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The Vulture(s) Circle Spider-Man 4…

It’s been a while since I looked at the possible villains lined up for Spider-Man 4. With the shooting date drawing dangerously close, I’ve bowed out of all the rumours we’ve been hearing about the film – mainly about whether The Lizard would be appearing or who would be playing the Black Cat. But, as far as rumours go, this one is too juicy – and too close to the deadline – to avoid discussing. Basically two Oscar-nominated actors – John Malkovich and Anne Hathaway – are playing a pair of villains. Malkovich will be playing Adrian Toomes, and Anne Hathaway will be playing Felicia Hardy – but the character apparently won’t be sharing her comic book counterpart’s secret identity (the Black Cat), instead getting an entirely new secret identity (something called ‘the Vulturess’).

Somebody finally figured out that the only way to make John Malkovich more badass was to strap wings on him...

In fairness, I love the character of the Vulture. Back in June, I ran through the summary of the more-than-likely candidates to be the villain in the fourth film, and here’s a refresher for anybody looking to get up to speed on the character:

There aren’t enough badass roles going out there for kick-ass old timers. The Vulture is one of the very few old age pensioners who has villiany on a massive scale as a recreational hobby. The character’s premise is simple – an inventor cheated by his business partner, he now flies through the skies looking for vengeance – but he’s been around a while for a reason. If you cast the right one of Hollywood’s countless talented senior citizens, we reckon you could have a hit on your hands.

Though we’d love to see the old codger (whose real name is Adrian Toomes – spooky!), we don’t see Sony taking the risk with a relatively minor character. Still, there are some interesting plots from the books involving Toomes and Aunt May (she dates his best friend), which would again give us the chance to see a bit more of a stalwart supporting cast member. Plus – if the movies are primarily about Peter Parker, not Spiderman – having an ageing villain could help explore the theme of maturity. Does Peter Parker see himself doing this forever? Can he continue to be Spiderman into his old age? Would he want to, if he just ends up like this hollow old man?

So, he actually sounds pretty interesting, right? If done right.

There’s no cheesy sympathetic motivation (like a sick child who needs money for an operation), just a psychopathic old man. Yes, that’s been done in the first two films – Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin and Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus – but surely any move back towards that sort of storytelling is to be welcomed? Particularly since Spider-Man 3 focused on two hip and young villains and a sympathetic freak. In virtually all of his incarnations, Toomes just isn’t a nice man. Sure, his origin has his partner stealing his business idea, but that only earns sympathy if you don’t go on a murderous rampage afterward.

Indeed, the character might be used as a none-too-subtle exploration of the current economic crisis. A smashed and broken businessman (though a little reminiscent of Norman Osborn) might make a timely villain – indeed a crusade of vengeance against those who economically crippled him might make a nice bit of escapism for the audience (particularly if he takes his revenge in a winged suit of armour). At the least, he’s a more tangible foe than the last couple of villains – Venom or Sandman – which indicates that Raimi may be more comfortable dealing with him,

The casting of Malkovich harks back to the casting of Molina and Dafoe in the original two films, and he’s a fantastic character – particularly doing “sinister”. Of course, his villainous turn in Jonah Hex will give us an indication of whether he still has it in him to be a scenery chewing bad guy, but I’d still bank on him being as skilled as ever.

It's a shame that the Lizard has been "waiting in the wings" these past two movies... if it had been the Vulture, we'd have a perfect pun on our hands...

Of course, using the Vulture as a villain raises a whole host of side issues which deserve discussions. Indeed, these peripheral issues are arguably more surprising than the rumour itself. The most obvious is that – if the Vulture is the villain – the Lizard will not be. Despite two movies setting up Dylan Baker as Doctor Curt Connors, we still won’t see him transform into his gigantic lizardly alter ego yet. Or probably ever. And why exactly?

Because Sony are embarassed by the concept of a giant vicious lizard:

What does this mean for poor Dylan Baker, who’s patiently played Curt Connors in the last two installments? As much as it would seem that the series is setting up his eventual transformation into supervillain the Lizard, we hear that the suits simply can’t bring themselves to sign off on such an odd-looking enemy — instead, they’d rather hew closer to villains with a human face.

It’s kind of ironic, isn’t it? A giant lizard-man is too odd-looking, but an old geezer you straps wings on his back isn’t? The last film involved a kid on a flying skateboard and a guy who could turn to sand. Sometimes it’s the little things like that which amaze me.

