It’s mildly disorienting to go from watching Euphoria to Spider-Man: Far From Home. The teens in Euphoria attend school in today’s America, and are about the same age as those in Spider-Man, but they may as well inhabit parallel universes. On the HBO show, they’re cutting themselves and doing fentanyl and listening to Migos. In the Marvel movie, they’re fretting about holding hands and the soundtrack is the Go-Go’s and Whitney Houston.
The reason Euphoria even occurred to me is that Zendaya, who plays MJ, the human equivalent of a shrug, in the Spider-Man films, headlines the HBO show (incredibly well, by the way). I’m not saying Far From Home need be anywhere as extreme as the series to qualify as a convincing snapshot of contemporary American youth, but couldn’t it at least match up to its milder ‘80s inspiration? The first solo Spider-Man film with Tom Holland, 2017’s Homecoming, was instantly recognisable as a John Hughes tale in the guise of a superhero movie. But even though that film and Far From Home have all the Hughes stereotypes (bouncy soundtrack, ridiculous authority figures), the emotional messiness of The Breakfast Club is missing, replaced by a vague, toothless nostalgia.
There have been six Spider-Man films since the initial Sam Raimi-Tobey Maguire team-up in 2002, so there isn’t a high school movie trope that’s gone entirely untouched. Writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers expand on an idea from the last film, where Peter Parker travels with the school’s academic decathlon team to Washington. In Far From Home, Peter heads to Europe with his class, mind set on asking MJ out. He’s dodging phone calls from Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), who’s short of Avengers – though there’s a new superhero on the scene, an earthling from another reality (you can read the mention of a “multiverse" as either a respectful nod to last year’s animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse or a futile attempt to borrow some of its swagger).
The new hero – christened “Mysterio" after a news report on Italian TV – turns out to be more than competent, and more than a little like Tony Stark to Peter’s mentor-bereft eyes. Jake Gyllenhaal makes the most of a faintly ridiculous role, channelling Tony’s wiseass authority and paternal attitude towards Peter, before – this surely can’t come as a surprise – cutting loose as a cackling villain. His reasons for doing so are explained in one loud, hurried scene, as if we won’t notice the explanation stinks if it scurries past.
The school trip portions are lightly likeable: Holland and Zendaya are charming apart and together. Marisa Tomei is a delight as Aunt May – think of how much fun she’d have been as Pepper Potts. Despite their innocuousness, the most successful passages in the film are the ones untethered from the superhero storyline; the worst are when Fury and Maria Hill are shoehorned in. Everything’s on a low simmer – energy, invention, emotional stakes. Even before a post-credits scene drives the point home, this film feels like the MCU in vacation mode.