In one of “Spider-Man: Far From Home’s” most chillingly prescient scenes, Quentin Beck aka Mysterio, tells Queens’ favorite neighborhood webslinger, “Nowadays, people will believe anything.” For a hero/villain first created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko for Amazing Spider-Man #13 in 1964, Mysterio remains eerily relevant in modern America.
A digitally addicted modern American landscape where endless social media generated conspiracy theories abound. A landscape where Info Wars viewers steadfastly maintain the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting was actually a group of actors. A landscape where the first official duty of the 45th U.S. president’s press secretary was to replace real figures with alternative facts regarding the 2017 presidential inauguration attendance, numbers that the government’s own National Park Service compiled.
In short, master illusionist Mysterio (wonderfully portrayed with a multi-layered performance from Jake Gyllenhaal) is the perfect foil for May Parker’s favorite 16-year-old superhero nephew (Tom Holland, who, five films into his run as Spidey basically embodies Peter Parker).
The latest blockbuster in the Marvel Cinematic Universe hit theaters on July 3.
Via a series of fun twists and turns in the plot, courtesy of screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (who also cleverly helmed the writing on “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” the character’s 2017 feature-length debut into the MCU), “Far From Home” manages to be both a cautionary tale about what we believe to be true and a heartfelt homage to the legacy of Lee and Ditko’s original character (both of Spidey’s co-creators died in 2018).
Many of us of a certain age first encountered Quentin Beck when he turned up as a Hollywood stuntman determined to defeat Spider-Man in the 1967 animated series and then rerun ad nauseam throughout the 1970s on local UHF channels across the country. Spidey and Mysterio’s final fight across multiple Hollywood movie sets proved so momentous, Grantray-Lawrence Animation used the battle as part of the show’s end credits.
With a few tweaks, the cartoon’s Mysterio episode was cribbed (down to its title) from Lee and Ditko’s “Menace of Mysterio” story in Amazing Spider-Man #13. Just like filmgoers watching “Spider-Man: Far From Home” this weekend, comics readers 55 years ago couldn’t initially determine whether Quentin Beck is a hero or foe (After all, the story opens with Spider-Man himself knocking over the Midtown Museum!).
In the Stan Lee-penned tale, naturally, Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson is in the middle of the mayhem, putting Mysterio on the payroll to rid New York City of its masked menace once and for all. And like the original comic, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” does a masterful job of depicting Mysterio’s flair for mind forkery, causing Peter Parker to doubt himself, his abilities, Tony Stark’s faith in him and ultimately, his motivations for swinging through the city on a chemically created web while clad in a Spandex spider suit.
Mysterio worked in 1964 and continues to work in 2019 because he makes Peter Parker — and the audience — doubt our judgment to gauge reality, what’s true and most importantly, what’s not. He’s the Facebook troll of supervillains.
The 1964 Peter Parker high school student and science nerd is so affected by the turn of events, he swings into a psychiatrist’s office for a quick consult on the couch, a first for a comic book superhero and an exacting example of what made Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s creation one of the most popular comic books ever.
Down to the character’s purple-hued suit and fishbowl head (blessedly, Gyllenhaal wasn’t required to wear Mysterio’s trademark headgear on set — it was CGI-ed in later), the 2019 interpretation of the telekinetically treacherous character completely honors Lee and Ditko’s original 1964 template.
In our current reality of “deepfake” videos making their way into our social media streams and a U.S. president who, on July 4, stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial and stated as fact that Revolutionary War Continental Army troops “took over the airports” from the British in the 1770s, Mysterio, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s 55-year-old comics creation is the ideal Cold War era super foe thawed for Spider-Man to fight in 2019.
And since this is an MCU film, you’ll want to stay seated through the end credits. You’ll get a first glimpse of another iconic character from the original Amazing Spider-Man comic book ingeniously (not to mention hilariously) reinvented for our modern media landscape and portrayed by someone Spidey fans love. Plus, the film’s final sequence is a tantalizingly terrific example of the film’s major theme — don’t believe everything you see.
Richard L. Eldredge is the founder and editor in chief of Eldredge ATL. As a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta magazine, he has covered Atlanta since 1990.