The history of Spider-Man is chock-full of adaptations. Since the wall-crawler first appeared in the pages of the comic Amazing Fantasy in 1962, there have been countless versions of the character on big and small screens—including a vast array of animated series, a live-action TV show, an Oscar-winning animated movie, and the most expensive Broadway musical in history. Live-action films have been coming out steadily since 2002, including three starring Tobey Maguire, two with Andrew Garfield, and most recently, Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), featuring Tom Holland. Its dazzling sequel, Spider-Man: Far from Home, hits theaters on July 2.
Far from Home is, amazingly, the 23rd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here, the filmmakers—Homecoming director Jon Watts and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers—not only assume that you’ve seen the last Spider-Man film, they also figure you’ve seen Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, at the very least. And you definitely don’t need to read any Spider-Man comics.
Still, those fans shouldn’t feel ignored. Marvel did release a new edition of a 1,000-page Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus earlier this week, which collects the web-spinner’s earliest tales. And fans of those stories will appreciate the fact that Spidey is wearing a regular costume again in Far from Home; the past few films have leaned heavily on a technologically enhanced spider-suit designed by Tony Stark, with all the Iron Man-ish bells and whistles that entailed. Here, it’s mostly just Peter Parker and his web-shooters as he fights various enemies during a high-school trip to the great cities of Europe. (Will London Bridge be falling down? No spoilers here—but, as one character points out, it’s actually called Tower Bridge.) It’s refreshing to see Spider-Man be Spider-Man again, and not just Iron Man Jr.
Another welcome throwback for comics fans is the inclusion of the character Mysterio, with his ridiculous, baroque costume from 1964’s The Amazing Spider-Man #13 fully intact—spherical helmet and all. He’s played enthusiastically by Jake Gyllenhaal, who brings a surprising amount of charm to this mainstay of old-school Marvel tales. Those who are familiar with the comics’ version of Mysterio—a disgruntled special-effects whiz who turns to a life of crime—get a slightly different take on the character in Far from Home, but they certainly won’t be disappointed. Another gift to aficionados of Spidey’s earliest days comes at the very end, in a mid-credits reveal that updates another classic character in a sharp and entertaining way.
All that said, this movie is no exercise in nostalgia. First and foremost, it’s a fast-paced action thriller that never lets up, and it’s an awful lot of fun. There’s no small amount of comic relief, as well, mostly provided by Peter’s fellow high schoolers MJ (Zendaya), Ned (Jacob Batalon), and Betty (Angourie Rice). Holland also does a fine job of balancing Peter’s naïveté and heroism. The lesson that Peter eventually learns will be familiar to fans old and new—with great power comes great responsibility—but I didn’t hear anyone complaining at the screening I attended last night. Because the movie does everything a good adaptation should: It respects old fans while doing its best to bring in brand-new ones. It’s a very neat trick—one that even Mysterio would have a tough time pulling off.
David Rapp is the senior Indie editor.