[SPOILERS for Spider-Man: Homecoming ahead.]
According to Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, the reason Michael Keaton’s Vulture works so well in Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming is because they grounded the character and paralleled his journey with that of Peter Parker’s. From the get-go, it’s obvious that Adrian Toomes, aka the Vulture, differs from the studio’s previous movie villains, and that’s due to a variety of reasons. Although it doesn’t become clear until much later in the story, Vulture wouldn’t have worked as the villain if it weren’t for Toomes’ shocking connection to Peter.
Over the past few years, it has become quite clear that the Marvel Cinematic Universe was suffering from a villain problem, which is something Marvel’s Feige has previously addressed. To many people, Homecoming‘s villain feels like a step in the right direction for the studio, offering moviegoers a grounded villain, one who has a true background story and isn’t merely another doppelganger villain (e.g. Yellowjacket, Kaecilius). It turns out, the inspiration for the character’s origin – as well as his turn to villainy – was, in part, inspired by an iconic film.
Feige has been making the rounds promoting Homecoming, and in a recent interview with /Film, he mentioned that Sony Pictures’ Amy Pascal convinced him to watch the 1963 film High and Low, written and directed by legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. The film helped them ground the villain and parallel the story with that of Peter Parker’s journey to becoming a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
“I will tell you, I haven’t brought it up before, is we wanted a ground level villain. We wanted a villain to parallel Peter’s journey of what’s it like to be a normal person in this world. And an example that Amy [Pascal] used and it became a touch point…was a film by Akira Kurosawa called High and Low, which I hadn’t seen before. And that we watched a number of times. And other than just exposing me to a great movie I’d never seen, which I appreciated, it was a bit of a touch point for somebody who felt, and again, of course, it’s not an exact parallel. But it was a great touch point of inspiration from Amy about somebody who looks up at a wealthy person almost in a tower every day in their life and feels the need to respond to that in a villainous way.”
Instead of showing audiences Spider-Man’s origin, Homecoming shows moviegoers Vulture’s origin. Toomes was a contract worker who was tasked with cleaning up the Avengers’ mess after the Battle of New York. That is, until the government usurped their jobs and assigned Damage Control to the project – as well as all future Avengers clean-up projects. Rather than move onto another contract, Toomes and his team – comprised of other Spidey villains like Shocker and the Tinkerer – worked together to fuse alien technology with their own and sell super-powered weapons on the black market. The world changed after the Battle of New York, and they changed with it.
Although Toomes became a criminal, in his mind he thought he was sticking it to the man, after being cheated out of his work by Stark. That’s where Kurosawa’s High and Low comes into play. In that film, a man attempts to kidnap the son of a wealthy executive of a shoe company (though he mistakenly kidnaps the wrong child). After successfully obtaining the ransom money, the kidnapper is eventually caught and sentenced to death. Upon meeting the executive, Gondo, the kidnapper revealed that he conceived the kidnapping after seeing Gondo’s luxurious home every day – similar to how Toomes looks up angrily at Stark’s Avengers tower in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
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