Mysterio’s role in SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME surprised me in the best way possible. This statement sounds weird to anyone who knows Mysterio from the comic books. Old Fishbowl Helmet’s time in the Sinister Six should have made skepticism of his motives a no-brainer. Nonetheless, viewers cannot help but be drawn in by the on-screen version of Mysterio. It helps that he’s played with devilish charisma by Jake Gyllenhaal, ironically a brief candidate to play Spider-Man himself in SPIDER-MAN 2. Thank goodness missing that opportunity left him available to author this version of Quentin Beck.

Seeing and Believing in Heroism

FAR FROM HOME uses this uncertainty to shape not only our speculation about Mysterio, but the logic of MCU films itself. It plays on our notion of heroes and absurd concepts that define comic book culture. Fanciful ideas like a teenager gaining powers from a radioactive spider bite and an illusion in a fishbowl helmet are just downright weird. But we’ve also internalized them as side effects of the movie franchise getting bigger and bolder with each new entry. In fact, we’ve demanded comic book movies embrace this weirdness after years of overly self-serious entries.

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Spider-Man Meets Mysterio, Courtesy of Marvel Studios

These subversive themes play to FAR FROM HOME’s status as the first post-ENDGAME franchise film. With the Infinity Saga complete and half of the original Avengers team dead, there’s an enormous gap left for the next “big hero” to emerge. But what defines a hero in this world of ridiculous costumes and flawed, yet mostly altruistic virtues? And more importantly, what does this world have to see in order to believe in such heroism without second-guessing itself?

The Next Tony Stark

Peter Parker’s MCU role is has, for a long time now, been synonymous with his relationship with Tony Stark as a surrogate Uncle Ben. Stark believed in Peter, gave him a costume, knighted him an Avenger before sacrificing himself to save the universe from Thanos. This sacrifice, combined with a performance by Robert Downey Jr. that more or less defined the franchise’s origins, makes Stark a larger than life figure. From both Peter’s eyes and that of the film’s world, the MCU now has an enormous pair of iron shoes to fill.

Tony Stark: Messiah Figure, Courtesy of Marvel Studios

As the most “ordinary” Marvel character, Stark’s shadow places an insane burden on Peter. He’s a teenager from Queens who, until five years ago, was mainly protecting the five boroughs. Now he’s been reborn, trying to tell MJ how he feels about her and wants to enjoy a relaxing summer vacation with classmates. Yet his teenage goals are constantly intruded by calls from Nick Fury to step up and become the next Iron Man. It’s a status that, in Peter’s mind, he’s not yet ready to accept.

Mysterio, at first glance, gives Peter a Stark surrogate. A world-weary hero with fantastical abilities from another universe, this new arrival is akin to a comic-booky coincidence. He clearly grasps the threat of these mysterious Elementals and knows how to contain them, all while valuing the safety of civilians. It’s this out of nowhere heroism that sparks media attention and public curiosity on whether this man could be what the world is looking for. Someone to defend them in the wake of Iron Man, Captain America and Black Widow’s deaths?

Mysterio: Master of Media Illusions

Of course with Mysterio, nothing is as it seems. The self-proclaimed master of illusions was lying, but not just in the conventional sense. Many fans suspected he was playing a character, a “hero” who was actually a villain seeking faux recognition. What none of us ever suspected was the marketing of Quentin Beck’s multiverse backstory being part of the misdirection.

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Mysterio’s Heart to Heart, Courtesy of Marvel Studios

This sleight of hand trickery stems from what preceded FAR FROM HOME. With SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE’s Academy Award-winning success, new fan theories opened up on the possibility of a multiverse. Specifically, could Tom Holland pop in for a quick voice cameo in sequels? FAR FROM HOME’s marketing further hinted at this multiverse concept, with Beck even labeling the MCU world as Earth-616. This revelation seemingly validated fandom speculation on Phase 4 details and Sony-Disney collaborations.

Just like Peter Parker’s post-ENDGAME uncertainty, most fans have no idea where the Marvel Cinematic Universe will go next. So even if we knew Mysterio was pulling a fast one, we still judged his trickery through the lens of franchise expansionism. We wanted to believe in a grand illusion of studio dealings that would tie all of Marvel’s properties together.

Turns out everything about Mysterio was a charlatan act built by Beck’s team of fellow disgruntled employees, including this guy.

More than a Box of Scraps, Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Those moments of him fighting Elementals in the sky? Pre-made holograms. The Elementals themselves? Holograms mixed with weather hallucinogens. The suit? A costume prop with LED lights. Mix that with a casually ridiculous sci-fi backstory and presto: instant hero narrative. All part of a grand plan to trick Peter into giving Quentin Tony Stark’s E.D.I.T.H. glasses and, with it, control over his tech.

