There is a moment in Spider-Man: Far From Home with Mysterio that is one of the most audaciously cool-looking things I’ve ever seen in a Marvel movie. But as good as it is, it still isn’t my favorite take on the character outside of comics.
I am, of course, referring to the moment—having realized he’s just given Tony Stark’s vast and ponderous legacy to Quentin Beck based on a long con—Peter Parker thinks he’s swinging into a one-on-one scrap with the marvelous would-be-hero Mysterio in Berlin, only to find himself flung into a nightmarish illusory scenario, thrown this way and that by Beck’s army of drones and enough VFX magic to make a panel of Academy voters blush.
It is, honestly, incredible. From zombie Iron Man to Peter pulling a Rey from The Last Jedi in a hall of shattered mirrors, only to be beset by an army of Spider-Men trying to tear himself apart, it is the moment the film can finally let loose with Mysterio as a character. This is the villain we know of in the comics, the maestro of mirrors, the savant of smoke. A power set that doesn’t even actually exist becomes immediately threatening, chilling, and, well, actually powerful.
And yet it’s still not my favorite depiction of Mysterio’s hoodwinks outside of the comics. That happens to be in the tie-in console game for Spider-Man 2, best known as “the best Spider-Man video game before that Playstation 4 one came out.”
There’s actually many similarities to Far From Home’s sequence in Spider-Man 2's Mysterio quest. It’s one of several asides you come across in the game with Spider-Man villains not actually in the film, which is both weird and part of why Spider-Man 2's game was surprisingly awesome—despite being not just a movie tie-in game, because they’re usually a bit rubbish, but a movie tie-in game that featured Tobey Maguire giving the most spectacularly uninterested vocal performance of his life:
Great, isn’t it? Anyway, yes, Mysterio!
Quentin Beck is first encountered in Spider-Man 2 at a press conference gone haywire. Having been laughed at for crafting the effect of Mysterio as a giant, space-helmeted alien ostensibly invading from another world, Beck decides to actually just shoot up the gathered media with some very-not-holographic drones. From there, as Spider-Man swings into action, players end up on a sequence that is unlike anything else in the game’s depiction of New York—even a New York populated by a ridiculous amount of kids who need their balloons rescued and also a bunch of Spider-Man villains.
First, you’re swinging between B-movie UFOs to go beat up a giant-sized Mysterio who’s captured the Statue of Liberty. Then, you’re investigating his lair—at first seemingly a humble apartment, then soon revealed as an elaborate carnival funhouse full of mechanized creepy clowns to beat up, hallways that shift perspective, and eventually, just like Far From Home, a room of mirrors vomiting out twisted reflections of Spider-Man, forcing the player to contend with an army of enemies that suddenly has the same toolkit they do. Just as in that moment Far From Home uses CG magic and clever camera work to sell Mysterio’s deceptions, in Spider-Man 2 those deceptions are the perfect chance to “game-ify” Mysterio as a character.
His illusions become tangible gameplay mechanics and puzzles for the player to deal with, zany settings for levels and character designs crop up that otherwise wouldn’t fit in the “realism” of Spider-Man 2's open-world Manhattan. It is, just like that Far From Home sequence, a translation from one medium into another (video games here, movies with Far From Home) that plays to the deliberate strengths of the medium it’s being translated to, instead of trying to square the proverbial circle and bend the latter to the former.
But what I love most about Mysterio in Spider-Man 2, and what trumps it even above Jake Gyllenhaal’s masterful performance, is what actually comes after you’ve escaped Beck’s funhouse to find only a hologram of Mysterio behind the scenes, and the mission is ostensibly over. A short while later, as you swing about Manhattan on another mission, a new quest comes up—Mysterio’s been sighted, in person, robbing a convenience store! It’s a step down from alien invasions and lavish funhouse tricks, but then the game pulls out of the cutscene and gives Mysterio a boss healthbar. A big one. It fills up once, twice, three times—bigger than any foe you’ve encountered in the game so far. You’re trapped in a tiny little convenience store, robbing Spider-Man of some of the mobility that is essential to your combat toolkit. The joke has become real: How are you supposed to beat the hardest boss battle yet in such a limiting space?
You buckle up for a scrap. You leap in to take the first swing, to chip off the tiniest sliver of the first of several large healthbars...and it’s over. They all deplete immediately, Mysterio’s fishbowl helmet goes careening off, revealing the sniveling Quentin Beck underneath, begging to avoid a second punch from Spider-Man. Because why would a Mysterio fight be an epic confrontation? He’s just a guy who’s good with visual effects. It’s frankly genius, messing with your expectations of just how every video game works to deliver a moment that—way more than any goofy alien UFO or carnival clown ever could—actually tricks you, by playing with your inherent familiarity with game logic.
There’s a lot to be said about how, in his final moments in Far From Home, Mysterio’s greatest success is pulling off one last trick that actually hoodwinks the world—framing Spider-Man as a mass murderer while also exposing his secret identity, creating stakes that are hugely raised for Peter and will have massive ramifications for this version of the character going forward. But I can’t help admire the revelry the Mysterio of Spider-Man 2 takes in hoodwinking the player as one last goofy joke—tricking you to prepare for a nightmarish scenario only to reveal that is, after all, simply smoke and mirrors.
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