Going Rogue From the Rogues Gallery
Although not all of the MCU’s villains have world-ending plans, the ones that do have become more and more common. Even the villains who are motivated by a philosophical point of view or personal grievance often carry consequences beyond whatever personal conflict lies between the hero and villain. Killmonger intended to incite global war, Hela’s genocidal ambitions would’ve swallowed the Nine Realms, the Red Skull was willing to blow up half the world to claim victory, Ultron tried to kill all of humanity just to prove the Avengers were failures, and Ego was going to assimilate the galaxy to satisfy his, er, ego. With threats of this magnitude on such a regular schedule, it’s impossible to buy that the heroes could possibly lose, because the MCU needs to keep chugging along. Even the victims of the Snap had to be restored. By this point, the end of the world isn’t really a big deal anymore. It’s become routine.
This is the crux of Far From Home’s opening sequence: with the universe-wide devastation wrought by Thanos undone and shuffled away, we’re back to the school year and enjoying casual humor about traumatic events. In 2012, an alien invasion was something new. By 2024, so many apocalyptic threats have arrived and been thwarted that the MCU’s civilians are able to cope with just about anything, and it’s only in this cultural paradigm that Mysterio’s plan could succeed. Quentin Beck fabricated a global catastrophe, the kind of blockbuster spectacle the MCU is known for, purely as a vanity project, because the world he lives in makes that a feasible scheme. His tale about being a superhero who battles elemental monsters unleashed by a dimensional rift created by the Snap is taken completely at face value by everyone in the film, because why wouldn’t it? It’s been a whole eight months since Thanos was defeated. They’re practically overdue for the next cosmic crisis.
You Don’t Send Your Calling to Voicemail
The difference here is in who will be confronting said crisis, because after Endgame, the Avengers’ status quo has undergone such a seismic shift that their role in the current MCU landscape is unclear. They were the ones expected to intervene when the world is threatened, but now, the folks at SHIELD are asking a literal teenager if he’s ready to save humanity from Avengers-level threats. Yet that’s not typically Peter Parker’s concern; his villains tend to be localized to New York, and so far in the MCU, he’s only been involved in larger scale conflicts when he’s pulled into them by other heroes. After all, when he had the choice, he rejected his Avengers membership in Homecoming. He keeps ignoring Nick Fury’s calls because he doesn’t want to be dragged into another world-ending scenario. Why can’t he just be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man?
Because the world’s moved on, and now, being ready to save the world is what’s expected of him. This is what makes Mysterio’s gambit so timely; Peter knows the burden of responsibility has shifted onto his shoulders. He knows the Avengers are no longer the unbreakable pillar holding up the world, and that he might one day be the only thing standing between humanity and oblivion. So when a new hero rolls along who seems to be every single Avenger combined into one (because Quentin specifically designed his alter ego to come across that way), Mysterio knows exactly how to prey on Peter’s fear and insecurity to get him to hand over the EDITH glasses. Peter’s moment of weakness, his desire for self-gratification, is exactly what Mysterio exploits to get what he wants.
Samuel L. Jackson was Fury-ous over this Spider-Man: Far From Home poster. Watch the video below to find out why:
Not Wrong, But Also Not Right
Even still, Peter’s not entirely wrong to want what he wants. Conceptually, there’s nothing inherently bad about going to Europe with his friends, getting to know the girl he likes, and taking some time to recover from his psychological scars. But he’s too quick to let go of his responsibility because before now, he knew he had a safety net. If he screwed up, the Avengers could bail him out. But placing too much of his trust in others because he didn’t trust himself is exactly how he wound up playing into Mysterio’s hands. And while there was no actual world-ending threat or big monster at the end, there could have been, and there likely will be again, and charlatans like Mysterio aren’t the ones who can be trusted to stop it.
This is why the final confrontation with Mysterio ultimately boils down to Peter trusting his Spider-Sense (Peter-Tingle?), and thus himself, rather than allowing others to take responsibility for him. There would certainly be consequences for other people if Peter failed in this battle; his friends would be dead, for one. But the world would keep spinning. With most of the other MCU villains, the world would either be destroyed, conquered, or irrevocably changed. With Mysterio, we trade in an alleged apocalyptic conflict for a genuine personal one, where the stakes are specifically oriented around Peter. Even when Quentin’s machinations see Peter’s identity revealed to the public, there’s little reason to believe that would be a threat to the world.
But it’s definitely a threat to Peter’s world, and this is what makes Mysterio so dangerous. The Elementals might be illusions, but they demonstrate how powerless the galactic scale villains can be, because the world needs to be saved. But a man with a gun, some drones and a personal vendetta? He challenged Peter far more than Thanos ever could.
Carlos Morales writes novels, articles and Mass Effect essays. You can follow his fixations on IGN and Twitter.