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What You Don't Know About Michael Keaton's Vulture

When Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures finally reached an understanding about how to integrate Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was a huge deal. Marvel not only found a way to add the web-slinger to its 2016 blockbuster "Captain America: Civil War," but also adjusted its entire slate of films just to make room for a solo film featuring Marvel Comics' flagship character.

One would think that such a massive undertaking would merit an equally bombastic villain, a threat that would cement Peter Parker's reputation as one of the MCU's premier heroes. Instead — and aptly enough, given how he is, at his core, Marvel's everyman hero — "Spider-Man: Homecoming" pitted Spider-Man against one of his earliest (and ironically, most down-to-earth) foes: the high-flying Vulture, portrayed by Michael Keaton. In an interview with ComicBook.com, director Jon Watts explained this decision: "We wanted to sort of go back to the origins of what made Spider-Man and Peter Parker so unique ... The Vulture is really the first supervillain that Spider-Man ever fights, so it just felt like the right thing to do, to go back to the roots in that way."

That said, the flight route towards Adrian Toomes' film debut wasn't without turbulence — and by the end of his journey, the cinematic Vulture seemed to have been shaped just as much by his actor as the comic book character he was based on. Here are some things you may not know about Michael Keaton's Vulture.

Michael Keaton's Vulture: A cinematic debut ten years in the making

"Spider-Man: Homecoming" wasn't the first time filmmakers attempted to bring the Vulture to life. In fact, the character had been strongly considered for inclusion in the two Spider-Man film franchises that preceded Tom Holland's turn as the web-slinger.

After the success of "Spider-Man 3" in 2007, fans expected Tobey Maguire to continue playing Spider-Man in more sequels. Director Sam Raimi also shared his thoughts about the hero's next nemesis even before development on "Spider-Man 4" began. Den of Geek cites a 2007 interview in which Raimi stated that he'd "love to see" Vulture or the Sinister Six, a team of Spider-Man's A-list villains. Eventually, reports surfaced that John Malkovich would fight Maguire's Parker as the Vulture. However, Sony Pictures announced plans to reboot the Spider-Man movie-verse in 2010 with a different creative team, as Raimi reportedly "felt he couldn't make its summer release date and keep the film's creative integrity" (via Deadline).

Director Marc Webb picked up the reins, releasing "The Amazing Spider-Man" in 2012 and its sequel two years later. The duology starred Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man, and was intended to expand Sony's Spider-Man universe a la the MCU. "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" even dropped hints of the Sinister Six forming in a future movie by showing their gear — including the Vulture's wings — in its trailers and credits scene (via Business Insider). Sadly, the lukewarm reception to the film killed any hope for spinoff movies.

Movie Vulture puts a different spin on the comics villain's motivation

In 2017, Abraham Riesman argued that the cinematic version of Vulture was one of the best Marvel movie villains, taking only the core elements of the comic book character and building a brand new one. As he put it, "[Vulture] isn't the world's most compelling villain, nor would he have been an interesting — or even just non-laughable — baddie on celluloid in his comics form."

In the comics, the Vulture's origin was only revealed 20 years after the character's debut. A former electronics engineer cheated out of his profits by his business partner, Adrian Toomes accidentally discovers that the flight harness he invented also grants him incredible strength. Initially seeking to destroy his ex-partner, Toomes dons the Vulture suit and becomes a full-fledged criminal. While the Vulture's motivation may seem weak, the question at its core — "Where's mine?" — served as the anchor for his silver screen counterpart.

In "Spider-Man: Homecoming," the Vulture is the owner of Bestman Salvage, a small company that cleans up after superhero fights in New York. However, when the government takes over all post-battle cleanup operations under the leadership of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Toomes' company effectively goes belly-up. "[Toomes] takes things in that he feels like a victim, and some of it is justified actually," explained Michael Keaton in an interview with Collider. "He believes that there's an upper echelon of society of people who are getting away with a lot and have everything."

Michael Keaton's Vulture was almost an Avenger's ex-military teammate

The version of Vulture that audiences see in "Spider-Man: Homecoming" differs vastly from the filmmakers' original vision for the character. In fact, at least one version of the cinematic Vulture was planned to be a former colleague of another winged character: The Falcon, a.k.a. Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie).

In an Instagram post, concept artist Josh Nizzi revealed one of the scrapped plans for Michael Keaton's Vulture: "In an early version of the character, Adrian Toomes was a member of the Air National Guard alongside Sam Wilson, and the Vulture's Exo-Suit was a less refined version of the EXO-7 Falcon." Had Jon Watts and company decided to go this route with the Vulture's origin, it's safe to say that Keaton's portrayal of the character would have been vastly different. However, even though the finished version of Vulture doesn't feature any military background, the designs of the character's costume and gear still draw inspiration from military technology.

As revealed by Inverse, Sony Imageworks, the team that worked on the VFX in "Spider-Man: Homecoming," took cues from modern-day personalized flight technology instead of the character's avian namesake. "Marvel and Columbia needed him to be heavy, mechanical, inspired by steampunk aesthetic and military design ... So we looked at jetpacks and flight suits, seeing how actual people fly using metal machines. We saw that the jiggle and shake was less predictable than you might think."

