Peter Parker is the kind of character that has layer upon layer of trauma thrust upon him, and the way he tends to brush it off is by taking on the mantle of hero and trying to bury the more depressing aspects of his life in his love of science and being what New York (and the world) needs. From his parents to his uncle Ben, Peter is no stranger to distress. He has lost so many, and losing Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was the icing on the cake. But the events of Far From Home are particularly, personally devastating after so much earlier loss.
In Far From Home, Peter comes face to face with a new kind of evil. He is thrown into the tricks of Quentin Beck and his hero-but-really-a-villain persona, Mysterio. Using projections to confuse him and make him second-guess everything in his life, Peter is face to face with the mortality of everyone he loves over and over again, until he’s staring at Stark’s gravestone and forced to look at his “failure” that resulted in Tony’s death. It’s a frankly scary scene that feels surprising in a summer family-friendly blockbuster.
We’ve explored what makes Mysterio such an interesting villain choice before, but the true genius of the character is that he ends up being Peter’s worst fears made flesh, before Peter even knows to be afraid of someone like him. Thinking he’s discovered a new hero and mentor in the exact mold of Stark—Jake Gyllenhaal even (purposefully) looks remarkably like Robert Downey Jr. in the scene where he puts on the E.D.I.T.H. glasses for the first time—instead, Mysterio is not only actively betraying Peter, but has bad intentions for the world.
He’s the first truly personal indication to Peter that there’s no guarantee that people are what they seem, and that it isn’t always right to blindly trust and believe in some kind of innate goodness in humanity. Even though he survived the Blip and the massive fight in Endgame, struggling with the truth of Mysterio’s falseness is something that propels Peter out of the nativity of youth. As our Kaila Hale-Stern wrote:
Beck ends up as an emotionally devastating villain for both Peter and the audience. He represents a terrible and very human fear—that someone we trust and believe in is actually playing a role, is at heart manipulative and capable of cruelty. Just when Peter thinks he’s found a worthy successor to Tony in his life, Mysterio becomes his worst nightmare, a person who has knowingly preyed upon all of his vulnerabilities in order to exploit Peter’s naivete and gain control of the E.D.I.T.H. artificial intelligence system. […] Perhaps such lessons are inevitable in the course of growing up; this anchors a movie about a teenager with superpowers into a kind of realism we all understand, and this is the strength of Spider-Man in any ‘verse.
What is interesting to me about the conversation surrounding Spider-Man: Far From Home is that there isn’t much about the scene in which Peter Parker sees Happy Hogan when he’s in the Netherlands. After all the tricks and twists that Mysterio pulled on him, Peter has one question: Is this real?
It’s such a simple scene and does a wonderful job of reminding us just how young Peter still is. But what I appreciate about it is that this new fear isn’t rooted in his youth any longer, but rather in the idea that after the events of the movie, he doesn’t know who to trust or what to believe. Perhaps he never will again. Grief is in some ways easier to understand and grapple with than active betrayal by someone that you believed in; everything about the world thereafter seems uncertain. We see this continuing after Mysterio is gone. Even when Peter sees MJ at the end on the bridge, he asks her if it is real while knowing that he watched Quentin Beck die. How will he fully trust anyone going forward?
Tom Holland’s Spider-Man has been going through a lot in the news with the Sony and Disney back-and-forths, but my hope is that future movies can really explore all the emotional effects that the Blip and his fight with Mysterio had on him. Peter should be allowed to be a “normal” high-schooler sometimes, but it would be most accurate if the events of Far From Home aren’t simply forgotten or swept under the rug. I hope we get to explore the ongoing struggle that Peter Parker is facing about who he can trust and how he’s supposed to be a hero without anyone there to back him up.
(image: Marvel Entertainment)
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