MOVIE REVIEW: Spider-Man lost in a world without Iron Man
SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
TWO AND A HALF STARS
Director: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya
Running time: 129 minutes
Verdict: A P-plated action fantasy
It's not just Peter Parker who's lost without Iron Man.
The departure of Robert Downey's wisecracking superhero, who gave birth to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, left a huge vacuum.
And the hotly anticipated first film since Avengers: Endgame flounders desperately in the billionaire playboy's wake.
In place of the wickedly charismatic and eminently quotable genius inventor … Spider-Man: Far From Home gives us an exceptionally awkward and desperately insecure 50s throwback.
To be fair, Tom Holland's tortured teenage web-slinger is the first to acknowledge his manifest inadequacy when it comes to filling Tony Stark's shoes.
In his second outing as lead superhero (after the lightly handled 2017 Homecoming) Spidey spends most of his time trying to duck the responsibilities implied by the suit.
But the filmmakers do such a convincing job of portraying Parker as an ordinary high school student, the character and his story arc feel correspondingly pedestrian and flat.
Watching Parker's bumbling, excessively drawn-out courtship of MJ (Zendaya) on a school science trip to Europe, it's hard to know who the intended audience for this film might be.
The relationship is too self-conscious and naive to work as a contemporary teen romance and it's hard to imagine hardcore Marvel fans having much patience with the excruciating and rather humourless exchanges.
There's a point, early on, in Far From Home, when Spidey, who just wants to spend his summer vacation as a normal kid, asks Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) why none of the other Avengers are available to fight the giant Elementals that represent the latest threat to the planet.
The obvious explanation would be that they belong to a different studio (Sony Pictures has the Spider-Man licence, which it now shares with Marvel and Disney).
But one also gets the sense that the real action is somewhere else; that larger-than-life characters such as the Guardians, Doctor Strange, Thor, and The Hulk are off fighting more important and exciting battles.
In Far From Home, Spidey is struggling to qualify for his P-plates.
In fact, the film only really kicks into gear about two-thirds the way through - when the boy-man is abruptly catapulted into an altered reality.
This sequence - along with the climactic showdown - goes close to justifying the price of admission to the film.
Far From Home also introduces a new super character in the form of Jake Gyllenhaal's space gladiator Mysterio.
And there are some interesting, if underdeveloped thematic strands involving fake news, technological manipulation, and the everyday repercussions of Endgame's dramatic reversal of Thanos's Infinity Wars finger-click - now described as "The Blip".
But the overarching impression left by Far From Home is that the franchise, like its central character, is grappling with a serious case of performance anxiety and identity confusion.
Is there any juice left in the MCU after Endgame? At this point, the jury is still out.