"Spider-Man: Far from Home" Turns a Campy Comic Book Rogue Into a Timely and Terrifying Villain
The sparkle of summer fireworks lit up the sky earlier this month, and when it comes to the always exciting world of moviegoing, the spectacle is just getting started.
Yes, we’ve had a few Milk Duds already, (X-Men: Dark Phoenix and MIB: International to name a few) but we’ve also been gifted a few surprising treats in Toy Story 4, Rocketman, and the long-awaited third season of Stranger Things. And we still have The Lion King, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and the second installment of IT on the way.
Certainly not lost in the excitement of 4th of July parties, World Cup soccer, and the continuing adventures of the Stranger Things misfits, Marvel Studios’ released the follow up to this year’s Avengers: Endgame and the heralded conclusion to the Infinity saga, Spider-Man: Far from Home.
SPOILER ALERT: even though the movie has been out for a week and I intentionally waited as long as I could before sharing my takeaways, if you haven’t seen it already and don’t want anything spoiled, turn away and come back after you’ve seen Spider-Man: Far from Home. You’ve been warned!
I want to clarify something to start. This is not going to be a traditional movie review. If you haven’t figured it out already, this blog is written to writers as much as it is those who just appreciate good storytelling. Many of my ideas are focused on helping authors, screenwriters, and playwrights hone their craft, but I also try and discuss a story’s greater impact on society and pop culture. And when we talk about pop culture, it’s impossible to deny the impact of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
More than just a financial juggernaut, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become one of the biggest film franchises of all time, and it’s not by accident.
Yes, an ensemble of existing and iconic characters does help, but even great characters can be mired in bad storytelling and mismanaged into miserable films. We’ve seen this before.
Thankfully Ironman and Marvel Studios changed the game in 2008, and they’ve managed to maintain and exceed even their own expectations for the most part ever since.
Even though Avengers: Endgame was a spectacular conclusion to the Infinity Saga, Spider-Man: Far from Home had the unenviable task of serving as its denouement.
In short, Spider-Man: Far from Home does exactly what it should following the events of Avengers: Endgame.
It deals with the consequences of the Thanos snap and subsequent return of half of the universe (5 years later), while allowing its youngest Avenger to find his way without his departed mentor, Tony Stark, to guide him.
If Tony Stark and Peter Parker are the bookends of the Infinity saga, Spider-Man: Far from Home should be seen as the semi-colon to the next phase in the MCU.
And as we’re reminded in the mid-credits sequence of Far from Home, everything changes from here.
At its core, Far from Home balances Spider-Man’s cosmic battles with a teenage Peter Parker just trying to survive being a teenager. He’s fighting Elemental creatures in one scene and trying to position himself so he can sit next to the girl likes in another.
Director Jon Watt’s handling of the emotions of adolescence is remarkable, as is Tom Holland’s performance, a big reason why we (like Tony Stark) have some faith in the future of the MCU and the next generation of Avengers.
There is so much to love about Spider-Man: Far from Home, but where I really want to focus my attention is how Marvel Studios brought a classic (and campy) Spidey villain into the MCU and reimagined him for the modern era.
Let’s talk about Mysterio!
It’s been widely understood that the MCU has had a villain problem for quite some time. Not every big bad has reached Loki status and not every villain is as awful as Ironman 2’s Whiplash either.
There have been a few greats and a whole lot of mediocre facing off against the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and other heroes. Thankfully, both Spider-Man entries in the MCU have absolutely nailed their villains, giving us two of the best in the franchise.
Apart from the Caped Crusader (aka Batman), Spider-Man has one of the best rogues galleries of any comic book hero. Just look at his foe card:
Kraven the Hunter
The list of super freaks, mad scientists, and public menaces who’ve stepped up (and even united) to take on the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is endless, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to on screen success.
A serious miscast brought us Topher Grace as Eddie Brock, aka Venom, while an academy award-winning actor in Jamie Fox was still not enough to electrify Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Many of the Spider-Man’s villains are campy and cartoonish, and guess what, they’re supposed to be! They’re comic book villains. They’re allowed to have crazy costumes, insane origin stories, and even more monologuing than professional wrestlers.
