While seeing Spider-Man: Far From Home in a public screening this past weekend, two unexpected things about the people in the cinema jumped out at me that elevated the filmgoing experience. The first was a moment of alarm when horrific sounds from a Midsommar screening next door began bleeding through the walls. The second was the wave of genuine shock that swept over the cinema as the shape of Mysterio’s Far From Home arc came into focus.
Before Far From Home actually began playing, it was obvious that more than a few people had come to the cinema having not only seen trailers for the film, but also watched interviews talking about what to expect. You could hear murmurs about this being the first post-Endgame film in the MCU and how Tom Holland went about playing a Peter Parker still grappling with his grief over Tony Stark’s death.
More than anything else, though, you could hear people talking about Mysterio, their own personal thoughts about whether he’d turn heel, and some of the more... fantastical things about the character that’d come out of interviews promoting the movie.
Some of the biggest questions raised by Mysterio’s debut in Far From Home’s first trailers revolved around the nature of his seemingly fantastical powers and the possibility that he was from an alternate universe created by the events of Endgame. From the jump, everyone familiar with Mysterio’s MO in Marvel’s comics understood that there was a very real possibility that everything being presented about him was a farce and part of a larger, villainous scheme.
But at the same time, the MCU’s becoming a different place because it’s shifting into Phase 4. Ridiculous as a gaudy, fishbowl-wearing magician from another dimension sounded on paper, it very well could have been the kind of strange pivot into the future Marvel decided on for its films. During the press circuit for the film, Jake Gyllenhaal continued to flesh out Mysterio’s back story as much as he could without spoiling the plot, explaining that his Quentin Beck was a soldier, possibly hundreds of years old, and someone who really comes to develop a special bond with Peter.
Much of that is borne out as the first half or so of Far From Home unfolds and Mysterio flies his way into Peter’s life hot on the heels of a group of Elemental beings threatening to destroy the Earth. At Nick Fury’s behest, Peter gets swept up in an unexpected series of battles to defeat the creatures, and it’s only after a whirlwind tour through Europe – riddled with dangers for Peter’s personal life – that Mysterio reveals the truth about himself to the audience.
Quentin Beck isn’t just a disgruntled former Stark employee whose villainy is a direct result of Tony’s casual dickishness, he’s an unhinged man with a convoluted plan to trick the world into accepting him as the newest, and greatest Avenger. As fake as Mysterio the man is, Mysterio the idea is very real and Beck’s more than willing to do whatever it takes to maintain his illusions in the public eye, even if it means killing innocent people. What Beck understands is that being able to manipulate people’s perceptions of him is what makes him powerful. Beck knows it doesn’t matter how ridiculously outlandish a backstory his writers come up with for Mysterio so long as he can convince everyone that he’s the key to keeping them safe, and that’s what makes him such a lethal Spider-Man foe.
While many people in my screening weren’t at all surprised by the revelation, far more were (a solid mix of young and old), and you could immediately feel how that sense of betrayal and shock was changing how people felt about the movie. Even if you weren’t incensed yourself, it was easy to get caught up in the drama of it all on the behalf of others because that’s just the kind of thing that happens when you sit down to watch an expensive, sparkly soap opera in a dark cinema with a couple hundred people.
Giving yourself over to the conceit of a movie is always an effort because doing so usually means that you’re cutting the story a little more slack than it’s earned. But Far From Home makes it somewhat easier by incorporating the idea of being won over by Mysterio’s charm into its very plot. The betrayal of Mysterio’s deception knocks Peter down, but it’s Mysterio’s ability to fundamentally shift the way the public sees and feels about Spider-Man that truly devastates him.
Even though Peter’s able to defeat Mysterio in battle, the villain is able to land a solid metaphorical punch before he dies that’s likely to have ramifications that impact a huge chunk of the MCU going forward. Mysterio doesn’t reveal Peter’s identity to the world until Far From Home’s mid-credits sequence, but it feels a lot like the big surprise the proper film itself was always building toward – in the background where audiences simply weren’t meant to see it at all as it was happening, let alone in the months before the movie was in cinemas. As fun as it can be to try and suss out the details of a story before you’ve actually had the chance to take it in for yourself, that pales in comparison to when a film manages to genuinely make you gasp.