THE VILLAINY OF THE VULTURE
In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Adrian Toomes turns to villainy in retaliation for perceived unfairness. Toomes headed a salvage operation tasked by New York City with cleaning up the debris left by the Avengers' battle with the Chitauri. His company's big break was abruptly shanghaied by the Department of Damage Control, established by Tony Stark though the U.S. Government, which took control over all salvage operations in the wake of super human conflicts. Toomes decided to keep what scraps of alien technology he had in his possession and steal even more. He and his associates created a new operation as an arms dealer selling refurbished alien tech to the black market.
In Toomes' mind, he's providing a necessary service - one that balances the scales for "the little guys" in a world increasingly overrun by superpowered beings. His disdain for Tony Stark and his ilk is rooted in the belief that Stark himself is a hypocrite: Stark Industries made their vast billions by selling weapons to criminals and terrorists, yet Tony Stark himself is hailed as a hero (though Stark ended his company's arms manufacturing after becoming Iron Man). Unlike Stark, however, Toomes became a criminal to provide for his family, albeit without their knowledge of the true nature of how he earns his living. Toomes sees Stark flaunt his billions and wonders why he and his family can't have a taste of the good life as well.
Toomes is compelling and even relatable to a degree because in his mind, he's the hero of his own story, even though he also understands he's a criminal. In a way, he's the MCU's Walter White from Breaking Bad, though he doesn't come off as intoxicated with the power and allure of being a criminal. Like White, he found a niche in the criminal underworld only he could best fill, and he proceeds successfully under the noses of the Avengers for 8 years, enjoying the wealth and higher standard of living it provided for his family.
Unlike other Marvel Big Bads, Toomes is not insane, nor is he out for revenge - not even against Tony Stark, whom he despises. Nor is Toomes a killer by nature; rather he resorts to killing when he deems it necessary. Toomes does murder one of his associates, the Shocker, who threatens to blow the whistle on his operation, but he killed him accidentally, albeit without any remorse. Toomes later threatens to kill Peter Parker's loved ones, and there's little doubt he would have. Toomes is mainly interested in continuing the profitability of his operation, and he's hesitant to do anything too risky, until Spider-Man's continued interference forces him to go for one big heist against Stark.
In the Alignment Scale, Toomes would fall in the category of Lawful Evil: he methodically takes what he wants without regard for whom he hurts, but he does so within the limits of his personal code of conduct. Toomes is an evil man, but he genuinely loves his family and threatens anyone who would jeopardize his ability to provide for his family. Toomes' devotion to his family extended to asking them to move to Oregon to spare them the trauma of seeing him to go trial and convicted. What's more, he has a personal code of honor with respect to people who help him and his family; when Spider-Man saved his life at the end of Homecoming, Toomes in turn chose to protect the secret of Spider-Man's identity from the other criminals who conspired to have the wall-crawler eliminated. Why Toomes protected Peter Parker is something only Toomes knows, but we hope is explored in the sequel.
IS VULTURE A SIGN OF MCU VILLAINY TO COME?
Spider-Man: Homecoming is chock full of characters and storylines, and while Michael Keaton is impressive as Adrian Toomes, there could have been even more focus on him and his operation. The Vulture's arms dealings was a brief but fascinating glimpse at the underbelly of the MCU: how the underworld is adjusting to the presence of super humans, and how they're upping and changing their own game to compete, especially in a world where such activities are "below the Avengers' paygrade" and S.H.I.E.L.D. is no longer the force it once was as a deterrent.
Keaton's best moments as Toomes are in the third act when it's revealed Toomes is the father of Peter's crush and Homecoming Dance date Liz (Laura Harrier). Toomes driving Peter and Liz to the dance, quickly sussing out that Peter and Spider-Man are one and the same, and then having the most frightening "dad talk" a teenage boy could have with his girlfriend's father is one of the best moments in the movie. In his winged battle armor, the Vulture provides a credible physical threat to Spider-Man as well. Keaton's performance, the fact that he wasn't killed off like many of his fellow MCU Big Bads, and the mid-credits tease certainly warrants his return as the Vulture, which would be welcomed.
In a field as lacking as Best MCU Big Bads, Keaton's Vulture earns a credibly high spot on the list. He's a complex villain with understandable motivations and he's a compelling opponent for the superhero he rivals. If Adrian Toomes is a sign of things to come in the quality of MCU villainy, the superheroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are in for even worse troubles, which is great news for the millions who flock to the movies. As the unstoppable MCU marches forward, Adrian Toomes is hopefully a signal that future Marvel Big Bads will be as textured and interesting as the Vulture - which is ultimately the solution to the MCU's villain problem.
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019
- Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) release date: Jul 07, 2017