Christmas is almost upon us and so, in the spirit of the season, I will challenge the existing status quo and speak truth to power.
Mysterio sucks. Always has. Always will.
And I think I’m somewhat in the minority on this, since fans have been clamouring to see him in a Spider-Man movie since pretty early on in the Raimi films. Some people even seem to genuinely believe that Mysterio is a good villain, which in my opinion is akin to Climate Change denial or saying “Kingdom Hearts has a good story”. Not simply incorrect, but morally reprehensible. Hell, IGN even named him the 85th Greatest Comic Book Villain of all time, proof if proof were needed that the once noble art of ranking things on the internet has become a sorry, corrupt burlesque.
And, yes, he is a creation of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and therefore is deserving of respect if you believe that pampered scions of privilege deserve a free ride just because of who their daddies are.
Fine, the visual design is so ridiculous that it shoots the moon and becomes kind of magnificent.
True, the cape. Is. FABULOUS.
But the whole concept of Mysterio is just a one-way train ticket to disappointment. His schtick is that he’s a special effects wizard who uses tricks and illusions to seem like he’s an actual wizard. In other words, he’s a villain who’s no real threat and uses smoke and mirrors to make you think he actually is a threat. But he’s not. He’s not a threat at all. Hit him with a crowbar, you’ll probably kill him. Doesn’t know karate or anything. Completely normal dude. His first appearence in the Amazing Spider-Man #15 was one long game of “Got Yer Nose” and once Spider-Man realised that he did not, in truth, have his nose, I don’t really think we needed to see the character again. Once Spidey has seen through his bullshit, the only way you can bring him back is to have him secretly messing with Spider-Man from the shadows. And, once Spider-Man has figured out who’s really behind these shenanigans, it will always be anticlimactic:
- Oh no! The Daily Bugle is being menaced by a gigantic red snake!
- Huh?! The snake was just a red sock on a stick and the use of forced perspective.
- Oh, Mysterio was behind it all. Everyone relax, he can’t actually do anything, his powers are just lies and bullshit.
And that’s Mysterio. Disappointment in a cape and a fishbowl.
All that said, he’s not the worst choice as a villain for Far From Home. After the sturm and drang of Avengers Endgame this movie was intended to close out Phase 4 with a light little comedic palette cleanser and Mysterio is probably a better fit for that than…say, Carnage. Which, I suppose, is as good a point as any to bring up the fact that we have for the moment reached the end of our journey. This is, at the time of writing, the last released MCU film what with Black Widow‘s release having been pushed back and Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings being delayed due to the world going viral in the bad way. This also means that I have to make some tricky decisions. Like; do I actually need to review Wandavision and The Falcon and Winter Soldier? I haven’t reviewed any of the TV shows thus far but all indications are that the Disney Plus shows are going to be FAR more impactful on the overall narrative than, say, Cloak and Dagger or Runaways.
Or maybe I should just accept that the film and television production and consumption landscape is almost unrecognisable from what it was when I started reviewing these movies way back in 2015 and that by this point the MCU is just too damn large for one blogger to cover and get on with it.
Okay so it’s eight months after half of all life on Earth re-appeared after having suddenly vanished five years prior. And, rather than going through the total social, economic, political and ecological collapse that you’d expect, the entire human race has quite sensibly decided to just pretend it all never happened and move on with their lives.
Peter Parker is preparing to go on a class trip to Europe along with Ned and MJ who were also conveniently blipped so we don’t have to worry about casting new older actors. Peter lays out his plan to Ned:
- Hang out with MJ, watching movies with her on the flight over.
- Buy her a Black Dahlia themed piece of jewellery in Venice because of her love of the Black Dahlia murder.
- Give her the gift and confess his feelings to her on the top the Eiffel Tower.
And…holy shit. Guys, I think we finally have a Peter Parker who’s not a complete idiot when it comes to romance. That’s a really solid plan. Spending time with her, bonding over shared interests, getting her a gift that is thoughtful and personally tailored to her and then sharing his feelings in one of the most romantic locations on Earth (little basic, but c’mon, they’re teenagers). That’s…yeah. Bravo Mr. Parker.
Ned, the fool, says that Peter should ditch that plan as he’s going to be an American bachelor in Europe and they should play the field. And Ned, he’s a skinny kid from Queens who’s somehow in with a shot with frickin’ Zendaya. What, he should hold out for Beyoncé? Get the fuck outta here.
Later, Peter is helping Aunt May with a fundraiser to help the billions upon billions of people that have been left homeless by the Blip.
