Words like "goodbye," "ending" and "closure" are merely notional in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where it seems like just yesterday we were bidding a damp-eyed adieu to some of the MCU's most beloved characters. Just in time to reassure bereft fans comes "Spider-Man: Far From Home," which might be the sweetest Iron Man movie the metal-sheathed icon never starred in.
As "Far From Home" opens, the late Tony Stark is still being mourned at the Queens high school where Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is preparing for an upcoming summer trip to Europe with his science-geek friends. In a hilariously smarmy video set to Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," Iron Man and his fellow Avengers are given a soaring send-off, along with a helpful primer on the "blip" that eradicated half the world's population and the superheroics that brought them all back in the past two "Avengers" movies. Now it looks like Parker's alter ego, Spider-Man, will take on the savior-of-the-free-world mantle, just as his mentor intended. But Peter has other plans, which center on MJ (Zendaya), an unrequited crush and a dramatic admission of his feelings atop the Eiffel Tower.
Both plotlines – Peter accepting the adult responsibilities that Tony prepared him for and finally getting on MJ's vibe – unfold and intersect with chipper efficiency in "Far From Home," which thankfully continues in the same amiable high school comedy vein as 2017's "Spider-Man: Homecoming." As in that film, Holland, Zendaya and Jacob Batalon (as Peter's best friend, Ned) convincingly convey adolescent awkwardness, despite the fact that they're all in their 20s.
The best parts of "Far From Home" aren't the action sequences, which by now can't help but feel rote and metronomically explosive, but the teasing banter and goofy peer-group dynamics that are injected with life-or-death stakes thanks to Peter's still-kinda-secret identity: One of the funniest moments in the movie features the reluctant hero accidentally ordering a drone strike on a romantic rival, thanks to a pair of sunglasses left to him by Tony, enhanced with a computerized tactical support program called EDITH.
That acronym stands for "Even Dead I'm The Hero," which easily could have been the subtitle of the movie. Sure, Jake Gyllenhaal shows up as a cool, cape-wearing strongman who shoots potent green something-or-others out of his hands and shows a brotherly interest in Peter. But, like the post-blip world it takes place in, "Far From Home" is still in Tony's thrall, paying homage to the fallen industrialist in everything from that opening montage to bits of background graffiti and near-constant invocation on the part of Peter, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Tony's former right-hand man Happy (Jon Favreau), who still has a thing for Peter's impossibly hot Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).
Tony even figures in the Big Reveal of "Far From Home," in which nothing is as it seems: Peter's whirlwind tour through Venice, Prague, Berlin and London is made all the more dizzying when he falls into a looking-glass world that ends up in a literal hall of mirrors. (That's one of the more impressively designed sequences among otherwise forgettable special effects.)
There are more than a few caustic nods to real-life politics when characters scoff that these days, people will believe anything, and "Far From Home" ends with the usual fantasia of carnage, mayhem and miraculously bloodless destruction. But big-M messages and spectacle aren't the point in a series that, two movies in, has already distinguished itself in being endearingly sincere, playful and self-effacing. Viewers who stay for the end-credits will see that Peter's escapades are far from over: Maybe by the next installment, he'll be ready to swoop, sail and spin into action all on his own, and Tony can finally rest in peace.