The Magic of Mysterio

How can learning more about fictional characters from pop culture help us improve our performances? Read this post to find out!

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains Spider-Man: Far From Home spoilers. If you haven't seen the film, I recommend watching it before reading this article.

I recently watched Spider-Man: Far From Home for a third time with my daughters. Like many kids, they're big fans of the lovable webhead and enjoyed the humour in the film (especially the "Peter-tingle" running gag). I'm also a fan of comics, superhero movies and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Rewatching the film got me thinking about the depiction of magic in mass media, e.g., comic books, television shows and motion pictures. 

As a lifelong comic book fan and collector, I often incorporate elements of comic-book culture into my presentations. But the way magic is represented on screen, in particular, is something all magical performers should take notice of because it affects how members of the public perceive both magic and magicians in general. Learning about some of the magical, mystical and mysterious characters from popular culture is helpful because this knowledge can aid us in the development of an engaging script, character or performance persona. With this idea in mind, let's take a closer look at one of the most underrated members of Spidey's rich rogue's gallery and the main antagonist in Spider-Man: Far From Home: Mysterio.


Mysterio Marvel 101 Video. Video Credit: Marvel.

Mysterio (real name Quentin Beck) is an expert designer and fabricator of movie special effects equipment and stage illusions. He is one of Spider-Man's most persistent, formidable and fearsome foes. Mysterio wears a sci-fi-inspired costume, complete with a fish-bowl-shaped helmet, distinctive gauntlets, and a long flowing cape. His helmet obscures his face (made of one-way plexiglass) and is reminiscent of a crystal ball, which adds to the mystery of the character.

Mysterio, in his trademark costume, surrounded by his hallucinogenic gas. Image Credit: Marvel.

He is known as a magician, illusionist, and master hypnotist. Even so, Mysterio has no superhuman abilities or magical powers1. Instead, he achieves most of his illusions through a combination of hypnogens, hallucinogens and holographic projectors. As the self-proclaimed "Master of Illusion", Mysterio has much in common with real-life stage magicians and illusionists. In the Marvel Noir universe, he is even depicted as a stage magician who performs under the title of "The Magnificient Mysterio" 2.

Since I started collecting comics, Mysterio has been one of my favourite Marvel characters. This isn't surprising, given my passion for magic and the fact that I also have a degree in Computer Animation and Special Effects; I promise I have no ambitions to become a ruthless supervillain like Quentin Beck, though! 

A lot of fans don't consider him an A-list supervillain, like the Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus, because of his lack of superpowers. However, I've always found him an intriguing and appealing character precisely because he has none. Like Batman, he relies on his talent, intelligence, physical skills and technology to battle his foes, usually resorting to some kind of psychological manipulation. Given that he has no real powers, the fact that he's managed to defeat Spider-Man on multiple occasions is even more impressive and makes him one of Spidey's most dangerous enemies. Regardless of his reputation as a lightweight supervillain, Mysterio will always hold a special place in my heart. He represents, better than any other fictional comic book character, what we magicians spend all our time doing: pretending to have powers that we don't possess.

Legendary duo Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created Mysterio in 1964. The character first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #13, masquerading as a hero who turned out to be a criminal—a situation echoed in the recent MCU movie.

The Amazing Spider-Man #13 (1963). Image Credit: Marvel.

In the comic books, Mysterio is a former stuntman, special effects artist, and failed actor and screenwriter. He uses his unusual mix of talents to commit audacious crimes. He is also a founding member of the Sinister Six supervillain team.

Information on Mysterio from The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 (1963). Image Credit: Marvel.

In Spider-Man: Far From Home, Mysterio is the main antagonist, portrayed by actor Jake Gyllenhaal. Quentin Beck is a disgruntled former Stark Industries scientist who blames Tony for his professional failures. Beck engineers a big con, making Nick Fury and Maria Hill3—both former agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.—believe that he's the last surviving hero from Earth-833 (the destroyed homeworld of Spider-UK in the comics). If you're wondering, the stories of the MCU take place on Earth-616. This is the primary continuity in which most stories in Marvel Comics are set.

