Fans are raving about Michael Keaton’s portrayal of Adrian Toomes — The Vulture — in the recently released Spider-Man: Homecoming. Keaton’s portrayal of Batman 30-odd years ago received somewhat mixed reviews. Keaton was good in the role, but his performance won’t rank as high as Christian Bale or Adam West in fans’ eyes. As The Vulture, Keaton takes a completely different approach. He is no longer a hero. The Vulture remains one of Spider-Man’s oldest foe having first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #2 in 1963.
Keaton’s version of The Vulture debuts with an origin far different from the comic book character. What has not changed is the evil menace. The Vulture’s cruelty and malevolence make a very dangerous and, dare it to be said, human character.
Without giving away too much of the plot, the Toomes character is humanized in more ways than simply making him super-powered by way of wearing a super-suit. Toomes struggles because he has been financially maligned by the powerful. His response, however, is not justified. Breaking the law is still breaking the law. Being an evil super-villain might come with motivation, but it doesn’t come with justification.
Men in the audience who ever felt like the little guy who was trampled by an overbearing boss or the nebulous system may maintain an understanding with Toomes. Still, to paraphrase what Clint Eastwood said in 1973’s Magnum Force, the system may stink but its all a civil society has.
Keaton’s villainy undermines any sympathy audiences feel. The Vulture is a bad guy, which is good. Critics point out that Spider-Man’s cinematic villains were somewhat lacking in prior films. Honestly, this assessment may be a bit harsh. The Spider-Man films did present some solid villains. Critical assessment of Keaton being the perfect MCU villain are not far from the mark.
A Spider-Man film relies heavily on the villains at the center of the conflict. The right person must be cast in the role of the villain or else a classic villain won’t deliver the necessary on-screen thrills.
All the acclaim Michael Keaton receives from his performance indicates he far exceeded everyone’s expectations. The “Keaton comeback” started with Birdman, a role that poked a bit of fun at Keaton’s previous career at Batman. Keaton’s successful performance led to more offers including a part in Kong: Skull Island, which he turned down. Thankfully, Keaton did not turn down Spider-Man: Homecoming.