The cinematic Vulture was almost Spider-Man's science teacher

One of the most gripping scenes in "Spider-Man: Homecoming" comes when the Vulture finds out that Peter Parker — the boy who's taking his daughter Liz to the homecoming dance — is actually his hated foe, Spider-Man. This creates an interesting connection between the hero's school life and his superhero career, which was the filmmakers' original intent (via Yahoo! Entertainment). This idea was also a crucial element in an early alternate take on the cinematic Vulture — one that screenwriters John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein ultimately junked.

As Daley explained, they threw around the idea of Toomes being Parker's science teacher at Midtown High School as an "organic" way of connecting the young superhero's two worlds. According to Daley, Toomes would have been stealing tech from the government cleanup crew and covertly working on his Vulture suit while performing his teaching duties. However, they decided not to go through with it, paving the way for the film's best twist: "We were like, 'No, let's separate him fully from the school — or at least so it seems. And that's I think when we decided to make [the Vulture] the love interest's dad." According to Rolling Stone, Watts "really liked" how the Vulture was depicted in "Spider-Man: Homecoming": a blue-collar worker with relatable problems, who simply wanted to "have a place in the world."

Michael Keaton almost didn't play the Vulture

The Hollywood Reporter revealed that early talks between Marvel Studios and Michael Keaton didn't pan out, and for a time, the filmmakers asked other actors if they were interested in portraying Adrian Toomes. However, when Marvel approached Keaton a second time, the chips fell into place — which proved to be quite fortuitous, if the actor's alleged influence on the character's behind-the-scenes evolution is any indication.

In 2017, Keaton told Collider the real reason why the initial discussions with Marvel Studios didn't work out: His schedule at the time was packed, with "The Founder" and "American Assassin" leaving little room for another production. However, "The Founder" was delayed, enabling Keaton to re-enter talks with Marvel. "When I got here, [director Jon Watts] started seeing — I think what it is a combination of him watching me, and going, 'Oh, that's kind of interesting,'" Keaton recalled. "But also — and this is more the case — him saying to me, 'I really want to do more of this with him.'"

That said, another veteran actor may have been waiting in the wings had Keaton said "no" to the role. When Rotten Tomatoes spoke to Mark Hamill (who incidentally voiced a different Spider-Man villain, the Hobgoblin, in the '90s animated cartoon), the actor joked: "I had my fingers crossed that Michael Keaton would turn down the Vulture, but darn it!"

A Vulture scene mirrors an iconic DC movie scene

Despite his take on Vulture being well-received, Michael Keaton's most beloved comic book role remains his turn as Bruce Wayne in director Tim Burton's "Batman" movies. At the time, Keaton's casting was a controversial choice, as Variety recounts. Because of his previous roles, Keaton had been typecast as a comedic actor, causing many to doubt that he had the chops to do justice to the character. Fortunately, the box office success of both "Batman" and "Batman Returns" proved that he was worthy of the cowl.

Interestingly, a scene in "Spider-Man: Homecoming" pays homage to one of the most memorable sequences from Keaton's time as the Caped Crusader (via Digital Spy). When the Vulture catches Spider-Man by surprise and drops him into a lake, the villain briefly flies all the way up into the night sky, his silhouette illuminated by the moon behind him. It's a clever callback to the first "Batman" film, in which Batman's high-tech plane, the Batwing, flies upward and stops in front of the moon for a few seconds before diving back down to the streets of Gotham City.

Perhaps what Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent said in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" is true: "You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain."

Batman, Birdman, Vulture: Michael Keaton's multiple flight-themed roles

While Michael Keaton is a versatile actor, it's hard not to see a pattern when it comes to his superhero-inspired acting choices. In three films, the actor has played characters inspired by flying animals.

Keaton played the role of DC superhero Batman in 1989's "Batman" and its 1992 follow-up, "Batman Returns." In 2014, he starred as the titular character in the award-winning film "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)." Keaton played Riggan Thomson, a Hollywood actor past his prime whose claim to fame is his role as the superhero Birdman in a series of movies two decades earlier (via The Hollywood Reporter). In a way, it mirrored Keaton's own career journey at that point, as it had been at least a decade since the actor had any high-profile starring roles (via Variety).

One could say that playing Wayne and Thomson helped Keaton prepare to bring Toomes to life on the big screen. As Jon Watts shared in an interview with ComicBook.com: "We talked about a lot of different things, but the Vulture always sort of rose to the top and just the opportunity to have Spider-Man versus a guy that can fly really lends itself to some pretty cool visuals."

The Vulture: a movie Spidey foe who purposely became a villain

Among all the main villains that Spider-Man has fought in his movies, the Vulture is arguably the first primary antagonist whose evil turn is not a direct result of a freak accident, experimental serum, or any other factor beyond their control.

In Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" films, both Norman and Harry Osborn were under the effects of the performance-enhancing Goblin Serum, Otto Octavius' mind had been taken over by his mechanical tentacles, Flint Marko was trapped in a massive radioactive sand experiment, and Eddie Brock came into contact with a symbiote that amplified his strength and his negative emotions. Marc Webb's "The Amazing Spider-Man" saw Curt Connors' reptilian persona dominate his transformed body after his attempt to regrow his arm went awry. In "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," Max Dillon turned into living electricity after surviving what should have been a lethal fall into a tank of electric eels, while Harry Osborn physically transformed (and became unhinged) after equipping himself with Oscorp's experimental gear. 

In contrast, Toomes donning the Vulture gear neither transformed him physically nor affected his sanity. All of his criminal actions were the product of his hatred of government officials and billionaires who contributed, in some way or another, to his personal troubles. As he tells Spider-Man: "Those people up there, the rich and the powerful ... They don't care about us. We have to pick up after them. We have to eat their table scraps."

The cinematic Adrian Toomes never calls himself the Vulture

As far as alter egos go, the Vulture is a perfect fit for Adrian Toomes, especially considering his criminal activities in "Spider-Man: Homecoming." On a superficial level, it works because of the character's aesthetic: his majestic wings, his dark bomber jacket, the collar that resembles the feathers around the eponymous buzzard's neck, his smooth, rounded helmet, and even his metal talons. From a character perspective, it captures Toomes' modus operandi of salvaging whatever technology he can find from structures demolished in super-powered brawls.

It's worth noting, however, that Toomes doesn't even choose the name "Vulture" for himself throughout "Spider-Man: Homecoming." In fact, his villainous moniker actually comes from the MCU's master of nicknames himself, Tony Stark. Right after Stark uses a remote-operated Iron Man suit to save Spider-Man from drowning in a lake, he reprimands the young hero and instructs him to remain a "friendly neighborhood" Spider-Man, quipping: "Look, forget the flying vulture guy, please."

The Vulture: Spider-Man's least villainous movie foe?

Adrian Toomes' frustration and desperation leads him down a villainous path, as he has no qualms about resorting to criminal methods in order to claim what he believes is rightfully his. That said, his entire journey in "Spider-Man: Homecoming" is all about making money out of stolen technology, not causing harm to innocent people — a far cry from many of the web-slinger's foes in his previous cinematic outings. 

Screenwriters John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein explained in an interview with Yahoo! Entertainment that they intended to make the Vulture as relatable as possible instead of writing him as an irredeemable, mustache-twirling villain. According to Daley, the prelude of "Spider-Man: Homecoming," which is set right after the events of the first "Avengers" film, is meant to establish Toomes' backstory and make him a more sympathetic character. "It helps you empathize with this villain character, which is always great," he pointed out. "I think our intention was always to keep him not a terrible guy." They even made Toomes the father of Peter's crush Liz, a twist that further cements the villain's admirable quality of prioritizing family over everything else.

During a press conference for the film, Michael Keaton shared similar sentiments about his character, saying that the cinematic version of Toomes is approachable and has "a legitimate gripe and a legitimate argument."

Michael Keaton researched the Vulture by talking to children

Despite the mark that Michael Keaton has left in the world of comic book movies, he is, by his own admission, not a huge fan of the medium. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Keaton admitted that after doing Tim Burton's "Batman" in 1989, he had not actually sat down to watch a single comic book movie from start to finish.

That's not to say, however, that Keaton has no love for comic book movies. In fact, he expressed admiration about how the market for superhero films has changed during the last few decades, and even attributed the explosion of comic book movies to Burton's original artistic vision. "What Tim did changed everything," he argued. "If you really think about what happened between 1989 and now, on a cultural, corporate, economic level, it's unbelievable."

Due to his unfamiliarity with the source material, Keaton had to enlist the aid of some very special researchers in nailing the Vulture correctly. As he revealed to Collider, he consulted the two young daughters of a former employee during production, sending them text messages to ask about his character.

Is Michael Keaton playing the Vulture in Sony's Morbius?

One of the biggest surprises to come out of Sony Pictures' marketing for "Morbius" was the fact that Michael Keaton will be making an appearance in the film. In the first teaser, released in 2020, the actor pops up in the final few seconds, dressed in the prison clothes he was wearing in the post-credits scene of "Spider-Man: Homecoming." Over a year and a half later, the first full-length trailer of "Morbius" showed Keaton again, suggesting to Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) that they should "stay in touch."

An article from The Hollywood Reporter seemingly confirms that the character Keaton is playing in "Morbius" is indeed the Vulture. According to Keaton, while the "Morbius" team did explain exactly how his character would work within Sony's universe, he didn't quite understand it: "You may as well be explaining quantum physics right now to me. All I know is I just know my guy. And I know the basics." 

Interestingly, Keaton gave an even more coy response when CinemaBlend asked him point-blank about Toomes' potential multiversal hijinks: "Boy, you're going to have to hold off on that answer. That's 'Answer to come.'"