Jake Gyllenhaal has a strange look in his eyes for the first half hour — “I was nominated for a Oscar,” they say, “I used to do low budget quirky cult hits.” He’s a superhero from a parallel dimension, here to do battle with four Elementals that want to destroy this Earth as they destroy his. And it just so happens Water hits Venice when Peter Parker is on his school trip.
I may have missed a few Avengers films since Spider-Man: Homecoming (Jon Watts, 2017), which I mostly liked and is one of the better examples of the genre (your mileage will vary). I have no idea what the blip stuff was, as explained in the presumably unBeckettian Endgame. So Samuel L. Jackson negotiated a new contract, but Robert Downey Jr didn’t, and so it’s Nick Fury who is trying to employ Parker to fight evil in the absence of Avengers who are old enough to drink.
So we are led to a series of set pieces in photogenic European locations and a curiously deserted Tower of London (yes, there’s a major incident taking place, but how did they get in?). The tick-all-diversity-boxes-bar-disability teens work their way through a John Hughes B-plot as Ned gains a girlfriend and Parker falls for M.J., Liz presumably being off the project. On the other hand, Nick Fury aside, pretty well all the heroes and villains are white men, even down to one of the comic relief school teachers (the other being African American, but still male). M.J. is clearly the smartest character in the room and Ned’s girlfriend Betty Brant has her moments, just not enough. Aunt May is left in New Jersey.
The plot is left with a problem in that it pulls the same trick too many times — the initial set up isn’t as it seems and then the wider set up has more to it than meets the eye, for reasons that presumably have as much to do with a new set of films than satisfying us with this one. The two guys behind me enjoyed all the in-jokes, I meanwhile was trying to work out why Spider-Man was vulnerable sometimes and not others. And wondering if there was really a da Vinci museum in Venice (yes there is, it turns out).
I wasn’t entirely sure we needed a new Spider-Man movie. We got a sequel whether we wanted one or not. Spider-Man: Home and Away is presumably two years away.