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SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME: 3 ½ STARS. “best when it zeroes in on the small stuff.”

“Spider-Man: Far From Home,” the twenty-third installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is so expansive it’s not only a sequel to “Spider-Man: Homecoming” but to the year’s biggest blockbuster “Avengers: Endgame.”

Set shortly after the events of “Endgame” the new movie sees Peter Parker aka Spider-Man (Tom Holland) on a school trip to Europe with his classmates. Still keenly feeling the loss of his mentor Tony Stark he is recruited by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., to assist Quentin Beck, also known as Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), in a war against a global threat called the Elementals. They are creatures formed from the primary elements, air, water, fire and earth, myths turned real and deadly. Mysterio is an expert on the extradimensional humanoids but can Peter really trust his new cohort? “Mr. Fury this all seems like big time, huge superhero kind of stuff,” says Peter, “and I’m just the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, sir.” “Bitch please,” Fury snarls, “you’ve been to space.” And so the adventure to (once again) save the world begins.

“Spider-Man: Far From Home” has the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am moments we expect from bigtime superhero action films but it is at its best when it zeroes in on the small stuff, an awkward glance between Peter and his crush MJ (Zendaya), or the comic rapport of Peter and best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), or assistant Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) watching wistfully as Spider-Man steps into Tony Stark’s shoes. These moments come amid the cataclysmic fireworks, grounding the movie in some much-needed humanity. Peter Parker may have gone to outer space but he’s still a gawky teen who says things like, “It’s really nice to have someone to talk to about superhero stuff,” to Mysterio. If this movie had been made in 1957 it might have been called, “I Was a Teenage Superhero.”

It’s these interactions, the character drama, that make the “Spider-Man” movies the most likable of the superhero genre; they feel authentic even though they’re set in an unreal world where the name Mysterio isn’t just reserved for nightclub magicians.

(VERY MILD SPOILER) But this isn’t a high school drama, it’s a superhero flick so it plays around with ideas of perception in very flamboyant ways. “People want to believe,” says Mysterio, “and nowadays they’ll believe anything.” It fits in nicely with the on-going Avengers storyline but also feels like a sly and timely commentary on manipulation of the masses.

Add to that an eye-popping, up-close-and-personal look at Mysterio’s surreal powers, big dollops of humor and Gyllenhaal having fun hamming it up and you’re left with a movie that feels like part of the bigger Marvel universe but, somehow, retains its own character.

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