Simultaneously humorous and heartfelt, entertaining and angsty, this action-packed sequel is an exploration of Peter Parker's grief and moving on in a post-Endgame world. The movie focuses on 16-year-old Peter's ongoing struggle to figure out his place as either the "friendly neighborhood Spider-Man" or the next Iron Man -- i.e., superhero on a global scale. Holland is arguably the most comics-faithful version of Spidey, an awkward Queens teen who's often unsure of himself. Still coming to grips with the death of Tony Stark, the dissolution of the Avengers, and the new normal in which some of his former peers are five years older while he's still the same age, Peter craves normalcy and is more concerned with his growing feelings for MJ than answering a phone call from the intimidating Fury. Director Jon Watts, working from a script by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, creates a teen school-trip comedy (with veteran comedians J.B. Smoove and Martin Starr playing the teens' science teacher chaperones) as the framing story for a much higher-concept superhero tale. Gyllenhaal is perfectly cast as Beck/Mysterio, a kind but enigmatic visitor from a parallel universe who seemingly instantly fills a much-needed mentor role in Peter's life.
Some of the battle scenes may be too dizzying and video game-like for some viewers, although that could appeal to younger audiences. The fight sequences are exciting, but what works best in this installment are the characterizations, the teen flick aspects, and the chemistry between Holland and Zendaya. There's a little too much of Favreau's Happy here; really, it's Peter and the other teens -- especially Ned and MJ -- who make this series lovable. Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice, and Remy Hii all stand out in their supporting roles (as Peter's frenemy, Ned's girlfriend, and Peter's rival for MJ's attention, respectively). Let's hope the next film moves completely on from referencing Stark and the original Avengers and allows Spider-Man to take the real lead with those in the know about his identity.