Spider-Man: Homecoming marks the triumphant return of one of Marvel’s best-loved superheroes but while the latest Peter Parker, Tom Holland, deserves plenty of praise for his efforts in rebooting the character the film’s key strength lies elsewhere.
Michael Keaton knew his time as Batman was up the minute he began discussing plans with Joel Schumacher.
“I didn’t understand why [Schumacher] wanted to do what he wanted to do,” Keaton recalled in an appearance on the Hollywood Reporter podcast Awards Chatter. “I knew it was in trouble when he said, ‘Why does everything have to be so dark?'”
Leaving behind a director with an entirely different vision and a script that, in Keaton’s own words, “sucked”, it must have then been a galling experience to see the resulting film, Batman Forever, clean up at the box office.
It was only with the arrival of Schumacher’s second Bat-flick, Batman & Robin, that it became clear to everyone that the franchise was heading in the wrong direction – but by then it was too late.
Keaton was already out in the cold and it looked like, to all intents and purposes, he was done with comic book movies altogether – even going as far as sending up his own Batman persona in the Oscar-winning movie Birdman.
Or at least, that was the case until he was approached about taking on the role of Adrian Toomes, AKA The Vulture, in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Sony had been attempting to bring the villain, a veteran inventor who turns to crime as a means to get back at a world he sees as unfair, to the screen for some time.
There was talk of Ben Kingsley taking on the role in Spider-Man 3 before Venom entered the picture, while John Malkovich was also set to take on the role in Sam Raimi’s aborted Spider-Man 4.
It’s fortunate for Spider-Man: Homecoming that they didn’t though because Keaton’s Vulture may be the secret weapon behind Jon Watts fun, fresh and thoroughly engaging web-slinger reboot.
Keaton’s take on the character is crucial to the film’s success and something the actor immediately identified when he first read the script.
“It was inventive and an interesting way to go,” he said.
The leader of a clean-up crew that loses a major contract to sort the debris after the Battle of New York witnessed in the first Avengers film, Toomes and his cronies are forced into a life of crime as a means of providing for their families.
There’s no grand plan to take over the world: they just want to get rich and stay off the radar of Marvel’s various assorted do-gooders in the process.
They are doing a damn fine job of it too, until Spider-Man begins to take an interest.
To Keaton’s way of thinking and, arguably most audiences, that seems like an entirely plausible scenario and one that gives Toomes more of a sympathetic edge that most Marvel villains to date.
“This person has a legitimate gripe,” he explains “I just thought the simplicity of making this person approachable is timely.”
But while Keaton undoubtedly impresses in injecting a little more humanity into the character, he’s nevertheless a menacing and villainous presence in the movie, helping give Spider-Man: Homecoming the added bonus of featuring arguably the Marvel cinematic universe’s best villain yet.
Only Loki, Thor’s adopted brother played by Tom Hiddleston, comes close to matching Keaton for sheer charisma and complexity, with many of the Vulture’s scenes in the film among the most watchable.
A noticeably more three-dimensional and captivating presence but one still capable of greed, destruction and comic book carnage, the hope now is that Keaton will find a way to return to the franchise for further outings.
However, if he was tempted to leave on a high after wowing in this entertaining Spidey effort, which boasts the same mix of fun, danger and emotional resonance as Raimi’s first two efforts, few would blame him.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is in cinemas now.
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