If I weren’t such a dope about computers, I’d know how to create a shortcut so I could press one key and my computer would spit out “It’s too long and too explosion-y,” which could be said about almost every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
The latest to which that applies is “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” a charming, smartly humorous superhero movie with a scant premise: Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and his classmates are on a school trip to Europe, during which bad guys so colorless that they don’t even have actual villain monikers firebomb London, Venice, Berlin and most of the continent’s other top tourist destinations.
Along the way, Parker makes a new friend in the avuncular Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), and we see so many European hot spots that it’s almost like travel guru Rick Steves wrote the script.
“Far From Home” is much more connected to the rest of the MCU than previous “Spider-Man” movies. It picks up where “Avengers: Endgame” left off, and some of those folks, including Samuel L. Jackson’s permanently miffed Nick Fury, figure prominently in the action. Also, two closing-credits scenes establish where Marvel movies will be headed next.
None of that has much to do with the meat of the movie, a comedy in which Peter and pals interact almost as if they’re in a latter-day John Hughes film.
Holland, in particular, is terrific in scenes that explore Peter’s dawning romance with M.J. (Zendaya, also distinctive). He has a Jimmy Stewart-like sincerity that I hope present-day Hollywood figures out how to use.
It is not a surprise to learn that writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers are TV sitcom veterans (Sommers wrote for the brilliant 2014-15 NBC sitcom “Marry Me”) because they’ve crafted dozens of great throwaway bits for all of the high school-age characters. Some of their jokes are strikingly pointed, such as an exchange when Peter tells M.J., “You look really pretty,” and she responds, “And therefore I have value?” She’s messing with him, which she immediately makes clear, but she’s also clarifying who she is.
Humor enlivens the action scenes, too, but director Jon Watts (who also directed 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming”) sometimes has difficulty establishing the tone of “Far From Home.” Possibly because he’d rather be making the rom-com that the movie often seems to wish it were? In a climactic encounter at the Tower of London, for instance, the zingers leach the tension out of what’s meant to be a suspenseful scene.
The movie has many appealing elements. Gyllenhaal’s witty, low-key performance brings an important dimension to the movie. As a fellow superhero, he gets what Peter is going through and functions as a kind of with-great-powers-comes-great-responsibility sounding board for him. Prague looks amazing. And Peter’s “I didn’t think I was going to have to save the world this summer” is a funny line and a smart reminder that being a teenager is hard, but being a teenager with superpowers would be almost impossible.
I like that “Far From Home” is trying something new and that its humor feels more real than the ironic cracks in most superhero movies. I just wish its good pieces all came together more satisfyingly.