To understand why The Vulture might just be the strongest of the MCU’s villains so far takes little more than having a look outside your post-Brexit, Trump-era front door. It’s not that his motivation is stronger, it’s that our TV screens have been populated with down trodden working class people like him for the past couple of years.
What happens when you are repeatedly given the shaft by what you perceive is your country not addressing the issues that you believe are responsible? You get angry. You get vengeful. You fill your heart with narrow minded thoughts that fit your own blinkered agenda, and as long as you find some way to prosper from it, you can justify any inhuman acts; at the end of the day you are the vigilante acting on behalf of all the victims of society’s ills.
Like much of what makes Spiderman: Homecoming so great, it is the grounding of its villain that leads to him becoming stronger even than a mischievous God, or interplanetary war machine. We understand what makes him so bitter, and in some ways we can empathise, even though we know the actions are misguided. We’ve seen people like him walking our streets – constantly simmering – only a final straw away from snapping, uncoiling and causing collateral damage as they explode.
Adrian Toomes is a grafter. He wants a slice of what the people at the top seem to enjoy so readily. Make no mistake, he is willing to put the work in to get there, he’s not entitled in the slightest. What he is, is someone who values fairness, particularly whilst in pursuit of the American Dream. He wants to build things from the alien wreckage left behind during the events of the original Avengers film in NYC. He invests all he has in pulling together the right crew and purchasing the equipment he needs. He’s on his way to success. But the plug is pulled by the government who, without warning, descend on his project and shut it down. No explanation. Just pack up and go home. It is far too unfair to Adrian. It is the society that claims to support entrepreneurial spirit and then spits in its face. It is the land that promises success to those willing to work for it, and then throws up a wall to quash every hope of reaching beyond a minimum wage.
So Adrian goes underground. His venture becomes very black market. But it works, albeit always on shaky ground; nefarious characters become his choice brethren and even more nefarious characters his clientele. That said he is making plenty of money. He is able to provide a dream life for his family (without ever telling them the truth about his ventures). It’s all going so swimmingly. Until a friendly neighbourhood Spiderman swings in to put an end to the illegal business. That’s when he becomes the true villain.
Adrian is a man who has been pushed and pushed. He’s made bad decisions, and Michael Keaton’s powerful performance lets us know he has at least some remorse for his actions. His face seems to say “if my country had supported me and stopped leaving me in the dark I wouldn’t be here.” But his mouth says “I don’t care what you think, I’m doing this and don’t dare try to stop me.” There is a duality about him that Keaton brings out masterfully.
As the film sees him pushed to his breaking point, we see him crumble entirely, and become a monster who loses the last few pieces of morality. But even as he lays waste to vast swaths of property and puts countless innocent people in danger, we never lose sight of what brought him to this desperate place. There are shades of Walter White about Adrian, and his descent from doing bad things for good reasons, to doing bad things because he’s good at them, is equally as poignant given our current political climate.
Perhaps if Homecoming had been released three or more years ago it wouldn’t have had as much of an impact. But now, in 2017, when a villain arises and blames all his actions on the fat cats and politicians, and is a man who would likely be in the front row chanting “drain the swamp” at a Trump rally, well, it is scarily believable.