Jake Gyllenhaal as Quentin Beck (Mysterio) in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Photo Credit: IMDB.

Beck uses his ultra-realistic holographic technology, combined with drones, to give the impression that he has mystical powers. For example, Beck produces a green mist, and the Eye of Providence4 appears in front of his hands when he uses his fake powers to fight enormous monsters called Elementals. These also turn out to be sophisticated holographic illusions generated by Beck and his secret crew. His apparent magical powers are reminiscent of Dr Strange5, who also manifests mystical symbols in front of his hands when casting spells in the Infinity Saga (the films in the first three phases of the MCU). Through his use of advanced holographic technology, Beck embodies science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke's third law:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

So how could we use all this information in a magic trick? Well, you could use Mysterio's mastery of illusion tech in the film to provide a tongue-in-cheek explanation for your magic. For example, after making a coin disappear, but before reproducing it, you might say, "I'm using miniature holographic projectors to make it appear as if the coin has disappeared. But, of course, it hasn't. That would be impossible. It's just temporarily invisible thanks to the Binary Augmented Retro-Framing technology that I have hidden up my sleeve." Of course, people won't believe this nonsense, but it makes your magic more interesting. It also includes a cheeky nod to the MSU that only a dedicated fan would pick up on.

Near the end of the film, Mysterio uses a well-known quote, often misattributed to Mark Twain6, when talking to Peter Paker:

"It's easy to fool people when they're already fooling themselves."

— Mysterio, Spider-Man: Far From Home

This is an excellent quote for a magician to use when explaining the nature of reality, perception and illusion to an audience. The fact that it has been used in one of the most successful blockbusters in recent years makes it easier for an audience to understand it; the plot of Far From Home hinges on the concept of deception, the idea of fake realities and, at the very end of the film, the power of fake news. These themes can be woven into a magic presentation by using selected film quotes like this one.

Finally, watching Mysterio battle the Elementals also prompted another interesting, more practical question: Can green smoke be produced during a magic trick? Most current systems use glycerin and potassium permanganate to create white puffs of smoke. You can get coloured smoke capsules to use in smoke machines, but they contain dyes that stain clothing and soft furnishings—not something you'd want to do as a close-up magician. However, it may be possible to use one of the current smoke devices with a concealed, coloured light to create green smoke. But perhaps green smoke is a bad idea. When my seven-year-old daughter Paige watched the film, she said the green fog Mysterio produced when he flew made it look like he was farting! 💨😂

I've enjoyed researching this short article, so I plan to do an extended series of blog posts on the depiction of magic in different types of media, such as comics, film and television.


  1. This isn't strictly true. He did gain real mystical power for a short period when his fake daughter tried to sacrifice him to a demon called Cyttorak to gain magical powers. However, the ritual goes wrong, the situation is accidentally reversed, and Mysterio is temporarily gifted with supernatural powers instead. Generally speaking, though, he's usually depicted as having no superpowers.

  2. Karla Pacheco et al. Edge of Spider-Verse #1. (New York: Marvel, 2022).

  3. It is later revealed that Nick Fury and Maria Hill are, in fact, the Skrulls Talos and Soren in disguise, following orders from the real Nick Fury while he is away commanding a Skrull spaceship.

  4. The Eye of Providence, or the All-Seeing Eye of God, is a figure that depicts an eye enclosed in a triangle, surrounded by rays of light or glory. It can be seen on the two clasps that fix Mysterio's cape to his shoulders and in the mystical symbols that he incorporates into his holographic illusions in Spider-Man: Far From Home. In addition, the Eye of Providence can be found on the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States, which features on the one-dollar bill.

  5. Dr Strange, also known as the Sorcerer Supreme, is Earth's primary protector against all magical and mystical threats.

  6. Mark Twain actually said: "How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and how hard it is to undo that work again!" Semantically, this is the same as the line from Far From Home.