In less than two weeks, Spider-Man: Homecoming hits theaters, and it will be the third onscreen iteration of the Marvel character in fifteen years. While Tom Holland’s plucky portrayal of the famed web-slinger certainly made an impression, albeit brief, in Avengers: Civil War, it’s his first solo film. Yep, all alone this time around–except for Iron Man. Oh, you noticed him too? Based on the looks of the trailer, it’s really a Spider-Man/Iron Man 4 film. Regardless, a lot is riding on Holland, who’s being charged with redefining Spider-Man for an entirely new generation, but he’s not the only one who’s being asked to do some heavy-lifting. Michael Keaton is no stranger to the superhero genre, his emblematic portrayal of Batman in Tim Burton’s 1989 film is iconic, but this time he’s making his MCU debut portraying The Vulture, a more sinister character, and one of Spider-Man’s oldest enemies. Although some of the films details about The Vulture have leaked, one fan’s theory suspects Keaton’s character is none other than Mr. Mom.
First introduced in 1963, The Vulture has used many aliases over the years, but the one that most comicbook fans recognize is that of Adrian Toomes. An elderly engineer, Toomes invented a bird-like harness, which gave him flight and immense strength. His downfall into a life of crime began after he was betrayed by a business partner and that’s where he first encounters The Amazing Spider-Man in issue #2. The fan theory suggests Keaton will go by the familiar alias Toomes, but actually will reveal himself as Jack Butler later in the film. To understand this, you need to revisit the 1983 film to see the uncanny parallels between the two archetypal characters.
Both Toomes and Butler are blue collar Americans, engineers by trade. Like Toomes, Butler was also betrayed, laid off from his job at a Detroit auto plant during the height of the 1980’s recession. He was forced to switch roles with his wife, and become a stay-at-home dad–which he learned was extremely difficult. This may also explain why the movie’s called Homecoming. Each passing day, his mind turned to oatmeal as he watched his wife Caroline become a successful advertising executive–with her reboot of the Schooner Tuna brand–while he continually struggled to find employment. As she climbed the corporate ladder, he fell into alcoholism and depression. The theory goes, years later, after a messy divorce, Caroline took sole custody of the kids and Jack moved to New York, finding work again as an engineer–only to be laid off again during The Great Recession around 2010. Eventually finding work in the scrap metal business–but still struggling to provide financial support for his family.
In Homecoming, Toomes/Butler’s crew–possibly the earliest formation of what will be The Sinister Six–are essentially scavengers, charged with cleaning up the city in the months following the 2012 Battle of New York as seen in The Avengers. They quickly discover that they are in possession of working Chitauri technology, with which they begin tinkering with and experimenting on, using the alien-tech to further expand their burgoning criminal enterprise. Discontent and seething with vengeance, believing big corporations and industrials have denied him the American Dream, Toomes exclaims in the trailer: “The rich, the powerful, like Stark, they don’t care about us! The world’s changed boys, time we change too!” Combining the newly acquired cybernetic extraterrestrial technology and weaponry, spare automotive motors and components, as well as the parts from a vintage 1981 Kirby Heritage II vacuum cleaner, Toomes/Butler constructs a mechanized flying wing-suit, complete with glowing green eyes, talons, and a collar made from his youngest son’s well-worn and discarded “woobie” blanket, and begins operating under the guise of The Vulture.
Butler’s/Toomes’ motivation is unmistakable: family. He makes that abundantly clear to Spider-Man in the trailer, stating, “You need to understand, I will do anything to protect my family. I know you know what I’m talking about.” Flying around the city The Vulture might be initially confused for Falcon, but when his hardware begins causing mass destruction and wreaking havoc upon the city, he’s destined to draw the eye of equally powerful heroic types living in the area. Vulture meet Spider-Man. Iron Man? What are you doing here? When confronted, we see Butler’s tone get increasingly threatening: “Don’t mess with me. Because I will kill you and anyone you care about.” Audiences have to care about the villain, and Keaton’s choice to portray The Vulture as Jack Butler will not only make him a memorable villain in Homecoming, but also a relatable and sympathetic one. In the end, Butler’s/Vulture’s fate is sealed, however it doesn’t come at the hands of Spider-Man or Iron Man. Instead, it’s his ex-wife Caroline, who ultimately confronts him in front of his now grown children. Despite pleading with him, she knows he’s too far gone, and kills him–fulfilling a dream he had many years before. With his dying breath he whispers, “Aw ****, I loved this suit!”
Spider-Man: Homecoming hits theaters July 7th.