Warning: MAJOR spoilers ahead for Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming is finally in theaters, raking in major box office dollars and earning near-universal approval from critics and fans alike. One of the most consistently praised aspects of the film is the character of Adrian Toomes, AKA The Vulture, and his interactions with both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Marvel has an arguably bad habit of killing off its villains at the end of each movie, regardless of the stature of the actors involved, and it seemed like Keaton’s Vulture would join the ranks of beloved talent like James Spader in Age of Ultron, Mads Mikkelsen in Doctor Strange, and Robert Redford in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Marvel seems to have taken notes of fan criticism, and so far two of the Phase 3 movies have ended with the villains behind bars, rather than six feet under. Captain America: Civil War saw Helmut Zemo incarcerated after being captured by Black Panther, and now the Vulture is similarly imprisoned, and features prominently in one of Homecoming‘s post-credit scenes.

This is fortunate, since the relationship between Spider-Man and the Vulture revealed itself to be the surprise highlight of the movie. In the early stages of Homecoming, Spidey and Vulture are already interesting even though they only know each other as their larger-than-life alter egos. After several showdowns, and after Spider-Man gets a glimpse of Vulture’s unmasked face, the movie officially kicks into overdrive when Peter Parker shows up at Liz’s house to pick her up for the Homecoming dance – only to discover that the Vulture is her father. The ensuing verbal showdown between Peter Parker and Adrian Toomes achieves an intensity above and beyond even the most grandiose action setpieces and is easily one of the best sequences in the entire MCU.

Vulture: Bad Guy With A Good Heart?

Spider Man Homecoming Vulture Weapon Why Vulture Should Return for Spider Man: Homecomings Sequel

In the mid-credits stinger, Mac Gargan approaches Toomes in prison and suggests that he and his friends want revenge on Spider-Man (perhaps hinting at a Sinister Six appearance in Homecoming 2), and the word on the street is that Toomes knows Spidey’s true identity. Toomes denies this allegation, but when he turns away, he offers a knowing smile to himself. Is he smiling because he can begin plotting his revenge on Spider-Man as the leader of a gang of villains? Or is he smiling because he is going to protect the teenage crimefighter and he’s amused at the poetic irony?

Throughout the film, Toomes establishes himself as one of Marvel’s most interesting and relatable villains yet. As a blue-collar businessman whose opportunity at carving out a slice of the American Dream is taken away by Tony Stark and the Department of Damage Control, he is motivated by an understandable need to provide for his family (something that he succeeds at, if their lavish house is anything to go by). Despite the heinous nature of his actions, Vulture is actually one of the least violent villains in the MCU thus far. He’s hot-headed to a fault, sure, but he has a confirmed kill-count of only one, and – in Toomes’ defense – it was an accident (he meant to reach for the anti-gravity rifle, not the disintegration ray). Still, this doesn’t take into account the people who were killed or hurt offscreen by the weapons Toomes and his gang sold on the black market.

Regardless of any of Toomes’ earlier actions, it’s entirely possible that he was transformed by Spider-Man’s act of compassion on Coney Island during the climactic scuffle at the end of the movie. Vulture had attempted to kill Peter Parker/Spider-Man multiple times; dropping him from a great height, shooting at him with his ray gun, and bringing a building down on his head. Yet, after all that, Spider-Man risked his life to save Toomes from burning to death after his jetpack exploded, and left him to be picked up by the cops, not the coroner.

Where Do We Go From Here?

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Adrian Toomes’ character arc is still somewhat up in the air. At worst, he could emerge in Homecoming 2 as the ringleader of the Sinister Six. At best, he could work as a double agent for Spider-Man, dismantling the supervillain squad from the inside to repay the web-slinger for saving his life that fateful night on the beach (not to mention saving Liz’s life earlier in the movie). Toomes’ knowledge of Spider-Man’s identity leaves open the possibilities for either heroic redemption or doubling down on villainy, depending on how the audience responds to the character and what direction the yet-unwritten sequel might take.

In Marvel Comics, bad guys turn good, heroes turn bad, and team rosters switch up their membership all the time. Audiences are responding positively to Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes/The Vulture, so keeping him around would seem like a smart idea; if he decides to be a good man, with his skills and technology, maybe he could even end up joining the ranks of The Avengers some day. After bringing such shame upon his wife and daughter, a begrudgingly repentant Vulture using his gifts to help people could be an interesting change of pace. On the other hand, if Liz were to be killed or held captive, that would surely be enough to send Vulture over the edge into outright supervillainy. When it comes to where the MCU may take Michael Keaton’s universally-acclaimed take on Adrian Toomes, the possibilities are endless.

Marvel has long been accused of having a villain problem, but with Civil War, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and now Spider-Man: Homecoming, they’ve clearly been taking steps to shed that reputation. With Michael Keaton’s masterful command of the Adrian Toomes role, they have successfully created a fully three-dimensional villain, and that mid-credits stinger clearly conveys that his story is far from over.

Next: Spider-Man: Homecoming Easter Eggs & Marvel Secrets

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