Thank you Brad Bird for giving us the term “monologuing" in The Incredibles.
The bottom line is, it takes an enormous amount of vision to bring a Spider-man villain to the big screen and get it right. You must stay true to the essence of that character while somehow grounding him in the real world, not to mention the rest of the MCU.
Thankfully, in both Homecoming and Far from Home, the filmmakers found the right formula for doing just that:
1. Ground the villain’s origin in known events from in the MCU,
2. Focus their motivation on personal gain over global destruction,
3. Find a GREAT actor!
Both films followed this formula to ultimate success.
Michael Keaton was SENSATIONAL as Adrian Toomes, aka Vulture, and Jake Gyllenhaal, I can now say, is just as delightful as Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio.
I still remember when Jake Gyllenhaal’s name was floated as a potential replacement for Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man 2. That was 2004 by the way, four years before Ironman kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe!
Personally, I was thrilled to read that Jake had been as the new Spider-Man villain just because he’s such an incredible and often underrated talent in Hollywood. But Mysterio…? I know I wasn't the only one curious to see how Gyllenhaal and the Marvel team would adapt one of Spider-Man’s most campy villains.
In the comics, Quentin Beck was a master of illusions and special effects wizard in Hollywood before shifting his talents from movie-making to crime.
Of all of Spidey's foes, Mysterio was also a nightmare for Spidey because we never knew what was real and what was an illusion.
When the trailers for Spider-Man: Far from Home premiered, they gave us the first glimpses of Gyllenhaal’s Quentin Beck, which was visually pretty faithful to the original comic book design, fishbowl helmet, purple cape, and all.
In the trailers, Mysterio claims to be from another universe, seemingly “confirming” post-Endgame fan theories about the introduction of an MCU multiverse. I personally still believe this is a possibility for future storylines, however, I had a hard time buying this origin explanation from Mysterio.
Disney and Marvel Studios’ marketing for Spider-Man: Far from Home proved to be just as much an illusion as one of Mysterio’s master ploys. I still remember asking one of my friends the day the trailer dropped, “how crazy would it be if Mysterio is actually lying about being from an alternate universe (or multiverse) to take advantage of everyone’s fear and fan conspiracy theories following the snap?”
Well… as it turns out, I wasn’t that far off.
In the film, Quentin Beck is a genius, but a disillusioned and volatile genius at that. Instead of being a special effects wizard from the movie industry, the MCU made Beck a former employee of Stark Industries. And we’ve actually seen Beck’s technology before.
In Captain America: Civil War, Tony introduced an augmented reality system that allowed its user to hack the hippocampus of the brain in order to visualize lost memories and process past trauma. He called it Binary Augmented Retro-Framing, or BARF for short. In Far from Home, we learn that this advanced holographic technology was actually Quentin Beck’s magnum opus.
Enraged that Stark would take his life’s work and waste it on his own personal therapy, Beck leaves Stark Industries, taking other disgruntled scientists and lab techs with him.
With their combined brain power, bitterness, and Beck’s charisma, the think tank of Stark Industries cast offs develop a drone powered, holographic projection system, which they effectively use to fabricate elaborate global disasters, fooling the world into believing that Mysterio is the only hero that can beat back this "Elemental" threat.
Quentin Beck is a master of manipulation. He identifies humanity’s fears, introduces and escalates a situation that plays on them, then announces himself as the solution.
It’s a terrifying ploy that isn’t reserved for comic book villains anymore. It happens all the time in less extreme (but no less frightening) iterations of politics, mainstream journalism, and social media?
The MCU’s iteration of Mysterio is an absolutely terrifying villain, but not because he’s as maniacal or malicious as Thanos or Thor: Ragnarok's Hela. He’s a villain that should be recognizable because he’s a product of our world, our fears, and our inability to discern fact from fiction or what’s real from what’s merely an illusion.
He forces Peter to question everything about reality, even his friends and those he trusts; and he fools the world into thinking he’s the hero while making his enemy (Spider-Man) the villain in the public eye, all with just a few doctored images, keystrokes, and careful editing.
