Spider-Man: Far From Home’s Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) proved to be a more effective villain than Thanos (Josh Brolin) - the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s biggest threat. Though the early phases of the MCU featured many beloved and charismatic superheroes, the villains of these films were heavily criticized for being under-developed, and almost always dark reflections of the protagonists with similar or identical power sets. Fortunately, the likes of Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) and Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) have mostly been left behind.
The MCU Phase 3 was notable for villains like Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell), Helmut Zemo, (Daniel Brühl) and Killmonger (Michael B Jordan): strongly rounded characters who are not just the best of Marvel’s cinematic baddies, but among the finest that the genre has to offer. Thanos initially featured among this select group until his repudiation in Avengers: Endgame, which left fans concerned that Marvel had fallen back into their old ways. However, the arrival of Mysterio has assuaged these fears.
This isn’t to say that Mysterio’s kill count exceeds Thanos’, or that Jake Gyllehaal is a better actor than Josh Brolin. Indeed, both are brilliant creations and performers in their own way. Yet it’s clear that one of these evildoers is crafted far more consistently and appropriately in their narrative. In fact, Mysterio’s handled so successfully in Far From Home that he even manages to surpass the MCU's ultimate big bad.
Mysterio and Thanos' Roles Explained
The Mad Titan made his first appearance in The Avengers' post-credit scene, where he was revealed to be the orchestrator behind Loki's attack on Earth. He appeared several more times after that, but audiences had to wait until Avengers: Infinity War to really learn more about the instigator of the entire Infinity Saga.
Shunned by fellow Titans, Thanos resolutely believed that culling the cosmos was the key to universal harmony. He began a campaign to acquire the Infinity Stones and rewrite reality by erasing half of all life, which he finally achieved at the end of Infinity War. The warlord is crippled by the effort – and by destroying the Stones – before he is hunted down and killed by the remaining Avengers. However, a younger, alternate version of Thanos appears later in the film, and he learns of the heroes’ time heist due to their temporal meddling. The Mad Titan decides to destroy and remake the universe to negate any resistance to his legacy, but he’s finally defeated when Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) snaps him and his army out of existence
Conversely, the man known as Quentin Beck initially seems as if he could be the successor to Iron Man’s position as the primary defender of Earth - but he’s actually an ex-Stark Industries scientist who designed sophisticated holograms. After being fired by Stark Industries, Beck appealed to other disgruntled employees and together they created the “heroic” Mysterio and a fake group of foes for him to fight. This was their payback for Stark and his fellow superheroes, but it was also a shroud over Beck’s real motive: a simple egotistical desire for power and attention.
Mysterio only targeted Spider-Man because he needed the EDITH glasses to bolster his Elemental threat. Their rivalry intensified, though, when Peter discovered the truth and worked to bring Beck down. In their confrontation atop London’s Tower Bridge, Mysterio seemingly died after being caught by a stray bullet from his drones, but this did not stop his agents from publicly revealing Spider-Man’s secret identity. They also framed Peter as the mastermind of the Elemental plot, and the murderer of Mysterio in the process.
Subtext Is Key To Mysterio And Thanos's Success
Though Thanos and Mysterio are largely comic book accurate in terms of their design and personality, their backstories and motivations are revamped not just to fit into the cinematic shared universe, but to appeal to modern audiences. Indeed, to ensure that current audiences connect with stories and characters, screenwriters use allegory to enrich their movies. The most famous example would be Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, who was less the clownish trickster of yesteryear and more the brutal, untraceable and unpredictable kind of terrorist that befitted the movie's surveillance-heavy, post 9/11 setting.
Thanos, meanwhile, is the stand-in for many modern despots who indoctrinate children and misguided souls into following flawed, totalitarian ideologies. He might be intelligent in his own way, but Thanos is chillingly convinced of his righteousness, and does not consider the opinions of those he hopes to “save” despite the considerable flaws and hypocrisy of his absolutist methods. As a diverse band of heroes with various viewpoints, the Avengers are the counterpoint to Thanos’s monolithic way, serving as a source of empathy and collective, measured reason – at least compared to the Mad Titan.
