Spider-Man: Far from Home carries the unfortunate burden of following up what may soon be the highest-grossing movie ever, one that was warmly regarded by audiences and critics alike. It’s also the official final chapter of Phase Three of the MCU’s extended superhero soap opera, one that ended tidily a few months ago. In reality – and that’s something often called into question here – Far from Home is more like an addendum to the post-apocalyptic bombast of Avengers: Endgame, a wisp of a coda, a deep breath before Phase Four soars in to suck all of our dollars like Galactus wielding a world-destroying Dyson vacuum.

Now that Marvel has been given creative control over Spider-Man’s cinematic legacy, the studio has cleverly relegated its most iconic comic-book hero to the B-list. And this Peter Parker (the near-perfect Tom Holland) knows it. He can never match the leadership of a Captain America, the mystical supremacy of a Doctor Strange or the might of a Thor, a Hulk or the new-ish powerhouse Captain Marvel. Most of all, he can’t approach the absolute brilliance of his recently fallen mentor Tony Stark.

He’s lesser. Just a kid. Your friendly neighborhood do-gooder. In his mind, adjectives like “amazing” and “sensational” don’t describe his abilities. Peter isn’t interested in saving the world. He’s reckoning with more formidable tasks, like traveling through Europe on a class trip and finally telling MJ (the effortlessly sardonic Zendaya) that he really, really likes her.

Spider-Man: Far from Home picks up shortly after the events of Endgame. Half of Earth’s human population has reappeared after Thanos’ snap was reversed, an event now known as the Blip. Those who were once reduced to dust, five years earlier, have returned like unaged Rip Van Winkles. Peter Parker should be in his early twenties, but instead finds himself stuck in a teenaged rut and confronted by a new social adversary (Remy Hill), who has blossomed in the interim, a hunk also after MJ’s heart.

Early into Far from Home, Peter is actively avoiding Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), who are eager to enlist him in another act of derring-do, a fate that eventually catches up with our reluctant hero (and his unlucky classmates) in Venice, then Prague and finally in London. While sightseeing with his friends, a group of monsters known as the Elementals – giant creatures that anthropomorphize earth, air, water and fire – are busy terrorizing the globe.

Alas, there’s no rest for the weary. Fortunately for Peter, a new hero swoops in to pick up the slack: Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), the dome-headed savior who eventually adopts the name Mysterio. He hails from an alternate Earth that was once obliterated (along with his family) by the Elementals. Beck has traveled the multiverse, hoping to circumvent a similar disaster on our own planet. It is best to reveal nothing more about the film’s twists and turns. But, if you’re already familiar with Mysterio, a long-running Marvel character, your Spidey-sense should now be buzzing like a massage chair on the fritz.

Much like Spider-Man: Homecoming, this sequel splits its runtime between teen comedy and big action set-pieces. The actual stakes are higher here, even if truth and fiction begin to blur soon into the film’s exceptional second half. Director Jon Watts, and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, nimbly balance irreverent humor and psychological mind-fuckery. Though Spider-Man: Far from Home is lightweight compared to the overwhelming existential heft of Endgame, its forebears are not merely other Marvel movies, but Gaslight (which gave us a useful new term) and The Truman Show (“Cue the sun,” indeed). This summer entertainment dramatizes an unnerving truth: Lies and manipulations often feel realer than reality. On the other hand, fun this joyous can’t be faked.

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