) wants to declare his love for MJ (Zendaya) but best bud Ned (Jacob Batalon) wants them to be bachelor buddies in Europe until he almost accidentally falls for Betty Brant (Angourie Rice), while suddenly-grown Brad (Remy Hill) has his own eyes set on MJ and Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) remains a conceited jerk. On top of that you have two comical chaperones, and on the side there's a budding romance between longtime Stark henchman Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and Peter's frisky Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) There's so much of this early on, once we get past a prologue establishing the film's superhero credentials, that the standard supervillain plot feels secondary for quite a while. It doesn't help the supervillain plot that comics book already know what to expect from the beginning. The film, however, introduces Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), who acquires the nickname "Mysterio" from European TV, as a hero from an alternate universe who stands as Earth's only hope, in the apparently extended absence of most of the Avengers, against a quartet of rampaging elemental creatures appearing in different parts of the world. The only familiar hero Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) can lay hands on is Spidey, who finds this new crisis an unwelcome complication of his European plans but feels obliged to carry on Tony Stark's legacy. The comic book fans know Mysterio is a villain and are bound to grow impatient for the other shoe to drop as Beck befriends Peter and becomes a kind of new mentor for the young hero. The teen stuff is actually better written and definitely funnier, even if it makes Far From Home feel more like an Archie movie than a Marvel one.
The shoe finally drops once Peter is convinced that Beck is a worthier successor to Stark than he could be. He gives Beck the precious, all-powerful EDITH glasses bequeathed him by Stark, which is what Mysterio was after all along. Comics fans know the character as an illusionist and will have expected the elemental monsters to be fake. They are, in fact, a collective project, as Quentin Beck is but the leader of a clique of disgruntled former Stark Industries employees who have combined their talents to create illusions with teeth, holograms with drone air support adding up to genuine destructive power. The idea seems to be to make Mysterio Earth's greatest hero in a way that will allow all the clique to reap benefits in some corrupt way. To succeed, they need to kill the ever-suspicious Fury, but Beck is willing to let Peter live his life until Peter (and MJ) discover the truth about the elemental attacks. Now both of them, and Ned and Betty, are in mortal peril as well. While the idea of a gang of working stiffs, albeit in a higher pay grade, echoes the Vulture's gang in Homecoming, Far From Home raises the stakes from the previous film's admirably modest level as Mysterio orchestrates a mass-destruction attack on London, hoping to reinforce his heroic reputation by thwarting it after killing off anyone who may know too much. This adds up to an overlong, arguably incoherent climactic battle that has Spidey fighting drones, illusions and finally Beck himself while Happy Hogan and the primary school kids fight off drones in the Tower of London.
Gyllenhaal simply lacks the combo of charisma and gravitas Michael Keaton gave the vulture, and while the climactic fight is much busier than the climax of Homecoming it's not really an improvement. That Mysterio proves to be a one-and-done villain may also prove that neither the writers nor the actor were never very invested in the character, though he does get in a parting shot that will have ramifications for any further sequel. The weak villain condemns Far From Home to be an inferior film to Homecoming, unless you judge superhero films exclusively by the scale of action, but the ensemble of young actors remain likable enough to make their probable return still a welcome one. Holland is still a fine, easily-flustered Spidey and the other kids complement him well. Jackson is a more irascible Fury than we've seen in a while -- there's an explanation for this in the post-credits scene -- while Favreau, who goes back to the beginning of the MCU, makes a more plausible quasi-father figure for Peter. Overall, Far From Home isn't great, but thanks to most of the cast, it's hard to really dislike it.