Portraying the titular caped crusader in Tim Burton‘s Batman and Batman Returns, Michael Keaton played a major role in the shaping of the superhero movie genre as we know it. Yet it’s taken 25 years for him to return to it with Spider-Man: Homecoming as the flying fiend Adrian Toomes, A.K.A. The Vulture. Nerdist visited the set of the this high-flying adventure to ask Keaton what’s it like to be back, but on the other side of the law. We talked Toomes, his tech-heavy crew, and the unexpected experts who helped Keaton shape his curious comic book character.
Last week, we touched on how this rebooted Spider-Man is re-imaging a super-villain who used to skew more silly than sinister. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Toomes rises from the ashes of The Avengers‘ Battle of New York to super-villainy, using snatched Chitauri tech to suit up his scrappy crew with some incredible abilities. Now, we dig into our interviews from the Atlanta set last summer, where we watched the first meeting of Vulture and Spider-Man, to share some more juicy details about the newest MCU villain.
Early reports claimed Keaton was a hard-sell on returning to the genre. But the Batman star who satirized it in Birdman shook his head, rejecting those stories outright. “The thing about me not doing superhero movies,” Keaton said, “That’s not true at all.” He explained how the shooting schedule for Spider-Man: Homecoming originally conflicted with the press rounds he’d been expected to do for the biting biopic The Founder, which Keaton fronted fantastically. But once The Founder‘s release shifted from August to December, his circumstances changed. “If something’s good, and it works in my life schedule or work schedule, I’m open to it. It just wasn’t working that way when it was originally set.”
Keaton revealed the blue-collar roots of Toomes, the small business owner of salvage company who he said, “Feels like a victim, and some of it is justified actually. He believes that there’s an upper echelon of society of people who are getting away with a lot and have everything. And there’s a whole lot of folks who are working hard, and don’t have much.”
For Toomes, that upper echelon means Tony Stark, whose company pushed his crew out of the Battle of New York cleanup gig that could have meant big money for a small business like his. So, with the help of his team, Vulture plans a series of heists to ripoff Stark Industries. On set we learned his team is made of Phineas “The Tinkerer” Mason (Michael Chernus), and Herman “The Shocker” Schultz (Bokeem Woodbine), as well as a cohort played by Logan Marshall-Green that no one on set would dare reveal. So what B-list baddie might he be?
Careful to not spill spoilers, Keaton didn’t speak to Marshall-Green’s role, but did say of the Vulture’s squad, “They’re his boys, and they are like-minded. They are just his boys, you know?”
“I really like the relationship with the Tinkerer–with Michael (Chernus)’s character–it’s great,” Keaton said. “He’s real funny, so we goof around a lot and make up very, very funny backstories. But they’re funny but then you think, ‘Well, that’s probably their relationship. They probably get on each other’s nerves sometimes.’ I have a lot of the ideas and then I just say, “Go make that. Go make that for me. I want to have a thing that does all this stuff. Just go make that stuff for me.” And he’s great. I’m having a lot of fun in that relationship.”
Keaton was likewise tight-lipped when it came to questions about the set of Vulture’s lab, which we got to tour. Winding through a dark and drafty warehouse, the glamor of Hollywood felt faraway. Within its chilly concrete walls, there was a bounty of strange glowing tech, and a pair of metal Vulture wings that extended into steel fingers. Then on the fridge, some children’s drawings in crayon. So, this super-villain isn’t just some wild rogue, he’s a working dad whose motivation is providing for his family.
“He wants to look out for who his kids,”Marvel producer Eric Carroll said. “He’s got sort of a Tony Soprano mentality. He doesn’t have these big delusions of grandeur where he wants to take over the world, or replace the government, or even defeat the Avengers or anything. He just wants his shot at the good life, and he thinks it’s not fair that someone like Tony Stark can make a fortune selling weapons and find the light, turn away from that, and be looked upon as a hero and then even worse, he gets paid to clean up the mess! … So he’s one of those guys. ‘I’m doing some shady stuff, but I’m not really hurting anyone,’ you know?”
Keaton credits this “risky” approach to director Jon Watts. For his part Watts explained how this Vulture take was crucial to the grounded MCU story he set out to tell, saying, “It’s just a grounded take on where someone like that could come from and where the other people that are a part of it come from, and just trying to root it in something that is believable so it’s not just this arch-villain plot that comes out of nowhere.”
When asked what research he did to prepare to play the Vulture, Keaton cracked that signature smirk/smile, and joked, ” I barely know who the Joker is.” But he noted that it was a pair of fangirls who proved crucial to his character’s creation, saying, “I’ll tell you my source though. There’s two little girls of a gal who used to work for me. I check in with them. One’s eight and the other one is eleven or twelve. So when I have to ask a question about all that stuff, I text ’em. They fill me in on who’s who. That’s my research.”
Spider-Man: Homecoming hits theaters July 7th.
Who do you think Logan Marshall-Green might play?
Image: Sony/Marvel Studios
Don’t miss the rest of our Spider-Man: Homecoming set visit coverage: