(Warning: Spoilers Ahead For SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING!)

With SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING’s arrival came the worry that the Marvel Cinematic Universe would deliver yet another underwhelming villain. With the exception of Loki, most MCU antagonists have been treated as afterthoughts. They are designed to oppose the hero because the plot demands it.

At best, the shallow writing is helped by a charismatic performance, and at worst they are Malekith-level forgettable. This contrasts heavily with the antagonists of Marvel’s television series, which uses the TV episodic format to expand upon their villains’ motives.

Vulture
Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes

Michael Keaton’s performance as Adrian Toomes, i.e. the Vulture, in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING finally broke Marvel’s streak of forgettable villains. On paper, it looks like Marvel simply gave a modern update to one of the wall-crawler’s B-list rogues.

It is the depiction of his character that makes Toomes stand out as a great villain. The result is an antagonist modeled after the everyman in the same way Spider-Man is an everyman hero.

Introductions

HOMECOMING draws our attention to Adrian Toomes by making him the film’s first point of focus. He is an everyman; a salvage worker hired to retrieve the alien wreckage left from the Battle of New York. This is someone with whom audiences can relate to, lacking the grandeur and cartoonish villainy displayed by previous MCU antagonists.

Vulture
(l to r) Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, and director Jon Watts on the set of Columbia Pictures’ SPIDER-MAN™: HOMECOMING.

Thus, Toome’s outrage towards the Department of Damage Control hijacking his operation generates sympathy on multiple levels. On the one hand, he is understandably angry for losing business, his preparation for this operation undermined in a single instant. With no operation, Toomes and his men cannot earn enough money to support a living for themselves and their families.

READ: Check out ComicsVerse’s review of SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING!

However, even more so, Toomes is angry at the source of the D.O.D.C.: Tony Stark. To him, the D.O.D.C/Stark Industries partnership is another example of the 1% trying to retain their riches. Now Stark can run his business and profit off of collateral damage, all the while men like Toomes have nothing to show.

As he explains to Peter during one of their third-act confrontations:

“The rich and the powerful, like Stark, they do not care about us.”

Therefore, Toomes’ alien tech scavenging operation is simply a new business decision, adapting with the times to make money.

Small Scale

Superhero films tend to make their villain’s plans all about world domination. The logic behind this is that if the world is threatened, then audiences should have reason to care about the hero’s plight. However, while these massive global/galactic plans work for certain scenarios, other times they feel forced or overbearing. The result is a villainous motive that reduces the antagonist to a caricature of villainy, rather than an individual with a goal.

Vulture
The Vulture in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

While some villains revel in their evilness, the best antagonists never see themselves as the villain. From their perspective, they are heroes, and the protagonist is the primary obstacle preventing their goal from reaching fruition. This is precisely how Toomes views Spider-Man, the only individual to notice and interfere with his operations. Where Spider-Man sees a dangerous arms dealer, Toomes sees his business and welfare under attack.

READ: Besides a compelling hero and villain, what else is needed to make a good comic book movie?

This focus on the hero and villain’s motivation corresponds with their respective age and outlook of the world. Peter Parker is a young and idealistically sees things regarding right and wrong, a straightforward battle of good vs. evil. He does not care about the ‘why’ behind Toomes’ operation and simply sees the result: alien weapons being sold to dangerous individuals.

Likewise, Toomes’ world-weary perspective displays a disdain for “elitist” figures, singling them out as the cause behind his struggles. Thus, his Robin Hood-like scavenging is justified as acceptable, stealing from the rich so that the middle-class can survive.

Face to Face

Up until the reveal that Adrian Toomes is the father of Peter’s crush/prom date Liz, the audience was meant to sympathize with his character from a distance. With the twist, however, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING adds an extra layer of complexity to his motivation. Toomes’ family is not just brought up in a sympathetic monologue; they are directly involved with Peter Parker’s personal life. Thus, Vulture and Spider-Man find themselves tied together both in and out of their costumed professions.

However, whereas Peter’s revelation about Toomes elevates the villain’s complexity, the latter’s revelation about Peter elevates the stakes. Essentially, Toomes cleverly pieces together Peter’s secret identity and, when alone in the car together, outright threatens his life. On some level, this is a more extreme version of the “dad talk” conversation, with “hurt my daughter” replaced with “stay out of my business, or I kill you.”

It is clear that Toomes loves Liz and, through his warped logic, does what he does to keep her happy. He is still willing to kill a teenager, even one close to his daughter, to keep his weapons business alive. Possibly due to Keaton’s calm delivery, the threat he gives feels “real” compared to that of past “fantastical” Marvel villains.

Still A Criminal

However, the biggest revelation about Toomes’ motivation is that, when you get right down to it, he is a hypocrite. He claims to have a vendetta against the wealthy and powerful, yet he also manufactures alien weapons on the black market. These weapons, in turn, have provided Toomes with a substantial amount of wealth, something represented by Liz’s house.

READ: Spider-Man remains one of the most iconic superheroes because of his relatability.

Originally depicted as another “popular rich kid” movie house, Toomes’ connection to Liz turns it into a manifestation of the owner’s contradicting identity. In the vein of Walter White, Toomes uses his former blue-collar status to justify shady actions and accumulation of wealth.

Vulture
The Vulture in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

This combination of sympathy and hypocrisy adds to the complexities of HOMECOMING’s Spider-Man/ Vulture dynamic. Both characters want to stick up for “the little guy” and genuinely care for their families when not in costume. However, unlike Peter and his powers, Toomes’ crimes and actions are ultimately done for selfish means.

He attempts to make an American Dream-inspired lifestyle at the cost of other people, an act he formerly experienced at the film’s start. Where Spider-Man seeks to stop Toomes/Vulture’s operations to prevent others from harm, the antagonist continues them nevertheless because, in his mind, he was the one originally wronged by society.

“An Everyman Villain”

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING’s Vulture ranks as one of Marvel’s best movie villains because there are multiple layers to his character. His motives come from a place that audiences can sympathize with, yet ultimately cause conflict for the hero.

These goals are by no means world threatening, but they hit on a personal scale that forces Peter Parker to make tough choices. In other words, the Vulture is a great MCU villain because unlike previous underdeveloped bad guys, he feels the most human.

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