As a brilliant scientist, Beck became disillusioned with the world because the world no longer listened to smart people anymore.
Today, those with the most power and influence have become the wealthiest, most notorious, or the ones with the most followers on Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube.
Media influencers and Big Tech overloads have become more powerful and "influential" than actual leaders, without having to face the consequences for their ideas or influence.
People today seek show over substance and celebrity over genuine heroism. They are more than willing to get caught up in the spectacle of emotion rather than ground themselves in the wisdom of truth, fact, and reality.
Outpaced and outmatched, Beck turns his holographic technology into a platform for launching his own brand of "superhero." And when there isn't a global level catastrophe readily available, he creates one. Never let a good catastrophe go to waste. Isn't that the saying?
Recent events from the MCU set the perfect stage for a new heroic entrance so long as the fear was real and the spotlight was ready to shine. Beck makes sure both are.
If Mysterio isn’t a haunting reflection of our divided and disillusioned world, I don’t know what is.
In a story where the hero attempts to figure out his own purpose and identity, Mysterio is a villain who uses the smoke and mirrors of modern media and technology to fool the world into thinking he’s something he’s not. And who is impacted most by this deception?
Who are the ones snapping pictures, re-Tweeting, and selling Mysterio’s brand for him? The teenagers of Peter’s class trip and Peter Parker himself, who is unable to see through Beck’s illusions.
It’s appropriate that in a story where Peter has to decide what kind of hero he wants to be, Quentin Beck has the power to mask his less-than-noble intentions under the guise of heroism. Appearances are deceiving, and if there’s one resounding theme to Spider-Man: Far from Home, it’s that we probably all need to look a little closer at the fear that motivates our decisions and the one’s we give power to.
Beck ultimately loses his battle against Spider-Man in London, but like Civil War’s Helmut Zemo, he may have gotten the upper hand in a greater war.
He does, after all, unmask Peter Parker to the world and introduces the further lie that Spider-Man has been the villain all along. And yes, having JK Simmons return as J. Jonah Jameson to introduce this piece of fake news is applause worthy!
Mysterio should be regarded as one of the better villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Gyllenhaal brings such charisma to Quentin Beck that it’s easy to see why Peter is manipulated by Beck’s charm and affable nature presenting itself as a new mentor in Peter’s life. Once revealed, though, Mysterio becomes one of the most dangerous antagonists for our favorite webslinger.
Mysterio is as much a trickster stirring mischief and mayhem in the world as he is an outright villain. He is a terrifying reflection of our naivety and vulnerability because he is able to convince the world (for a time) that he’s actually the good guy.
When a villain can successfully turn society’s loyalty from hero to villain and shift their perspective from what is good to what is evil without them even knowing it, that is a level of deception and manipulation worth fearing.
Remember, few villains ever announce themselves as villains. They hide in the shadows and use smoke and mirrors to mask their true intentions. In Mysterio’s case, he’s just using the most powerful weapons of deception available, our modern media.
We can only hope Mysterio fooled us again by faking his own death because he’s too good of a villain to exit stage right after just one movie. It’s certainly not beyond the master illusionist to deceive SHIELD and Stark tech with another trick.
Perhaps with Vulture and Mysterio still in the mix, we might get to see an MCU version of the Sinister Six. I would personally lose my mind to see Peter Dinklage or Mark Hammil as Doctor Octopus leading a team up of Vulture (Michael Keaton) Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), Kraven the Hunter (Manu Bennet), Sandman (Rory McCann), and Electro (Domnhall Gleeson).
Mysterio was the perfect choice for the Spider-Man sequel, and Jake Gyllenhaal was a brilliant casting decision. Nicely done, Marvel. You really thought this one through and introduced a terrific, timely, and terrifying villain for where the world and MCU are right now. We only hope you have more in the tank because we’re ready for the new era of heroes and villains... real ones next.
That’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed Spider-Man: Far from Home and enjoyed my perspectives. As always, please like this post or subscribe for news, updates, and exclusive content.
And check back in the coming weeks for my story analysis of the original Ironman, the film that started it all.