Happy Hogan shows up to give a donation from Pepper Potts and there’s a little something between him and Aunt May, you feel me? A little kinda, you know, a little frisson? A little flutter of romantic tension? A little…they’re fucking. They are totally fucking. They are the mayor and mayoress of fucktown.
Peter, who doesn’t need spider-sense to grok that something is going on here, is about to ask Happy what his intentions are towards his aunt but Happy tells him to expect a call from Nick Fury. Sure enough, he gets an anonymous call but Peter decides that he’s actually a private citizen and doesn’t work for Nick Fury and he’s going on vacation thank you very much.
He goes out as Spider-Man to take questions from journalists and he gets asked if he’s taking over as the new Iron Man. Which, of course, is a perfectly reasonable question. I mean who better to take over from globe-trotting superman Tony Stark than this one kid from New York who’s been a superhero for like five minutes? Who better to step into the mantle of Iron Man? Who else has the expertise, the training, the deep connection to the Iron Man legacy?
Anyway, the question causes Peter to have a panic attack and suddenly vamoose (okay, I see why people think he’s Iron Man material now). He gets another call from Nick Fury but refuses to answer it and instead heads home to back for his trip to Europe.
Peter’s plans hit an early bump when he can’t get get a seat next to MJ and instead she spends the entire nine hour flight with Brad Davis who didn’t blip and spent the intervening five years getting hella swol. And can I just say that I really appreciate that when it comes to creating a love rival for Peter the screenwriters didn’t just create a new character but actually went to the trouble of finding that one vanishingly obscure dude who dated MJ in the comics for a few weeks in the seventies? That’s impressive nerdery and I wholeheartedly approve.
Ned, meanwhile, ends up sitting next to Betty Brant and by the time they arrive in Venice they’ve become an item (ah, young love).
So…lemme just put my cards on the table. As a gentle little romantic comedy about American teens touring Europe and falling in love I think this movie is sweet and charming and I love it. And as a Spider-Man movie it…kinda…sucks. I don’t know if the world is ready for a superhero movie that just completely eschews the whole superhero business and just focuses on the main character’s love life but honestly I would have been there for it. Holland and Zendaya have crazy good chemistry, Ned Land and Betty made for an adorable B-Couple. Add in some rivalry with Brad Davis and those wacky teachers and you have all the elements for a great rom-com. But instead, we gotta take time away from all that to focus on the stuff that makes it a pretty bland superhero movie.
Case in point:
So Venice is suddenly attacked by a gigantic water monster and I just…can’t…this…guh. This sucks.
Yeah, I know, the Water Elemental is a nod to Hydro Man, who sucked in the comics too (man, I am just slaying sacred cows today, amn’t I?). But I find all the elemental sequences to be pretty darn tedious. Sure, the CGI is impressive enough, but the four elements gimmick is lazy, the designs are completely lacklustre and the entire concept is utterly misguided if your goal is to give Spider-Man interesting antagonists to fight. Spider-Man is a tactile hero. He doesn’t do heat beams or lightning blasts, he needs to punch shit to be effective. Giving him big intangible foes like these results in scenes that are just Spider-Man impotently swinging around four big CGI blobs and not accomplishing much. It’s like pitting Wolverine against a ghost. It’s a waste of your Wolverine (and, honestly, a waste of your ghost).
Anyway, while Peter tries to help by stop people who are running away and telling them to run away, a new, decidedly mysterious hero appears on the scene and defeats the water monster. And I gotta say, he looks pretty fucking rad.
Back at the hotel, the kids name the new hero “Mysterio” after hearing the word on the Italian news (“mysterio” is Italian for “massively overrated character”). Peter goes back to his room and finds Nick Fury waiting for him. Fury is not happy that Peter’s been ghosting him and tells him that there have already been similar attacks by giant CGI blobs in Mexico and Morocco. He then takes him on a boat ride and gives him a pair of the tech-douchiest glasses that you’ve ever seen. This is E.D.I.T.H. which stands for Every Damn Idiotic Thing I Hate. Okay, slight exageration, but damn, so many of my issues with this movie come back to those damn specs.
Now, I’m consciously trying to move away from the nit-picky, Cinema Sins-esque style of movie criticism but as a matter of simple logic this doesn’t make sense. Nick says that Tony gave him E.D.I.T.H. to give to Peter in the event of his death. Couple of problems with that.
I mean, logically this is something he set aside for Peter before going on the final mission to undo the Snap, right? His final bequest? So he left it with Nick Fury…who was also dead at the time? But fine, maybe this was long before the snap, maybe he had left instructions for EDITH to be given to Nick Fury to give to Peter years ago except:
- No, he didn’t.
- Seriously, just no.
