How "Spider-Man: Far from Home" Turns a Campy Comic Book Rogue Into a Terrifying Modern 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.
Certainly not lost in the excitement of 4th of July parties, World Cup soccer, and the continuing adventures of the Stranger Things misfits, the follow up to this year’s massive Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far from Home, was released this week and, it’s now safe to say, Endgame was NOT the end for Peter Parker or the MCU.
SPOILERS AHEAD if you have not seen Spider-Man: Far From Home.
If Avengers: Endgame can be seen as the triumphant conclusion to the Infinity Saga, Spider-Man: Far from Home had the unenviable task of serving as its denouement.
In doing so, this film had a LOT it needed to cover, especially in dealing with the consequences of the Thanos snap, Avengers time heist, and subsequent return of half of the universe (5 years later), while still allowing its youngest Avenger to find his way in the universe (not to mention adolescence) 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, however, everything changes from here.
At its core, Spider-Man: 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 stakes and emotions of adolescence is remarkable, as is Tom Holland’s performance, a big reason why we (like Tony Stark) have faith in the future in 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) comic book villain into the MCU in a profound and timely way.
Let’s talk about Mysterio!
It’s been widely understood that the MCU has had a villain problem. 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 rogue galleries of any comic book hero, with a lineup that includes:
The Green Goblin
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 seemingly 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 not enough to electrify Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (yes, I recognize that’s open for debate, and I’m not entirely sure that film was on his shoulders).
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, ridiculous origin stories, and even more monologuing than professional wrestlers. Thank you, Syndrome, for giving us the term “monologuing" in The Incredibles.
The bottom line is, it takes an enormous 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, Jon Watts, Kevin Feige, and Amy Pascal have found the right formula for doing just that:
1. Ground the villain’s origin in known events from in the MCU,
2. Focus the villain’s motivation on personal gain over global destruction,
3. Find a GREAT actor!
Both MCU Spider-Man 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.
In the comics, Quentin Beck was a master of illusions and special effects wizard in Hollywood, before turning his talents from movie-making to crime.
Of all of Spidey's foes, Mysterio was also a nightmare for Peter Parker 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 shockingly faithful to the original comic book design, fishbowl helmet, purple cape, and all.
From the trailers, we also learned that Mysterio claimed to be from another universe, seemingly “confirming” post-Endgame fan theories about the introduction of an MCU multiverse.
Of course, we now know that Sony 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.
In reality, Quentin Beck is a genius, but a disillusioned and volatile genius, not an interdimensional hero. And instead of being a special effects wizard from the movie industry, Beck is made a former employee of Stark Industries for the MCU. 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, it’s revealed 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 left Stark Industries, taking other disgruntled scientists and lab techs with him.
Led by their combined brain power, resentment, and Beck’s charisma, the think tank of Stark Industries cast offs develop a drone powered, holographic projection system, which they use to fabricate elaborate global disasters, in order to trick Peter Parker into handing over Stark’s latest weapon system.
In doing so, they also fool the world into believing that the interdimensional Mysterio is the only hero capable enough to beat back this "Elemental" threat.
Quentin Beck is a master of manipulation, and perhaps one of the MCU’s most frightening adversaries.
He identifies humanity’s fears, introduces a crisis, then announces himself as the solution using modern media and technology to blur the lines between reality and fantasy.
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) ways.
Convince humanity there’s a crisis big enough that warrants them surrendering their freedom for the “greater good” of society. In the end, however, the only one who wins is the one who has effectively consolidated power for personal gain.
The MCU’s iteration of Mysterio, therein, is a terrifying villain, but not because he’s as maniacal or malicious as Thanos or Hela. He’s a villain that should be recognizable because he’s a broken mirror exposing our inability to discern fact from the meta world of fiction, fantasy, and illusion.
Beck 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. Today, those with the most power and influence are the loudest, most bombastic, or the ones who can gin up the most fear and hysteria.
Media influencers and tech overloads have become more powerful and "influential" than actual leaders, without having to face any of the same consequences for their ideas.
People today seek show over substance and celebrity over genuine heroism. They are more than willing to get caught up in the spectacle or be led my fear and emotion rather than ground themselves in the actual truth or reality.
Outpaced and outmatched, Beck turned his holographic technology into a platform for launching his own brand of "superhero." And when there wasn’t a global level catastrophe readily available, he created one.
Never let a good crisis go to waste. Isn't that the saying?
Recent events from the MCU set the perfect stage a new heroic entrance so long as the fear was real and the spotlight was ready to shine. Beck makes sure both were.
In a story where the hero attempts to figure out his own place in a post-Endgame world, 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 lies.
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 us and the one’s we choose to give power to in hopes that they will “protect” and “defend” us.
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 much bigger war. He does, after all, unmask Peter Parker to the world and codifies the lie that Spider-Man has been the villain all along.
Mysterio should be regarded as one of the better villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He is as much a trickster stirring mischief and mayhem as 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.
Few villains ever announce themselves as outright evil. 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 today, 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 Peter Parker and Stark tech with another technical slight of hand.
We’ll have to wait and see. Unfortunately, when it comes to Mysterio, seeing isn’t always believing.
That’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed Spider-Man: Far from Home and my thoughts on Mysterio. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. If you enjoyed this post, feel free to hit the heart icon below, pass it along, or subscribe for news and updates.
And check back in the coming weeks for my story analysis of the original Ironman, the story that started it all.
Thanks again. Now get back to writing!