(Welcome to Great Moments in MCU History, where we fondly recall great little bits that made us fall in love with the MCU.)
Spider-Man! What a cutie pie. After a couple goes with actors who looked to be in their early 30s (but in a very handsome way, fellas), we finally got to see what an actual young person might bring to the big screen as Peter Parker. It turns out High School is a good age for Spider-Man. Who knew?
A smaller Spider-Man meant smaller Spider-Man stories, but the MCU had no problem introducing their most famous character as little more than a spice in the Superhero stew that was Captain America: Civil War. What would normally be their biggest character introduction ever was more of a charming comedy scene where Iron Man hits on Aunt May, and audiences ate it up.
Of course, Spider-Man would eventually get his own movie(s). A character that big, played with the amount of charm wielded by Tom Holland, isn’t something you let go to waste, especially if you’re the MCU. But that doesn’t mean they put their new hero in the middle of a galactic war or anything (that would come with the next movie). Instead, Spider-Man: Homecoming is just a little film about a little hero dealing with little things. And through these modest pursuits, it also contains one of the MCU’s most menacing scenes.
Homecoming’s villain is Adrian Toomes – The Vulture – portrayed here as kind of a wealthy construction worker type by former Batman Michael Keaton. He is not what you’d call a heavy hitter. The Vulture can… fly. He has a decent business going and some modified alien tech to protect his interests. A napping Iron Man could wipe him out with a drone or something and never even know he was there.
This makes him a good villain for Peter Parker’s first MCU movie. Not too big, not too dangerous, just right for teaching Parker some life lessons. And that’s how most of it goes. Peter’s central conflict is whether or not he’ll adequately impress his father figure Tony Stark (no Uncle Ben business for this Peter Parker). He faces no real physical danger.
That safety ends in a surprisingly abrupt fashion, however, when Peter realizes his Homecoming date’s father is also his nemesis, Adrian Toomes. It gets worse as Parker finds himself stuck in a car with Toomes while driving to the big dance. Then it gets even worse than that as Toomes – small-time but not stupid – deduces Parker’s alternate identity. We learn early in the film that Peter enjoys pickles. That is good because he’s in one now.
Why It’s Great
Many young folks have to suffer through a strict talking-to from a date’s father. It’s one of those youthful rights of passage only the lucky among us get to skip. You’re terrified but also can’t look weak; the dad is putting on a show but also needs to make sure you’re not a creep. It’s a tough dance that no one enjoys.
Homecoming takes this quite a bit further as Toomes begins by pulling out a pistol. Sticking with the metaphor, things do begin with an acknowledgment of respect. Toomes knows Spider-Man saved his daughter’s life, and has to admit his appreciation. But then he gets to threatening Peter’s world if he continues messing around in Toomes’ business. He is a villain after all.
A lot goes into this scene’s greatness. It’s well-scripted and not just with the dialogue – the entire scene’s complicated construction deserves praise. Nevertheless, this is all about Michael Keaton’s performance.
The MCU gets a lot of slack for their bad villains. Homecoming came during an era where that was getting turned around a bit thanks to the likes of Erik Killmonger and, of course, Thanos. Toomes’ smaller scale makes him easy to overlook, but Keaton’s abnormally terrifying here simply by feeling so real and human, as familiar as a friend’s intimidating dad. Toomes may be evil-ish, but you weirdly want Peter to earn his respect. Peter, meanwhile, takes this confrontation in silent embarrassment, never feeling more like a child. He can’t even look Toomes in the eye.
So no, Toomes is not going down as an all-timer MCU villain. But in this one scene, he delivers more genuine menace than these characters usually get. And hey! That’s probably why they chose not to kill the guy.
Peter is a hero. So he immediately ditches the dance, ignores Toomes’ warning, and gets back to work foiling his plans. But what if he didn’t? It would be super weird if he just quit being a hero and enjoyed the dance like a normal teenager. Except that’s kind of what I wanted him to do. At least for that night! The whole Toomes thing could have waited until morning. Let Peter off the hook just this once.
That’s one what-if. The other is, hey, what if Peter just grabbed Toomes’ gun in the car and took him out right there and then? Toomes wouldn’t have stood a chance against Parker’s reflexes and speed. It would have been over in two seconds, end of movie! Personally, I choose to believe Parker was too scared to even consider it, which makes me like him – and this scene – even more. But still. 40-year-old Andrew Garfield Spider-Man totally would have snagged that gun. And then given Toomes’ a wedgie or something.
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