- There is just no way in hell Tony Stark would leave cutting edge military tech in the hands of Nick Fury.
- Not a chance in hell.
Happy? Sure. Rhodey? Yup. Pepper? Most def. But not Fury. Not in a million years. Not least because Fury might decide that giving a teenage boy the power to order drone strikes might be a tad irresponsible.
Fury takes Peter to a secret underground base and introduces him to Maria Hill and Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio (Jack Gyllenhall). Beck tells Peter that he did good against the Water Elemental and says “we could have used you on my world”. Peter asks what he means by that and Fury says that Beck is from Earth just not “your Earth”. Not “our Earth” oddly enough.
Beck explains that he’s from an alternate Earth that was destroyed by four elemental monsters and now they’ve arrived on this Earth (which he calls Earth 616) to do the same thing. The first three elementals have already been dealt with which just leaves
Tungstun Fire, the most element powerful of them all which is coming to Prague to enjoy one of Europe’s most beautiful and underrated cities and then burn it to a crisp. Fury tells Peter that he needs his help to defeat the last elemental and Peter, rather sensibly, points out that’s really not in the wheelhouse of a guy who spends his days covering uncouth men in sticky fluid in seedy back allies.
Peter even lists off some heroes who would be a better fit for this kind of mission, like Thor, Doctor Strange and Captain Marvel who Fury dismisses as being, respectively, off-world, incommunicado and dead to him. Fair enough, but I still think Fury should be doing a deeper dig through his Rolodex. For God’s sake, ASEBESTOS MAN would be a better dude to bring along on this one.
Peter says he can’t go along on this mission and Fury says that’s fine, no doubt while making plans to have someone Peter loves killed and frame the Fire Elemental for the murder. Fortunately, he changes his mind and just gets Peter’s tour re-routed to Prague.
On the bus journey, Peter tries on the glasses that Tony left him and learns that EDITH is actually an insanely sophisticated AI with access to Stark Industries entire arsenal. We get a good demonstration of how good an idea that was when, within around five minutes of activating EDITH, Peter’s has accidentally ordered a drone strike on Brad Davis.
In Prague, Fury chews Peter out over that, telling him that he isn’t ready to have EDITH right now (I mean, I would argue that no ONE should have her, like ever) but despite that he still insists on drafting Peter into the coming battle against the Fire Elemental and I am actually half-convinced that the final twist about Fury in this movie was shoe-horned in at the last minute because they realised how dirty they done the character. Peter does a Batman by brooding on a rooftop between some gargoyles and Beck joins him and gives him a pep talk.
And here’s where I do a swerve so sudden it’ll make your head spin. I love Mysterio. Okay, scratch that. I think Jack Gyllenhaal is great as Quentin Beck. I still don’t have much time for Mysterio as any kind of compelling threat. But the relationship stuff between Peter and Beck is actually really good (again and again I like this movie when it’s just doing small character stuff and tune out when it’s all superheroes and explosions and I think I may be getting old and terminally boring). Seriously though, Donnie Darko is really good in this; charming and funny and warm when he’s ingratiating himself to Peter. You can almost buy it when Peter does something incredibly stupid later on because Beck genuinely does seem like this wonderful surrogate father for Peter. He even has a beard like Tony Stark, to drive home the void that he’s stepping into for Peter, except like, y’know, a Tony Stark who actually listens to him and seems like he cares about his problems.
Peter gets EDITH to book the school trip into an opera performance so they’ll be safe indoors for the next three weeks or so. This, unfortunately, means abandoning MJ who’s saved a seat for him and the sweetly awkward teen romance vibes of both Holland and Zendaya are God-tier level I shit you not. Anyway, Peter runs off to fight a fire monster, MJ follows him secretly, Betty follows MJ and Ned follows Betty.
The Fire Elemental appears in the middle of the carnival and Peter (dressed in a nifty black costume provided by SHIELD) has to rescue Ned and Betty while Beck battles the monster. During the battle, Ned convinces Betty that this isn’t Spider-Man, but his non-union Mittel-European equivalent Night Monkey. This, of course, is a reference to the classic Golden Age character…I’m joking, there isn’t actually a comics character called Night Monkey. I’m serious. There isn’t. No, there actually isn’t it. Don’t Google it, you’re just wasting your time…there. I told you. You happy now? We wasted enough time? Okay, moving on.
Just when things look at their bleakest, Beck starts storing up all his energy. Peter asks him what he’s doing and Beck says “what I should have done last time” and ploughs into the Elemental, releasing all his energy and seemingly destroying it and saving the world.
