San Diego Comic-Con 2016 saw several major announcements, including confirmation that Michael Keaton would play Adrian Toomes a.k.a. The Vulture in Jon Watts' Spider-Man: Homecoming. Fans also got their first look at Vulture concept art, showing an updated tech-based villain that brings to mind both Falcon and Iron Man in his design.
Not only does Homecoming represent the first time that the Vulture has appeared in a live-action film, but it's also the first time that we've seen a Spidey villain operating within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This gives Vulture a great chance to make an impact on the MCU, as he will not only be taking on Spider-Man, but also showing the Marvel universe what Spider-Man villains are really made of.
In the journey from the page to the screen, however, there are sure to be some changes made to Vulture - not to mention the question of which comic book iterations of the character will be the main inspiration. Moreover, the concept art opened up some interesting possibilities about how Vulture could fit into the existing structure of the MCU.
Like Tony Stark, Reed Richards and several other characters in the Marvel Universe, Adrian Toomes was an inventor. He had his own company, Bestman and Toomes Electronics, but his business partner stole it out from under him while Toomes was developing the tech that would eventually become his flying harness. This led to him becoming a criminal, breaking in at first to try and find incriminating evidence against his partner, and then ransacking the business when he found nothing. With the flight ability and super strength that his harness gave him, Toomes soon got caught up in the thrill of daring robberies. This brought him into conflict Spider-Man again and again, both by himself and as a part of the Sinister Six.
The Ultimate version of the Vulture is a bit different, though. Toomes was a scientist working for Bolivar Trask (who appeared in X-Men: Days of Future Past, played by Peter Dinklage), and the Vulture was a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Blackie Drago, who was out to kill Donald Roxxon. The Vulture rig was later stolen by Aaron Davis, the Ultimate version of the supervillain known as the Prowler, who also happened to be the uncle of that universe's second Spider-Man Miles Morales. Needless to say, the Ultimate version of the character is a bit harder to keep track of.
Why Vulture Is a Great Choice for Spider-Man: Homecoming
There are a few reasons that fans should be excited about seeing Vulture onscreen in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and the fact that he'll be portrayed by a great actor like Michael Keaton is only the tip of the iceberg.
Assuming that the character is based largely on the classic Toomes backstory, he should be a different kind of villain. Toomes starts off as someone who becomes a criminal out of desperation after being betrayed, but soon discovers that he genuinely enjoys what he's doing. He's not seeking ultimate power, he's not trying to take over the world or destroy the galaxy, and he's not even trying to make a fortune by selling his tech to the highest bidder... he just gets a rush from being a criminal. It's a pretty simple motivation, but it's also fairly unique in most superhero films.
He is also a smart villain, which is important when going up against someone like Spider-Man. In one of his early appearances in the comics, he announced his next heist in advance, and while police were busy watching the skies he emerged from the sewers. With any luck we'll see his intelligence at work in the film, since a bad guy who doesn't make dumb bad guy mistakes would definitely make things harder on our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
The Vulture Suit
Based on the concept art, it seems we're going to get a significantly different Vulture than the one who flies around in a green jumpsuit and big feathered wings. As mentioned before, the design of Vulture's wings in the artwork seems heavily influenced by the Ultimate version of the character. There are a few similarities to the wing design used for Falcon as well, especially in Captain America: The Winter Soldier; this is most evident in the "feathers" along the edges and at the wingtips.
Depending on how much the filmmakers want to tie Spider-Man: Homecoming to the rest of MCU, it's possible that the cinematic version of Toomes was a researcher on the Falcon project at one point, or that the Falcon designs were based at least in part on Toomes' work. The Falcon wings look a bit more refined than the Vulture suit, so if there is a connection then it's also possible that Toomes' business partner stole his work out from under him and sold it to the military. That could certainly be a strong motivation for Toomes to go seeking revenge at the start of his criminal career.
The suit is obviously more armored and combat-ready than the old-school Vulture design as well. This could be another hint at a military connection, though the updated design could simply be part of the flight suit that Toomes created. The boot talons pictured in the concept art could also have a utilitarian purpose, helping to keep the wearer grounded until he was ready to take off, and giving him better grip while landing with the wing rotors still spinning.
What Does Vulture Bring to the MCU?
In addition to bringing a thus-far unrepresented villain to the screen (saving big villains such as Doctor Octopus and Green Goblin for sequels), there's a lot of potential in having Vulture as the villain for Spidey's first solo outing in the MCU. For one, he somewhat breaks the trope of "the bad guy has the hero's powers" that's pretty common in Marvel's introductory films. While both Spider-Man and Vulture are science-based, their power sets are pretty different and even the source of their powers are different. Green Goblin would have been the obvious choice to mimic Spidey's origin (the goblin formula is usually treated as the equivalent of the spider bite), and the filmmakers have wisely avoided going down that road again here.
Toomes could also start out as a researcher at OsCorp, if the filmmakers wanted to introduce the company to the MCU without having Norman Osborne himself appear in the film. This might be a departure from the comics, of course, but Marvel is pretty liberal with how it includes its characters sometimes. If the studio wanted to include OsCorp but didn't want Toomes working there, then they could also go the route of having his business partner sell the company to OsCorp behind his back. Then it might be nothing more than a name drop, but it would make for a nice easter egg.
Perhaps the greatest thing that Vulture could bring to the MCU is a multi-villain film where the villains actually mesh and have roles that make sense. With rumors going around that Tinkerer and Shocker will also be featured in the film, some are worried that the movie will be too crowded from the start. Vulture has been known to work with (and get equipment from) Tinkerer in the past, though, especially in the Ultimate incarnation of the character. Shocker could get equipment from the same place, and be a low-level criminal similar to his appearances in Ultimate Spider-Man (where he was somewhat of a running joke in the first 100 issues of the comic).
It's refreshing to see a different villain being used for Spider-Man's first solo film in the MCU, especially one who was previously denied his time in the spotlight when Sam Rami's fourth Spider-Man film was cancelled. Vulture should be a great villain for the film, and could really cement the new Spider-Man films in Marvel's world. Perhaps more importantly, though, he has the potential to show how well a villain can work in superhero movies even if he doesn't want to destroy the world.
Doctor Strange opens November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man: Homecoming– July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018;Avengers: Infinity War Part 1– May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel– March 8, 2019;Avengers: Infinity War Part 2– May 3, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on July 12, 2019, and on May 1, July 10, and November 6 in 2020.