Donnie Darko is Mysterio? Jake Gyllenhaal suits up for unexpected role

Last updated:

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Spider-Man: Far From Home.

“Those are the actual green lasers that I shoot out of my hands… That’s what I can do, and that’s why they hired me,” Jake Gyllenhaal jokes on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon about his new superhero role. 

Tending to star in indie movies as brooding, edgy characters, Gyllenhaal is known for dazing the cinematic crowd with an artistic touch not very palatable for mass audiences. Especially after the failure of his action-packed flick Prince of Persia: Sands of Time in 2010, the media predicted that Gyllenhaal would not return to making blockbusters. Those who doubted his willingness or ability to take on other large scale films, however, were proven wrong. 

When the Spider-Man: Far From Home trailer was released, fans were exhilarated to see Gyllenhaal uncharacteristically take the role of Mysterio, a seemingly ideal superhero. He zooms across the sky in his elaborate suit—complete with a fishbowl helmet and cape—and recites valiant lines amidst a cloud of green smoke. This dramatic role change raised many questions. One particular question soon became popular among the press: Why, after all this time, did an out-of-our-league actor like Jake Gyllenhaal choose to play Mysterio in a Marvel film?

Gyllenhaal is notorious in Hollywood for his extreme dedication to his art. Ever since his parents’ divorce in 2009, he grew his intensity and focus in his role as an actor. “When anybody does something that honest, it inspires you,” he told Entertainment Weekly. He adopted a form of method acting, researching and almost obsessively undergoing preparations, no matter how brutal, to emulate his characters. For the cop movie Edge of Watch, he followed along all-night police ride-alongs for five months, even witnessing a murder. To become the psychopathic, crime-addicted journalist in Nightcrawler, he committed to a daily 15-mile run to set. As he ran in the break of dawn, he recited his lines over and over, purportedly developing an existential connection with coyotes, an animal he based his nocturnal character on (EW).

With such distinctive career decisions, Gyllenhaal demands respect. It is extremely difficult to stay in the film industry as long as he has (his first role was in City Slickers as an 11 year old) and still portray fresh characters that are not molded by the flashy demands of Hollywood. He makes sure not to repeat his Prince of Persia mistake by only accepting roles that represent who he is. His films may be small, but they maintain his integrity towards his love for the stories behind characters. His interviews, in which he eloquently delves into the deep meanings behind his films, reveal his philosophy. He acts for the art, not the publicity. 

If not for the money and fame, what did Gyllenhaal see in Marvel and Mysterio that was worthy of his attention? He told The Los Angeles Times at the Sundance Film Festival, “[It] has always been my desire to find something in [the blockbuster realm] that seems to match my skill and also what I love and my own honesty, and it just so happens that it does with [Mysterio].” The exact reason he loves Mysterio so much comes from a secret Gyllenhaal had been hiding from fans throughout the entire press tour.

Gyllenhaal and his co-star Tom Holland had been planting claims that Mysterio is Spider-Man’s new superhero partner. Much to their fans’ amusement, the two actors quickly developed a quirky friendship. The unlikely pair often joked about being in love, and when they arrived at the premiere with matching suits and shoes, Gyllenhaal announced, “[Our relationship is] really a romance. I’m just tired of the word bromance… It is a straight up romance.” While promoting the film, Gyllenhaal lightened up his “serious-actor” persona, truly seeming to enjoy himself. The former self-proclaimed luddite even joined Instagram to share moments from the press tour, creating internet buzz with his hilarious posts and cheeky captions. How would Jake Gyllenhaal play a Marvel hero? Everyone wanted to know.

However, when Mysterio made his first appearance on screen, audiences were disappointed and perplexed by Gyllenhaal’s presentation. Entertainment Weekly claimed, “As heroes go, [Mysterio] seems honorable and charming, if a bit boring.” Yohana Desta from Vanity Fair stated, “Gyllenhaal’s muted performance in these early scenes… seemed like a waste of [his] talent.” The flat, cheesy character was not expected of the Oscar-nominated actor.

Despite the initial let-down, those who know Jake Gyllenhaal knew he had more to deliver. An hour into the movie, Mysterio takes off his enchanting costume, revealing his sinister side. He never was a hero; he was only an actor with a special effects team and a conviction that power should be in his hands. To the pleasant surprise of everyone in the audience, Gyllenhaal channeled the complexity of the character—the manipulative, jealous, ambitious, and narcissistic traits that fit perfectly in his repertoire of roles.

After the spoiler ban was lifted, Gyllenhaal opened up on how he developed his unconventional villain. “I didn’t really want to do a mustache-twisting character,” he told Rotten Tomatoes. He and Director John Watts made the MCU’s Mysterio with the freedom that came with the greater degree of obscurity surrounding the villain’s comic book counterpart. Gyllenhaal interprets Mysterio as a filmmaker within a film. He told Entertainment Weekly, “It’s a movie about how you make one of these movies and [how] people will believe anything that happens in these movies now.” 

As usual, critics are swept away by Gyllenhaal’s performance. Atlantic’s David Sims, who praised the actor for being “the real star of… Far From Home”, claimed, “Gyllenhaal, who has a real talent for balancing charm, rage, and utter ludicrousness, is excellent as Mysterio, using the hero’s left-field presentation to satirize the ongoing phenomenon of cultural worship for do-gooders in colorful spandex.” Sean O’Connell from Cinemablend also applauded Gyllenhaal as “one of the most exciting Spider-Man characters we’ve ever seen”.

Indeed, the entrance of Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio into the MCU has a greater effect than anyone had expected. The master of illusion’s malevolent attempt to recreate the superhero flair with computer-generated imagery sparks a rare incidence of Marvel being self aware of its public-enthralling antics. Gloating over the havoc he created in the Tower Bridge in London, Mysterio exclaims, “Now, that’s an Avenger level threat.” The filmmakers in Marvel’s editing rooms must share Mysterio’s excitement when working their own movie magic.

Gyllenhaal stated, “I don’t want to play [just another guy Peter Parker has to fight]. I want to play it [so] that Peter’s left with a lesson” (EW). With this message and the unmasking of Spider-Man in the mid-credits scene, the future of the franchise is put in an interesting light. Audiences will just have to wait and see if Marvel alluding to its own tricks is a part of its bigger plan. Meanwhile, fans can enjoy rewatching interviews of Gyllenhaal and Holland with the satisfaction of finally understanding the knowing looks the two actors furtively exchange.

Gyllenhaal’s Prince of Persia days are over. When he does return to the big screen, he does so with a purpose. By combining qualities of his iconic roles in Donnie Darko, Nightcrawler, and Bubble Boy, as he humorously remarks, he creates one of the most eccentric antagonists in cinema. He proves his versatility by bringing his unique style into any movie in any genre. Jake Gyllenhaal never fails to captivate the audience, and after seeing his wonderfully twisted supervillain performance, the world is ready for anything else he decides to surprise it with.

More Stories
Bye, BronyCon! Why the My Little Pony Convention is Ending