What People Want in a Hero

More importantly, however, Mysterio’s “origins” provide a great showcase of franchise continuity. Like Adrian Toomes in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, he’s an embittered worker- an ex-Stark Industries employee no less- whose work was overtaken by Stark’s ego. Specifically, Beck designed the holographic tech from CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR’s opening sequence, further cementing the film’s grander MCU continuity. Mysterio’s work was always available in this world, but we ignored it due to Stark’s branding powers.

And that’s at the heart of what Beck wants above all else: credit. As Mysterio, he’s the powerful, yet moral, fishbowl face of heroism to replace the Avengers. An illusion no doubt, but one people will believe so long as there’s a super-disaster and someone to rescue innocents. No comic reader likes admitting this, but most superhero monster attacks would likely result in a handful of people dying. Beck knows this and is perfectly willing to use Stark’s drones, outfitted with his holo-tech, to murder thousands so long as Mysterio “defeats” the murder weapons in front of a crowd.

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A “Hero” in Action, Courtesy of Marvel Studios

It’s a media deception trick that works on multiple fronts. A multiverse likely exists, but fans embraced Beck’s statement because we wanted all of Marvel’s films to connect. Ordinary citizens saw someone resembling a hero and, still recalling the Blip’s aftermath, imprinted onto him their expectations of heroism. And poor Peter Parker, who seemingly found a new mentor to inherit Stark’s mantle, gets duped badly. Hell, he’s duped a second time after Beck uses illusions within illusions (in FAR FROM HOME’s trippiest visual sequence) to make Spider-Man doubt his reality. Everyone saw in Mysterio a character they wanted to be real.

Spider-Man: Fake News Masked Menace

Even after Peter overcomes his self-doubts and defeats Beck, resulting in his death, Mysterio still gets the post-mortem victory. It’s a low-tech plan, but disturbingly effective: a recording blaming Spider-Man for the drone attack. Even after his monster illusion is revealed, Mysterio simply covers up his act with a second illusion for the public to believe.

Again, the doctored footage works because the world has already internalized Mysterio’s heroic deception. Outside of Peter, Ned, MJ and Nick Fury (later revealed as the Skrull Talos), no one else knows Beck’s malicious agenda. And he recorded Spider-Man using E.D.I.T.H. to operate the drones, thus reframing the facts as a convenient narrative lie. To unsuspecting bystanders, they “saw” a hero murdered by Spider-Man.

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Mysterio’s Illusions in Action, Courtesy of Marvel Studios

And who better to scapegoat Spider-Man than FAR FROM HOME’s amazing surprise cameo: J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson? Truly proof that no one could replace this man in live-action after his Raimi trilogy performance. Only this version of Jameson runs the Daily Bugle as an InfoWars-like website rather than a newspaper. A purveyor of “fake news,” you might say. The new modernization aligns somewhat with the PS4 video game Jameson, who left the Bugle to run a podcast spewing Spider-Man conspiracies on par with Alex Jones’ craziest thoughts.

Once again, what’s important about Mysterio’s final gambit isn’t the truth, but rather the faux-framing of authenticity. People will believe whatever they want to believe, so long as it matches up with their biases. Whatever reason someone might have had to doubt Spider-Man in the past, this video gives them “proof” to validate those thoughts. And with Peter’s identity now exposed, that image crisis will hurt him on multiple fronts.

Mysterio’s Disappearing Act?

Could Mysterio return? Possibly. Despite E.D.I.T.H.’s confirmation I wouldn’t hold it against the character to fake his death and make a grand comeback. Given how the MCU is building to a Sinister Six confrontation, he’d make a pretty good addition to Vulture and Scorpion’s team.

But what stands out about FAR FROM HOME’s Mysterio is how relevant he feels to our modern media culture. What he lacks in physical superpowers, Beck understands a disturbing truth about the power of truth. “People will believe anything” he states at one point, especially in a world populated by superheroes and supervillains. As long as the spectacle feels “real” enough to match someone’s worldview, they can embrace the spectacle as truth. Kind of like another Jake Gyllenhaal character.

As for Spider-Man’s MCU future, Mysterio’s actions have opened up the floodgates of trouble. All throughout the film Peter struggled to live up to Iron Man’s legacy, only to realize he had to be himself. And in FAR FROM HOME’s final moments, that choice is taken away, almost like a dark mirror of Stark publicly announcing his hero identity way back in IRON MAN. Compared to internet misinformation, costumed supervillains are the least of Peter Parker’s problems right now.

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