Spoilers ahead for Spider-Man: Far From Home.
One of my favorite things about Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home is that they’re very much about our current era. In Homecoming, the villain, Adrian Toomes aka Vulture (Michael Keaton), is an entitled white guy who’s motivated by resentment. He sees a wealthy elite like Tony Stark who has screwed him over, and Toomes feels like that’s a license to steal and hurt others. It’s the kind of white, working-class rage where you’re not really oppressed but you still feel screwed over by the system, so you agree to blow up the system because your own self-interest overrides the well-being of others.
Far From Home continues looking at life in Trump’s America by being even more direct about the villains, their motives, and their means. This time around, the villain is basically Silicon Valley. The character may be Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), but the villainy is really him and his team, a bunch of disaffected tech nerds who feel like they weren’t properly respected by Tony Stark. Like Vulture, there’s the painful entitlement and a reckless disregard for the lives of others. The satire is razor sharp where you have a bunch of tech geniuses putting on a big show of helping others when in reality they’re just making things worse and serving their own interests.
But to make sure there’s no ambiguity about it, in the final battle with Mysterio, the villain tells Peter (Tom Holland), “Mysterio is the truth,” and, speaking of the populace, “They’ll believe anything.” Mysterio’s superpower is that he’s able to conjure massive lies that people are willing to believe because they’re already scared. He’s taking advantage of a crisis, not working to solve it. The world is recovering from “the blip”, they know hostile aliens exist, so why not believe in an otherworldly savior figure who’s like “Thor and Iron Man combined.” What makes Far From Home so damning (especially for a summer blockbuster and a Marvel movie) is that it shows people don’t really question a strong-man as long as he promises to protect you. The crisis is manufactured, and Mysterio is both arsonist and fireman.
Of course, some could take Mysterio’s actions the other way and say that he represents “Fake News”, but that would ignore the fact that when our big wet President uses that term, he’s solely referring to news he doesn’t like. The guy who demonstrably lies all the time is not a defender of veracity. You could also argue that Mysterio shows that false flags are real, but again, this doesn’t really work because it’s not like the danger doesn’t exist or that Mysterio is working for a larger organization. He’s someone who’s in it for himself, preying on your preexisting fears, and he’s doing it because he feels like he didn’t get the recognition he deserved.
This would all be pretty bleak, but thankfully, Far From Home doesn’t descend into a nihilistic belief that truth is unknowable and therefore nothing matters. Instead, after Mysterio is defeated, the movie punctuates the scene by having Peter and MJ (Zendaya) meet up again. They’ve spent the whole movie not being honest with each other about their feelings, which makes sense since they’re teenagers. They’ve been awkward and managed glances at each other, but the most truth they’ve gotten is Peter confessing to her that he’s Spider-Man. But the real truth is that they have feelings for each other. Far From Home isn’t willing to go so far to say that the truth can defeat Mysterio’s lies (this is a superhero movie, so only punching can do that, and as the post-credits scene shows, even punching has its limitations), but it does acknowledge that truth exists and we shouldn’t hide it from each other even if there’s a risk of heartbreak.
There is a crowd that argues “politics shouldn’t be brought into art,” without realizing that all art is political. It doesn’t get created in a vacuum. Spider-Man: Far From Home and Spider-Man: Homecoming are street-level movies that try to exist in a semblance of our reality. Unlike Thor or Guardians of the Galaxy, which are trying to hit at larger emotional truths, the Spider-Man MCU movies are all about reckoning with the MCU in a realistic fashion. That realism extends to our world when we can see the clear analogies these movies are making.
Granted, these films are only going to go so far. Marvel Studios is owned by Disney, and while conservatives like to bash on Hollywood, their money still spends. They buy tickets to movies, buy merchandise, and go to Disneyland. There isn’t going to be a Marvel movie where a character turns to the camera and says, “To hell with Donald Trump and all his supporters!” But the subtext of Far From Home and Homecoming is undeniable, especially with regards to its villains. Homecoming didn’t make Vulture an old man who tries to steal Spider-Man’s youth. Far From Home didn’t make Mysterio a failed special effects wizard. They made them both a couple of bitter men motivated by entitlement and resentment. The Spider-Man movies know the world we’re living in and it’s confident enough to point out recognizable villainy.