The real disappoint here isn’t the addition of the Vulture – I think it’s a great concept that suits the wonderful style Raimi has brough to the series – it’s that we likely won’t get to see a Raimi version of the Lizard. Why is that a bad thing? Here’s what I said in considering the character as the frontrunner for the movie’s lead villain slot:

… we’d be glad to see this somewhat modest (he’s a talking, rampaging, giant lizard!) villain for two reasons. First, Dylan Baker deserves more work; seriously, the guy is superb and more-or-less obscure. Secondly, this is the type of freak that we believe Sam Raimi could do incredibly well. It’s like a vintage matinee creature. We loved the way that he handled the tentacles in Spiderman II, and the joy of the series has been bringing that old monster movie formula to big blockbusters.

I think the Lizard would really bring out the style of direction which Raimi brought to Evil Dead – it’s practically an invitation to make a modern monster movie. Still, I wasn’t entirely convinced by Raimi’s entirely CGI-based villain in Drag Me To Hell, so it’s possible the same might have applied here had Raimi gone the exclusively-CGI route here as opposed to combining conventional effects as well.

Anyway, enough about the Lizard. Shoulda woulda coulda and all that.

The other little bit of this announcement is the fact that Anne Hathaway will (reportedly) be playing Felicia Hardy, but will not take the guise of the Black Cat (as she does in the comics), but instead becomes a new villainess, the Vulturess. She will apparently be Toomes’ daughter (making the supervillain title an inherited one). The internet went berserk over such things – not that we’re too surprised over the whole Mickey Rourke in Iron Man 2 thing. I’m going to say what I always say in such matters: any adaption – play, novel, comic – shouldn’t be gauged on an exact fidelity to its source material (of which Watchmen would be a prime example), but instead be gauged on how true it is thematically to its original basis (The Dark Knight is perhaps the best example, evoking the ‘spirit’ of Batman, but changing quite a bit of the actual story and events).

Badass old guys are hard enough to find in movies these days... Badass old guys with wings? Even harder...

I think Felicia Hardy is relatively true to the character as conceived – the original idea was that her father was murdered and she took to a vigilante lifestyle to avenge him (let’s pretend that the unfortunate later retcon never happened). That’s a key facet here. I hate to say it, but the problem with Spider-Man 3 (among a lot of others) was that each of the three villains was on their own plotline with little overlap (Venom hated Spider-Man because he hated Peter Parker as a reporter; Sandman wanted to get his daughter surgery; Harry Osborn employs the worst butler int he world, but tries to kill his friend only to develop amnesia). If you want to include the Black Cat (with a criminal father) and the Vulture (who is an old criminal) in the same condensed narrative, the logical thing to do is to combine the stories into a single thread. The comic book adaptations which have managed more than one villain have demonstrated that idea – with these kinds of movies, it’s incredibly difficult to line everything up as smoothly as it needs to, so it’s best to have it streamlined before you begin.

It helps that David Bentley over at the Coventry Telegraph has done some nerdy research which demonstrates that the character of ‘the Vulturess’ might have some basis in Spider-Man history:

In the comics, a man called Adrian Toomes became the original Vulture. But, more interestingly, the second man to use that criminal alias was Blackie Drago and he has a daughter, Brenda Drago. And she happens to use artificial wings derived from her father’s Vulture costume to become a villainess called Raptor (the term for a bird of prey in zoology, not just a type of dinosaur). Interesting also to note that the black and white Raptor costume … is the same colours as that of Black Cat.

Somehow I doubt that will appease the increasingly angry army of opinionated fanboys who oppose the idea in principle.

I hate to admit it, but I like the way that this plays into the film series’ core theme of family. It obviously echoes the Norman Osborn/Harry Osborn family-of-evil vibe, but – if something horrible happens to her father – it also sets up Felicia as a solid counterpoint to Peter Parker himself (the relative of a victim who then empowers themselves). I am cautiously optimistic.

Of course, /Film also has another suggestion that this rumour ties into an earlier rumour and that those two rumours combined may suggest the loose plot arc for the new family on the block:

Note that all information is pointing to Malkovich’s character taking over The Daily Bugle. That’s another continuity change from the comics, I believe. Again, I could care less as long as it works in the context of the movie.

I am intrigued. it sounds like quite a bit of plot, to be honest, but I have faith in Raimi. Once I can be sure that he’s entirely behind these characters, it’ll be a lot easier for me to get excited about the film. Everyone knows that Raimi was less-than-pleased with the shoehorning of Venom into his third film, and he was right.

Crucially, I don’t think that this makes a difference one way or the other. I am probably one of the few people who is happier to potentially see the Vulture than almost any other foe, but as long as I know that the production team behind the film are giving it their all I can get behind the film. Spider-Man 3 put the series on probation with me, but the cast and crew have been saying all the right things over the past few months.

Looks like Spider-Man may have scored another blow against his greatest opponent: my apathy.

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