But the film clears that bar seemingly without effort. It’s an out-and-out triumph, an adrenaline blast of pure action and emotion that lives up to its predecessors and ably forwards the MCU story in memorable and even touching ways.
Far From Home — which Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has confirmed is the final film of the MCU’s “Phase Three,” an arc that started with Civil War in 2016 — takes up the story where Endgame left off, both addressing some of its story concerns and processing some of its big emotions. Tony Stark’s death is being felt worldwide, as spontaneous memorials spring up in the form of everything from stylized murals and urban shrines to cheesy YouTube “in memoriam” videos like the one that opens the film. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has been particularly hard-hit by his mentor’s death and by the feeling that he’s expected not only to carry on without him, but to live up to his legacy and even to replace him in some way. Though the film doesn’t heavily underline the point, he’s clearly processing a fair bit of trauma over what he went through in the Avengers movies. He’s ready to take a break from superhero life and be a teenager again for a little while.
But he’s walking back into a world that’s been radically changed by Thanos’ universe-dividing snap back in Avengers: Infinity War. Endgame restored the people Thanos snapped out of existence, but the world had to adapt to their abrupt reappearance after five years. Far From Home deals with the ramifications only in the briefest and most comedic way, but it’s clearly a backdrop for the world Peter reenters where some of the people in his high school have aged five years, while others are exactly as they were before “The Blip,” as the gap is now called. Fortunately for Peter, apparently, all of his nearest and dearest — including his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), his best bud Ned (Jacob Batalon), and his crush MJ (Zendaya) — were blipped away and are effectively unchanged since Homecoming. He has the chance to pick up where he left off, especially when his science class heads out on a European field trip where he hopes he’ll be able to spend personal time with MJ.
Anyone familiar with Spider-Man’s character gallery will have some idea of where this all goes, but they’ll have a harder time anticipating the sheer verve of the playful, thrilling way it plays out. Writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (who previously teamed on Community, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and The Lego Batman Movie) draw directly on some ideas they brought out in Homecoming, particularly that Tony Stark, while a hero to the world, is still a flat-out villain in other people’s eyes. They draw cleverly on past MCU movies to build up their backstory in ways designed to have MCU fans roaring with recognition and open delight.