When the news that Jake Gyllenhaal is in talks to play the villain Mysterio in Marvel’s untitled Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel, the Sinister Six rumor mill kicked into high gear. After all, the report also mentions the possibility that Michael Keaton, who played Homecoming’s chief antagonist Adrian Toomes (a.k.a. Vulture), would reprise his role. However, an entirely different question crossed my mind.
Does Hollywood stuntman and special effects artist-turned-criminal Quentin Beck’s arrival mean the next Spider-Man film will be Marvel’s first movie about making movies? In other words, could Marvel Studios be laying the groundwork for its first Deadpool-esque attempt at meta-filmmaking? Because if they stick to the first Mysterio’s origins in the comics, then Spider-Man 2 might very well be Marvel’s Tropic Thunder.
THR’s initial report mentions the classic Beck version of Mysterio that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko introduced in 1964. Even so, this doesn’t mean Gyllenhaal’s antagonist will have the same backstory, although it’s likely he’ll at least have the same name. For all we know, the subsequent Daniel Berkhart and Francis Klum versions may have a little influence this incarnation, too, as Marvel loves to pull from all era’s of a character’s history (although with Klum being a mutant that would complicate thingsm given that Fox still holds the license for that particular corner of the Marvel Universe).
Either way, the possibility of the Spider-Man 2 villain being the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first major character with Hollywood connections is an opportunity they shouldn’t ignore. For starters, it affords director Jon Watts another chance to build on the small ways the everyday world has been affected by the other films’ potentially world-ending events. This is exactly what happened turned the Vulture bad in Spider-Man: Homecoming, as he felt just as small and restricted as Peter Parker by the shared universe’s much larger players.
Keaton’s Toomes blamed Tony Stark and the Avengers for ruining his life and livelihood after the battle of New York, so how might the events of Infinity War, or frankly, any other Marvel movie, influence Gyllenhaal’s Beck? Unlike Toomes, whose work as a salvage contractor figured prominently in the Homecoming story, dealing with the cleanup from The Avengers‘ “Battle of New York,” Beck’s career as a stuntman and special effects maestro doesn’t have an easy entry into the MCU narrative. Perhaps the existence of armored superheroes, Norse gods, and big green monsters turned Hollywood and audiences against his profession. Why see “fake” action in a theater when you can watch the real thing outside?
As for the potential “meta” aspect of the Mysterio character, this speaks directly to Marvel Studios President and frequent executive producer Kevin Feige’s penchant for talking genre. Feige will often point out that these aren’t just superhero movies, but particular genre pieces. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was said to be a “political thriller” for example, whereas Iron Man 3 was a “techno-thriller.” And Homecoming? Feige and Watts repeatedly pointed to the high school-bound work of John Hughes as their inspiration.
The latter makes complete sense to anyone who has seen Homecoming, and Feige insists the connection will continue with Marvel and Sony’s second collaboration. “The way Civil War and the fact that he went to Leipzig Airport and then has to go back to school, informed Homecoming, the two Avengers films that precede [the sequel] will greatly inform, probably even more so, the next movie,” Feige told Den of Geek recently.
“Meta” isn’t a whole genre unto itself, of course, but the use of self-awareness has always been a popular narrative tool in Hollywood. Some of the most popular films of the last century, like Singin’ In The Rain, concern the very industry that brought them to life. Others, like Deadpool, call out the fact that they’re movies and will even break the fourth wall. 2008’s Tropic Thunder, which was directed and co-written by Ben Stiller, somehow manages to find precisely the right comedic line to follow between the two. It’s quite literally a movie about a movie, and through it all, the story lets Stiller and his cohorts roasts themselves and everyone else in the industry.
The financial success of Deadpool and Deadpool 2 notwithstanding, Marvel probably won’t have Parker or Mysterio go as far as either Wade Wilson or Stiller’s fading action hero Tugg Speedman. Considering the atypical filmmaking practices Feige encouraged among Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther directors Taika Waititi and Ryan Coogler, however, maybe Watts and writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers are on to something with Mysterio. Besides, Beck’s background not only places the entertainment industry squarely in the MCU, but it also grants the creative team the chance to poke fun at themselves, all while winking at the audience.