Beck survives and Nick Fury gives him the thanks of a grateful planet and then gives Peter a dressing down for…not really having his heart in it. No, for real. The kid shows up, saves some people, fights the monster despite it being way out of his weight class but Fury just doesn’t like his attitude.
He tells Peter to figure out if he wants to be an Avenger or not and Beck takes him for a drink in a local bar.
His confidence shattered, Peter decides that Beck is the new hotness and gives him EDITH to use as he sees fit. And here, I can only re-use a line from another review of this movie I did in a different life and on a different corner of the internet: this is the first movie where Peter Parker has the proportional brain of a spider.
Anyway, he transfers one of the most powerful pieces of military hardware on the planet to the nice man he’s known for three days and heads out to find a way to kiss Zendaya which…okay, I take it back, that’s a brilliant plan. Shouldn’t have doubted ya, Pete. And after he’s gone, the movie pulls its big reveal: Mysterio is the bad guy!
Okay, obviously Mysterio is the bad guy and to be perfectly honest I was a little disappointed. Introducing a multiverse to the MCU is such a cool idea that I was hoping against hope that Mysterio was telling the truth about that, if nothing else. But I do like the fact that Mysterio’s entire support crew are just disgruntled Stark employees. Hell, they even got the “Box Of Scraps” guy!
Beck himself is actually the guy who developed the holographic tech we saw Tony model in Civil War. Turns out that Beck objected to Tony naming his life’s work “BARF” and using it to work out his Daddy issues and when he complained, Tony said he was unstable and shitcanned him. Now, obviously, we’re only getting Beck’s side of the story. I mean, does that sound like something a Stark would do? What do you think, Anton Vanko dying in a tiny, freezing Moscow hovel?
These fucking Starks, man.
Anyway, Beck gives a toast where he congratulates all the former Stark people on their hard work and says that they all have great ideas but that no one listens to them because all people are interested in these days are superheroes and I see you Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, sneaking a little dig at the current state of the movie industry in there, you wee scamps. Beck reveals that all the Elementals and explosions and massive property damage was achieved with holograms and drones and…ugh. See this is why I hate Mysterio. He pretends to be magic, and then he reveals that it was all an illusion done with practical effects but the effects all work so seamlessly and perfectly that they might as well be magic. Anyway, Beck tells them that by making Mysterio the biggest superhero on the planet they will all become rich…somehow. Honestly I don’t get that, are they planning merch? Otherwise, someone needs to tell them that the reason so many superheroes are millionaires is because that’s the only way they can afford to be superheroes, it’s not that being a superhero pays well. It’s kinda like Instragram.
Anyway, back at the hotel Peter finds that the vacation has been cancelled because Europe is full of rampaging elemental monsters (oh, like the US is perfect?) and they’re all going home in the morning. Bummed that he’ll never get to confess his love for MJ on the Eiffel Tower he invites her to go for a walk. She says yes, and he tells her that he’ll meet her outside in ten and she says make it five and when this movie is just a teenage rom-com it is the sweetest fluffiest thing.
They go to a bridge and he’s about to tell her his big secret but she assumes that he just wants to tell her that he’s Spider-Man which she’s already figured out because she watches him obsessively because…reasons. When he denies it, she shows him a machine with his webbing that she found at the scene of the Fire Elemental attack which turns out to be a a holographic projector. Peter realises that Mysterio is a big fake and that he’s made a huge clanger by giving him EDITH and tells MJ they have to get back to the hotel.
Meanwhile, Beck is rehearsing for his big global coming out party which will involve him staging a massive, extremely lethal Elemental attack on London. He notices that one of the drones is missing its projector, tracks it to MJ and sees her giving it to Peter which means that Peter’s got to die now.
Peter tells Ned and MJ to keep schtum about the projector and to get Aunt May to call their teachers to say that Peter is staying with relatives in Berlin until this all blows over. And then because he thinks that Mysterio has bugged his phone…for some reason…Peter decides to web-sling. To Berlin. To tell Nick Fury. About Mysterio. In person.
Like, forget suddenly thinking that Mysterio has bugged his phone for some reason. JUST USE ANOTHER PHONE. EMAIL HIM FROM A HOTEL COMPUTER. SEND A TELEGRAM. GAWD.
But no, he rides on top of a train from Prague to Berlin (six hours on top of a train in skin-tight lycra, his balls were never seen again). He arrives in Berlin and Fury picks him up at the station. He takes him to Europol and spills the beans to Fury and Hill. But Hill suddenly vanishes and Fury gets shot and Peter realises that Mysterio has caught. Mysterio plays Got Yer Nose with Peter for a while with some incredibly convincing holograms perfectly tailored to destroy Peter Parker psychologically that he was able to whip up in a few hours as you do. Beck then gets shot by Fury who’s not dead and Fury demands that Peter tell him who else knows about Mysterio. Peter tells Fury that he only told Ned and MJ and then Fury starts laughing because of course he’s actually Mysterio, whose bullshit is bottomless.
