spider-man far from home review

A Tech-Oriented Rogues Gallery

Anyone familiar with Spider-Man’s rogues gallery could have probably guessed the twist that was coming in Far from Home, vis-a-vis Mysterio being a villain. Less predictable was the precise nature of his villainy.

Just last year, the Oscar-winning animated film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse introduced us to, well, the Spider-Verse; and just last month, director Jon Watts seemingly confirmed that Far from Home would be introducing the multiverse, as well. This came on the heels of Nick Fury feeding us lines in trailers about the Snap tearing a hole in our dimension.

The trailers set up Mysterio as a refugee from an outside dimension. Given everything we had just seen with the Quantum Realm and branching timelines in Endgame — plus external factors like Peter’s five-movie MCU storyline and the box office success of Sony’s Venom — it wasn’t so outlandish to think that Mysterio might really be from an alternate reality, and moreover, that Peter Parker might wind up crossing over into that reality or some other like it in Far from Home.

Keep in mind, Sony’s fledgling live-action Spider-Verse doesn’t currently have a Spider-Man in it, just Venom. If there’s going to be a Venom/Spider-Man crossover, they’ll need to do some retconning or dimensional swapping.

In Far from Home, Mysterio’s true nature winds up being much more grounded than that of some reality-hopping Elemental fighter. This is in keeping with the previous M.O. of the MCU’s earthbound stories, which have been based more in science and technology. (Peter’s school is actually named the Midtown School of Science and Technology.)

Even Thor took pains to have astrophysicist Jane Foster quote the Arthur C. Clarke rule, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Doctor Strange, too, had the Ancient One liken magic spells to “a program, the source code that shapes reality.”

Far from Home does get trippy with its visuals in a manner reminiscent of Doctor Strange, but Spider-Man is a street-level hero and the villains of his that we saw in Homecoming were a bunch of blue-collar types led by the Vulture. They didn’t gain superpowers through freak accidents, per comic book logic. Rather, they salvaged some alien Chitauri tech while doing cleanup after the Battle of New York.

Would an extra-dimensional Mysterio match the pseudo-realistic spirit of those guys? It may feature talking space raccoons who are email-savvy but outside the Avengers movies, the MCU follows a certain compartmentalization logic. This is the Spider-Man corner of the MCU, not Doctor Strange’s Sanctum.

In a movie where Flash Thompson is a vlogger and we see him live-streaming videos from Europe to his “Flash Mob,” it feels more appropriate to have the villain be someone who hijacks the media and uses it for his own nefarious, self-aggrandizing purposes. In a way, Mysterio is the Mandarin all over again, but instead of being a besotted pawn like Ben Kingsley’s Trevor Slattery was in Iron Man 3, he’s the one calling the shots on his manufactured image as a hero of ill-defined green energy powers.

He wears a fishbowl helmet and purple cape but his true form is that of a guy in a mo-cap suit who conjures illusions. “Unless you’re flying around in a cape,” he observes, “no one cares.” Mysterio might as well be a stunt-driven YouTube personality trying to catch clicks in the sea of online distractions, where even dramatic international crises might plausibly be reduced to smartphone notifications (as seen in the recent Black Mirror episode, “Smithereens.”)

With his attention-grabbing costume and staged acts of heroism, “everyone will listen” to Mysterio. He’ll be able to fill the gap left by Iron Man on the world stage. Indeed, all the world’s a stage to him.

Imagine what it would be like if a tweeter like Trump had drones with holographic projectors at his disposal instead of Twitter. Politics might then really become theater, as opposed to just a reality show writ large on the world itself. With “fake news” becoming such a big buzzword in recent years, it’s germane that Far from Home manages to work in the George Orwell quote, “The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world.”

Spider-Man Far From Home - Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio

Man of Mysterio

Gyllenhaal’s character in Velvet Buzzsaw taught me my new favorite word this year: ensorcel. Quentin Beck ensorcels Peter Parker by promising to be the bearded father figure Peter needs at this moment in his life, since Tony is no longer around. Quentin even lets Peter name him, as if to say, “Call me whatever you want. Your gullible perception of me is just an illusion, anyway.”

In the movie, the Mysterio code name is one that arises by mistake when Peter and his classmates hear the phrase uomo di mistero (“man of mystery”) on the news in Italy. The MCU skipped over showing Spider-Man’s origin since that had already been done twice over with Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, but Far from Home does feature a scene that is thematically similar to the one in Spider-Man’s origin whereby he let a criminal escape and that same criminal ended up killing his Uncle Ben.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” Those are the words that formed Spider-Man but in Far from Home, Peter learns this hard lesson in a very different way. He and Quentin, Spider-Man and Mysterio, have just defeated the last Elemental (before the climactic, super-duper combo-Elemental) and now they’re saddling up at a pub in Prague. The movie has already shown us, by way of drone-filled misadventures on a European tour bus, how Peter has inherited this great responsibility from the late Tony Stark: a pair of glasses that wire him into a potentially dangerous artificial intelligence named EDITH (the acronym stands for, “Even Dead I’m The Hero,” Tony’s little joke from beyond the grave).

The problem is, Peter didn’t think he was going to have to save the world this summer. He just wants to be a high schooler and hang out with his friends. Talking to Quentin, his eyes light up at the epiphany that he can hand the responsibility of EDITH off to someone else.

In doing so, he puts the A.I. in the wrong hands, entrusting it to a supervillain, who proceeds to give a gloating speech in the pub after Peter is gone and the holograms inside have broken up. With EDITH in his clutches, Quentin pumps up his team like an over-the-top Apple presenter pacing a dive bar countertop.

Mysterio has no compunctions about trying to kill Nick Fury or innocent civilians like Peter’s friends, because again, more casualties spells more coverage. Any kind of collateral damage is fine with him as long as it fits his self-serving agenda as a media manipulator.

I’m no political expert but it seems to me, as a cinephile, that you could draw a direct line from the governship of Predator co-stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura to the surreal rise of Donald J. Trump as the leader of the free world. Since I’m currently overseas, writing this rather far from home myself, I’ll leave it to the stateside reader to decide what, if any, subtle message Far from Home has to say about the responsibilities of the super-powerless (but not powerless) individual living in a post-truth society with celebrity politicians at the helm. The best superheroes are aspirational: they’re what we wish we could be and should maybe strive to be like more often in terms of doing the right thing.

There are some big teases at the end of Far from Home for what’s in store next in the MCU, including a mid-credits scene where Mysterio has the last laugh, weaponizing the media (as is his wont) against Spider-Man by revealing his secret identity to the world. J.K. Simmons shows up again as the bald MCU version of J. Jonah Jameson, but this time, it doesn’t look like Peter Parker will be going to work for him at the Daily Bugle. It’s also revealed in the final post-credits scene that the Nick Fury and Maria Hill we saw in this movie were Skrulls all along. Like Mysterio, they were not what they seemed. That’s one last illusion reveal for the road, true believers.

There’s more to dig into with Spider-Man: Far from Home. We’ll have another article up this week looking at how the movie draws from comics history and what its ending teases might mean for the MCU going forward into Phase Four. In the meantime, remember: with great power comes great responsibility. Happy Fourth of July, America.

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About the Author

Joshua Meyer is a Tokyo-based freelance writer who contributes to /Film and WDW News Today and has also contributed to GaijinPot and Japan Today. Give him incentive to tweet by following him on Twitter @TheGaijinGhost.