Mysterio may not have the same aims as Thanos, but he is still a variation on this theme of modern tyranny. With a system that can shift reality and reshape how a person looks, the MCU’s Mysterio clearly draws upon the widespread anxiety that shady people are using new platforms to augment perceptions – and the truth - for their own ends.
Certainly, it’s no mistake that in his flashback scenes Beck is seen wearing a turtleneck and carrying a tablet, thus channeling Steve Jobs and other tech geniuses. Additionally, he later declares: “I created Mysterio to give the world someone to believe in. I control the truth... Mysterio is the truth!” and helps pin the blame on Spider-Man by supplying doctored footage to the Info Wars-esque Daily Bugle.net, thus misrepresenting the real circumstances. The updates made to both Thanos and Mysterio are fitting and thought provoking. Yet the latter succeeds because of the way in which the story follows through on the ideas that the characters raise.
Far From Home Handles Mysterio Better Than Endgame Treats Thanos
Despite unfurling his story across two movies, Thanos - and the ideas contained within him - ultimately suffers due to a lack of development. Whilst Infinity War shows Thanos driving the plot as he presents his callous manifesto for a changed universe, the first half of Endgame wisely steps back to survey the impact of both the Mad Titan and his plan. The problem then arises because Endgame doesn’t go back to re-interrogate either of these. Iron Man, his teammates and the audience may witness the obvious universal decline that Thanos instigated, but does the Mad Titan recognize this? How would he justify it?
Indeed, its rather strange that the alternate Thanos never investigates the consequences of the snap when he arrives in 2023. Neither is he confronted with the facts, or critiqued by the ever-snarky Tony Stark; the villain and heroes do not inform one another. To paraphrase Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), the film posits that the Avengers succeed because their will and gifts are superior to Thanos’s, and not because change, compassion and acceptance are the better, natural order of things. As such, the film drops all the connotations and ideas that made Thanos so compelling in Infinity War, and he's less interesting as a result.
Contrastingly, aside from the moral minefield of EDITH, Mysterio's nuances are satisfyingly resolved by the end credits of Far From Home. Like Thanos, Beck very nearly succeeds in his plot to deceive Spider-Man and the world, but his lies and confidence cannot be sustained forever. Peter is (literally and metaphorically) tortured by Beck’s warping of the truth, even when he and his friends become wise to his manipulations. Yet these dilemmas coincide with – and complement Spider-Man's arc.
Dejected by Iron Man’s death and questioning his role in the world, Mysterio’s plot forces Peter to trust in himself and take stock of the world on his own terms. In doing so, an enlightened Spider-Man is able to outmaneuver Mysterio and see through his deceptions. But even then, there is a fallout to Quentin Beck’s actions. His proficiency with fake news allows him to harm the wall-crawler from beyond the grave, and the fact that questions still linger after Mysterio's death means that he retains that sense of unknowability. Its an ending that's utterly suited to the pertinent tale of a young man negotiating a changing world, where a demagogue manipulates the populace via fake news.
As such, Spider-Man: Far From Home offers a more fulfilling conclusion for Mysterio than Avengers: Endgame does for Thanos because it satisfies both the wider needs of the plot, and the subtext wrapped within the Beck and his fellow characters. If there is a downside to both films, it is that neither feature the kind of open, meaty confrontation that Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) share in Thor, where the two foes spar with ideas prior to their fists. However, antagonists as thought-provoking as Quentin Beck are a welcome addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and fans can only hope that they continue this string of stellar villains in future films.
- Black Widow (2020) release date: May 01, 2020
- Eternals (2020) release date: Nov 06, 2020
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2021) release date: May 07, 2021
- Black Panther 2 (2022) release date: May 06, 2022
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) release date: Feb 12, 2021
- Thor: Love and Thunder (2021) release date: Nov 05, 2021