He then tricks Peter into walking in front of an oncoming train because really that’s the level Peter is operating at today. And so Peter leaves the city after what was, amazingly, a trip to Berlin that went even worse than the last one when he got beaten up by a Brooklyn tough.
Crawling inside the train (having at last learned that that’s how they’re used) Peter ends up in the Netherlands and puts in a call to Happy Hogan to come rescue him.
Tearfully, Peter tells Happy that he messed up and that he can’t live up to Tony’s legacy. Happy tells him that not even Tony could live up to Tony saying: “Tony was my best friend. And he was a mess. He second guessed everything he did. He was all over the place. The only thing he did that he didn’t second guess was picking you.”
Reaffirmed with the knowledge that Tony Stark valued him even more than his wife and daughter, Peter tells Happy to take him to London where Beck is making his final big attack with a huge elemental combining elements of all the previous ones like in Power Rangers.
While Happy gets the kids to safety, Peter successfully destroys Beck’s illusion and fights Mysterio, finally defeating him by using his spider-sense to beat his illusions. He takes back EDITH and when she asks him if he wants to execute the cancellation protocols he says “execute them all”.
Oh, and last nitpick. If Peter transferred control to Beck, he shouldn’t be able to use EDITH. Whatever.
After having shot himself with a drone meant for Peter, Beck lies dying on the ground. Peter asks Beck why he did all this and before he dies Beck says “You’ll see Peter. People need to believe. And nowadays, they’ll believe anything.”
Peter and MJ reunite on a burning Tower Bridge and Peter finally gives MJ the Black Dahlia jewellery he bought her in Venice. They kiss. It is adorbs.
Again, Marvel make a great Peter Parker movie and a so so Spider-Man movie.
If you thought Tony’s death would allow Peter to get out from under Iron Man’s influence and become closer to his scrappy underdog roots…you just keep dreaming. This is the movie where Spider-Man has a jet with a 3D printer to make costumes and orders drone-strikes with his billion dollar AR glasses.
Our Heroic Hero: 15/25
Peter Parker, sweet teenager in love? Adorable. Spider-Man, idiot tech bro? Not so much.
Our Nefarious Villain: 19/25
Jake Gyllenhaal does the seemingly impossible and actually makes me give a shit about Mysterio.
Our Plucky Sidekicks: 20/25
The kids, teachers, Aunt May and even Happy Goddamned Hogan all work as a richly funny supporting cast.
Spider-Man watches in horror as a news broadcast tells the world that footage has leaked of him seeming to kill Beck and then ordering his drones to attack London. The newscaster then reveals that the footage was first broadcast by a controversial news site called…the Daily Bugle.
And then we see J. Jonah Jameson.
And he’s played by JK Simmons.
And he reveals that Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker.
And the audience went…
HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT!!!!!!!!!!
The second stinger
Fury and Hill are driving along when they reveal that they are actually Talos and Soren, the two Skrulls we first met in Captain Marvel and who have apparently been filling in for Fury while he’s on space vacation, or spacay. Talls calls Fury, who ghosts him, and then we see that Fury is in some kind of massive space facility crewed by both humans and Skrulls…
And the audience went…
Like I said, I kinda suspect this scene was added when they realised that Nick Fury acts like a colossal dumbass throughout the film and they needed an explanation to save his character. Actually, if they could retcon it so that the Nick Fury in Winter Soldier whose plan to fake his own death included interrupting his own life saving surgery was also a Skrull, that’d be swell. Also, I’ll lay good money that the space facility we see Fury in at the end is S.W.O.R.D., the division of S.H.I.E.L.D. that deals with extraterrestrial threats as apparently they’re being introduced in WandaVision (aw hell, I’m going to have to cover it, aren’t I?). Fun little bit of trivia, as well as S.H.I.E.LD. and S.W.O.R.D. the Marvel universe also has A.R.M.O.R. that handles alternate realities, C.R.A.D.L.E which seeks to stop underage children engaging in superheroics and the F.B.I. who are just not getting into the spirit of things.
Hey, was that Stan Lee?
FINAL SCORE: 69%
NEXT UPDATE: I’ll be putting up an end-of-year round up before the year is out but the next review will be 07 January 2021
NEXT TIME: Has it really been a year since we last checked in on those crazy mutants?
My book, When the Sparrow falls, is now available for preorder! Links here.