The first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Avengers: Endgame has to deal with the existential uncertainty and superhero vacuum created by the last episode
So what have we learned about the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) from watching Spider-Man: Far From Home? For a start, it is clear that the studio isn’t keen to allow all of Tony Stark’s fascinating tech to die along with Iron Man. There are more cool Stark gadgets in this movie – from a new AI named Edith to that natty suit-building machine – than in most Iron Man movies. Even Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan seems to have been permanently transferred from the Iron Man films to Team Spidey, thanks to his budding relationship with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).
Yet Robert Downey Jr’s absence as the genius inventor is palpable. Moreover, he is not the only one of Marvel’s big beasts to have gone missing, and there is a sense that the MCU will never be quite the same for these absences. Stark, Black Widow, Vision and Captain America are listed as deceased in an early scene – even if Captain America’s time-travelling jaunts mean he is probably not officially gone, just retired and super-wrinkly. Thor is off gallivanting through space with the Guardians of the Galaxy while Nick Fury, as that potent end-credits scene reveals, is on his own off-world jaunt. Even Peter Parker spends part of Far from Home doing his best to avoid being an Avenger, before getting inevitably dragged back in to the superhero game.
In this uncertain world in which most of the heroes are dead, retired or no longer give a damn, it is no surprise to see Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio raise his bowl-shaped head above the parapet. He is a disgruntled former Stark employee, leading a bucketload of other disgruntled former Stark employees, with an evil plan to convince the world that only he can save it from attack by mysterious Elementals from another dimension, and thereby fill the hero vacuum that has emerged since Iron Man’s death. This he does with the help of high-tech special effects, and the story that he himself also hails from another reality.
Set against this nefarious charlatan is Nick Fury’s apparent plan (with the help of Edith) to train Spider-Man up as Stark’s successor. Parker ends the movie with a new girlfriend, MJ (Zendaya), a cool new suit, and the confidence to take advantage of Edith’s many powers. And yet, by the end of the mid- and post- end credits scenes, it seems he may soon find himself in a darker place than ever.
First up, the mid-credits scene, in which JK Simmons’s resurrected J Jonah Jameson – now an Infowars-style purveyor of fake video news, rather than the newspaper editor he was in the Sony Spider-Man films – destroys Parker’s reputation and reveals his secret identity with the help of dodgy video edited by Mysterio to show Spider-Man as a villainous aggressor in their final battle. Thanks to this, Parker will be a pariah in the post-Endgame MCU. The public are likely to see him not as the superhero Earth needs but as an evil interloper from another dimension who murdered the planet’s main hope of defending itself (Mysterio) against the next extraterrestrial invasion. It is a bittersweet twist that brutally undermines the main movie’s cheery finale.
In the post-credits scene, we discover that Fury had been impersonated throughout the film by shapeshifting Skrull Talos (Ben Mendolsohn), apparently with the former SHIELD supremo’s blessing. If so – and by this point it’s hard to know what to believe – then Fury himself is partly to blame for the entire Mysterio episode. By allowing the Skrull to take his place, he put Parker at risk and set in motion the chain of events that almost led to Mysterio’s plan coming to fruition.
And speaking of failures, if Tony Stark really felt it was a good idea to leave a teenager in charge of high-tech weapons of mass destruction (via the Edith sunglasses), could he not have built in a failsafe to avoid them being passed on to somebody else with a less precise moral compass? Did the late, great Iron Man not learn anything from his idiotic Ultron exercise?
Perhaps future films will see Spider-Man’s name cleared and his reputation restored. But the overall impression left by Far from Home, despite its ostensibly breezy tone, is of an MCU in which we can no longer trust anything we are told, where all the old certainties have been undermined and where, frankly, all bets are off as to what happens next. Wouldn’t you agree?