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Is it a bird, is it a plane? Well, a bit of both — it's a jetpack-powered vulture. While Michael Keaton is currently soaring high as the villainous Vulture the Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer, the road to Vulture taking flight has been a long fall from the nest. Homecoming may be the character's first live-action outing, but some may remember that we nearly had a very different Spideyverse, with someone else tipped to plume his feathers as Vulture — John freakin' Malkovich!
Back before Spider-Man was played by Tom Holland, and before that middling Andrew Garfield era, there were plans for Sam Raimi to continue his legacy after the maligned Spider-Man 3. Set for a 2011 release, Spider-Man 4 sounds like a fanboy's wet dream: Dylan Baker as The Lizard, Anne Hathaway as Black Cat, Bruce Campbell as Mysterio, and obviously, Malkovich as Vulture. Perhaps in a different timeline somewhere we all sat back and watched John Malkovich flap his wings to glory.
Despite Spider-Man 3's critical panning, in 2008 Sam Raimi was in talks to not only create a fourth film, but shoot concurrently with a fifth and sixth. You have to assume that the sixth film in the franchise would have perfectly tied in with a Sinister Six storyline. As for No.4, the internet is swarming with fan art, plotlines, and petitions for the chrome-domed Malkovich to fly as Adrian Toomes a.k.a. The Vulture. Swathe through, and you can find Jeffrey Henderson's concept art for Spider-Man 4 - notice that their Vulture bears more than a slight resemblance to a Malkovich-esque villain.
The rumored working title for the entry was Spider-Man 4: The Mysterious Vulture. While it may sound like a mouthful, let's not forget Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or X-Men: Days of Future Past; also, with the film reportedly containing both Vulture AND Mysterio, it makes literal sense.
For those who dismissed the Malkovich Vulture as wild conspiracy, the actor himself spoke candidly about the opportunity to play Toomes and his disappointment at the film's unravelling:
“Well, I think a lot of the people who sort of follow that genre… I’m not sure, I never really spoke with Sam about this, but I’m not sure they—maybe the kind of fanbase, the fanboys—either didn’t approve of [The Vulture] as an adversary for [Spidey] to some extent…or maybe the studio [didn’t]. Or maybe that was totally unrelated to why it fell apart.”
“Yes [I was disappointed]. But because I like Sam and I like Toby [Maguire] and all that stuff, and the producers, two of whom I’d met before because I’d been offered [Green Goblin on] the first [Spider-Man]… I came to like them, so sure why not? But it didn’t play out.”
Another bizarre twist of fate would have seen Anne Hathaway as Felicia Hardy a.k.a Black Cat — the long-time Spidey lover/ cat burglar who has kept Parker busy since her inception in 1979. We all know that Hathaway went on to play Catwoman in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, so you have to wonder whether she was making up for not being able to play Black Cat. Felicia may since have appeared in the Spideyverse, but they are yet to get her quite right.
It seems that Raimi's fourth film would have taken Hardy away from her feline roots and up into the air. Spider-Man 4 would have featured a father/daughter team up, with a character named Viper introduced as side antagonist. "The Viper" would be the new man in charge of the Daily Bugle (what, no J.K. Simmons?). Keeping her role as the daughter of a super villain, but changing the species, Viper's daughter would be Hathaway's Hardy.
However, it seems that a game of telephone meant that Viper was actually Vulture, and that Hathaway would play a wholly new character called Vultress. Having Hathaway AND Malkovich team up to take down Tobey Maguire would either have been amazing or awful. I guess we will never know.
Why Malkovich Would Have Been Perfect
It is easy to forget that there was a time where Malkovich was literally everywhere, like an Anthony Hopkins of acting with his imposing bellow and intimidating nuances. The Guardian once described his voice as "a reedy, faintly orgasmic drawl." Few actors, if any, have a film specifically named after themselves, and Being John Malkovich is such a surreal affair, it is hard to get out of your head.
Although he can play a sympathetic role, there is no denying that Malkovich is born to play villains. Who can forget him as the psychotic terrorist Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom in Con Air? Malkovich has since branched into dark comedies in the likes of Burn After Reading and the two RED films, but he always maintains that hyper-serious face that puts you on edge. He is one of those high-profile actors who are ever-increasingly circling roles in both the MCU and DC, I mean look at J.K. Simmons. He may never get to be Vulture, but surely someone has to villain the hell out of Malkovich as a comic book bad guy.
Taking To The Skies Again
You may notice that Vulture will be flying into Spider-Man: Homecoming next year; he is only six years late. Sadly, it won't be Malkovich strapping on the tech, and it is Michael Keaton replicating his Birdman days as Toomes. Vulture looks to be front and center as the main antagonist of the film, flanked by secondary villains like The Tinkerer and Shocker. We have only just got the first trailer, but so far it looks like Vulture will be going down a Green Goblin route of mechanical suits and jetpacks. Given that Toomes was a former electrical engineer, it does make sense that in 2017 he wouldn't just be flapping around in some green spandex.
There have been many characters who took on the Vulture mantle, but given that Homecoming goes back to the youngest version of Spider-Man, it is only right that he face his second ever foe from the comics (Chameleon was the first). After all, it was only a matter of time before someone revived Vulture into some sort of a modern character.
Given Keaton's acting gravitas, he will undoubtedly be a superb villain, but you can't help but dream for a Malkovich iteration of the character. After turning down the part as Green Goblin in Raimi's 2002 Spider-Man, and the disaster of what happened to Spider-Man 3, you have to wonder whether taking on Web-Head is Malkovich's destiny, or a curse never to happen!