Spoilers ahead for Spider-Man: Far From Home.
As the final credit scene in Marvel Studios latest winning entry in Hollywood’s longest winning streak reveals, we were never really watching the actual Fury in the trailers or for most of Far From Home.
As the trailers purposely hinted at, the Nick Fury we were seeing seemed a little too gruff, a little too over-the-top to be the real thing. The scenes Marvel was putting in the public sphere hinted at almost a caricature of the famously no-nonsense Fury.
The first clue was the dart gun to Ned’s neck in the very first trailer. Another was his “Bitch, please, you’ve been to space” line in subsequent television/social media spots.
Did the Snap - now officially “the Blip” - somehow cause Fury to return to life even less patient and more no nonsense than he was before he left. As we say, we had our doubts from the very beginning, and expressed them only hours after Ned fell unconscious to the floor of a Venice hotel room.
But here’s the thing - in retrospect we now know Marvel Studios wanted that to pique the interest of fans and the media and wanted us all to speculate and inject theories into the public conscious as to what it meant, because that was all part of their dastardly plan.
But more on that in a moment. To best explain the degree by which Marvel Studios is ahead of us all, you have to go back a year and a half to paparazzi set photos from the New York sequences of Avengers: Endgame.
Rights issues prevent us from reproducing the “unauthorized” image here, but you close MCU observers will recall in photos featuring Chris Evans (in his first Avengers costume), Robert Downey Jr., and Paul Rudd on set in what was obviously a recreation of the Battle of New York sequence from the first Avengers film, an orange case labeled with B.A.R.F. was captured in a photo. This of course launched a thousand Internet theories as to how the “Binarily Augmented Retro-Framing” technology could be incorporated into the then-unknown mechanics of Endgame’s time travel plot.
Was the revisit to/recreation of the Battle of New York simply a simulation, or was B.A.R.F. being used as a navigation device? Did it mean Tony Stark didn’t actually survive being stranded/marooned on The Benatar?
We considered all these possibilities.
But the answer to all those questions were no, of course. B.A.R.F. didn’t factor into Endgame at all.
It could have just been an inside on-set joke never meant to see the light of day. Or it could have been Marvel was just setting us all up.
We’re going with the latter.
As explained by Michael Caine in Christopher Nolan’s excellent meta-exploration of stage magic The Prestige (which, not for nothing, also starred Wolverine, Batman, and Black Widow), a magic trick consists of three parts - the Pledge (something ordinary), the Turn (the ordinary does something extraordinary), and the Prestige (the surprise).
The film itself executed all three steps, hiding its own biggest - and simple - twist in plain sight. Christian Bale’s character was actually two characters - identical twins.
That’s the same sort of no-frills, old school technique Marvel Studios used to surprise hardcore MCU fans. By hiding B.A.R.F. in plain sight in Captain America: Civil War (the Pledge) and planting it in the build up to Endgame as an ‘unintended’ reveal and then confounding our expectations by it never appearing in Endgame (the Turn), the slight-of-hand distraction set most of us up to be surprised by its return in Far From Home (the Prestige).
But this wasn’t just a cheap card trick for kicks. This had intent and narrative purpose. Because Marvel Studios also knew us knowledgable hardcore followers would sniff out Mysterio’s true nature from the jump, they knew they had to spring a surprise on us for the inevitable reveal not feel anti-climatic and underwhelming. By marrying a classic Marvel comic book villain to a brand-new MCU invention so unexpectedly, they achieved just that. The ‘illusion of MCU Mysterio’ is how obvious it now all seems.
How meta is that?
Now back to Nick Fury. Again, Marvel was setting us up all along. They knew exactly what they were doing by having actor Numen Acar revealed as a character named “Dmitri” leak during build-up to the film.
Again, knowing full well observers in the media would make the connection between the name 'Dmitri' and classic Spider-Man villain the Chameleon, they knew they could plant seeds about Fury’s true nature and get away with it. It was all a set-up - the Pledge.
Inserting Maria Hill, and having her barely identifiable in the first trailer to muddy the speculative waters was Marvel Studios strutting and showing off.
Throughout Far From Home they keep up the tom … the 'Nick'foolery. Something about Fury’s demeanor and even Hill’s was just slightly off the entire time. But by the time the film (proper) ends moviegoers might have just chalked it up to what we did - a slight misstep based on another creative team’s interpretation of the character and/or the effects of the Blip and the MCU new world order.
But now, that again looks like subtle calculated brilliance. By at first giving us the materials to craft theories about if that was really Fury and if not who and by keeping the question lingering in the air the entire film, they completely set us up for the best post-credits MCU teaser ever.
The return of Ben Mendelsohn as Talos along with his wife, Soren (played by Sharon Blynn) posing as Fury and Hill is not only a very welcome MCU return, it was actually expected (at least by us) just one film ago. But by hiding Dmitri in plain sight, they completely threw us off the Talos trail along with again demonstrating how coordinated all the films really are.
The cherry on top of this illusion was Fury’s “Don’t invoke her name” response to Peter suggesting Captain Marvel could take his place fighting the Elementals. The joke really crosses the line of believability if we’re thinking Fury was the Chameleon. To imitate someone is one thing, but that suggests knowledge and context nobody else should reasonably have.
In retrospect coming from Talos it again makes perfect sense. He’s the only character in the MCU beside Fury the line would make sense for.
Again, hiding in plain sight.
That’s some next level @#$% right there.
Samuel L. Jackson’s entire performance and his part-as-written now takes on a brand new quality. Fury was written and performed as if a friend with an off-beat, sardonic sense of humor (Talos) was trying to interpret and imitate him.
Already famous for digitally manipulating trailers to fool fans, Marvel Studios’ two-steps ahead storytelling and marketing is just one of the reasons they’re Hollywood’s surest bet right now.
But that doesn’t mean we’re gonna stop trying to think along with them. But we’re close to conceding they’ve already planted new ways to keep us off balance.