[Warning: spoilers in abundance ahead!]
My friends and I went to see Spiderman: Far From Home yesterday. The trailers showed me Peter Parker ignoring Nick Fury’s calls so he could go on a class trip and try to Make A Move on MJ; the trip involves a monstrous creature attacking various sites in Europe, while a mysterious caped fellow fights it with magical green smoke.
Thus far the trailer – but the real story and intrigue of Far From Home is a movie-within-a-movie about objective reality and how it can be framed or obscured.
Post-Endgame, post “Blip” (when half the population disappeared for 5 years, then returned as if no time had passed), Peter Parker’s hoping to take the summer off from Avenger duties so he can process his grief over Tony Stark’s death, as well as act on his crush in Venice and Paris. Fury summons him to help fight the new threat of Elementals (“cyclones with faces,” which manifest in earth, water, air, or fire in their attacks), giving him Tony’s bequest of EDITH: a pair of glasses that grant access to an AI controlling Stark Enterprises databases and drones. Uncertain of his place in a post-Tony world, Peter gives them to Quentin Beck, seeming fighter of Elementals from another dimension.
Unfortunately, Beck is not what he seems. As Aldrich Killian resented Tony in Iron Man III, as Adrian Toomes resented both Tony and the Department of Damage Control in Spiderman: Homecoming, so Quentin Beck and his crew of former Stark Industries
employees resent Tony’s lack of appreciation for their intelligence and their labors. Beck had developed the holographic projection technology Tony used solely for therapy, while maligning it and failing to understand or present its power and possibilities to the world.
It turns out that holographic projections can create the illusion of an “Avengers level” monster, as well as project a magical caped crusader to conquer it with green swirls of smoke. Beck’s crew find it ridiculous that a mysterious fellow in a cape has more attention and clout than a number of scientists and engineers, but figure that they can use the power of visual illusion to craft their narrative, getting their revenge on Tony by proxy in the process: they’ll claim EDITH for their own, and kill Peter, along with any other inconvenient witnesses.
EDITH’s weaponized droids do a whole lot of damage to London before Peter is able to break them, reclaim control of EDITH, and witness Beck getting killed by a stray drone shot. The dust settles, Peter and MJ kiss, things return to normal.
Beck died, but his crew haven’t. They choreographed the cyclone monsters, and use footage from Beck’s final minutes to set Peter up – framed for Beck’s death and the drone attacks on London, and named on the news. Good-bye, secret identity, and hello, trying to disseminate the truth when people believe the fake news they heard first.
This is a fitting cap to all the moments throughout the film of characters trying to discern the truth: Ned telling Betty about what he saw on the news or the internet; Brad jumping to conclusions about what Peter’s up to, snapping a picture for evidence; Peter trying to communicate with Fury in a secure environment, only to be slammed into a bunch of holographic nightmares that taunt him with vertigo, MJ in danger, and Tony Stark’s desiccated corpse.
Watching these illusions and framed tales unfold as though they’re real, on a screen that can only ever show pictures, not reality: there’s something delicious about it. Of course it is happening inside your head, dear viewer, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?
One wonders how it felt to be a moviemaker working on a film wherein illusionists are crafting, choreographing, and displaying their fight scene to the world. The filmmakers get their paycheck and whatever satisfaction comes from their creative work; what does Beck’s crew get, other than revenge and some slight satisfaction in filling a fraction of the gap Tony Stark left? How long before the group would dissolve in in-fighting, or before they’d all pack up their scientific progress for Hollywood?
Perhaps we’ll find out in whatever Spiderman film comes next, as this group remains at large. In the meantime, Far From Home was an interesting and amusing follow-up to Spiderman: Homecoming, and a necessary step back in scope from Endgame. Watching it again should prove rewarding, if only to anticipate Beck’s moves (or to analyze how Fury behaves when he isn’t actually himself). That said, the movie will probably provoke further thought than that, considering the extent to which visual and aural manipulation goes on in the external world. The shadow of Orwellian oversight, the specter of Big Brother, and the threat of history being rewritten are familiar menaces, but no less foreboding for it.