Much ado has been made about Michael Keaton's casting as The Vulture in the latest Spider-Man reboot, Homecoming. See, back in 2014, Keaton was casted in the starring role for the movie Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). This is ironic, because The Vulture is a bird man, literally. Get it? It's funny, sure, but I think there's more to the story than merely a happenstance in naming.



Birdman was a movie known for its meta-commentary. If you haven't seen it yet, I recommend checking it out before reading further, but I'll describe the essentials here for those who aren't interested. Keaton played a washed-up actor searching for inspiration, recognition, and success after playing a superhero a long time ago, which not-so-coincidentally could also have been said to describe Keaton himself at the time, due to his past role as Batman. This character, and those around him, were used in part to make note of the superficiality of the booming superhero genre in American cinema compared to what was considered "real" art. What is strangest of all though is that in Birdman, Spider-Man himself was selected specifically to visually represent this genre in all its shallowness.

So what gives? If Birdman was all about how dumb the superhero genre is compared to the high arts- stage dramas in particular- then why has Keaton "sold out" to Marvel Studios in order to play their latest villain? Is he a hypocrite? I think not. It is entirely possible to read Birdman not as a scathing criticism of the superhero genre, but of those who dismiss it entirely due to their own pretentiousness.



With this interpretation in mind, Keaton's acceptance of his role as The Vulture takes on a brand new meaning. It is possible to see this new role as a meta-continuation of the real life plot that Birdman portrayed. For Keaton, this means accepting the legitimacy of his past role as Batman, coming to terms with the value of the superhero genre, swallowing his pride, and realizing that there is real art to be made within the trend of cinematic super heroics.

Seeing Birdman and its meta-plot this way, Keaton's role as The Vulture becomes not one of hypocrisy, but of supreme cinematic triumph. Simply put, he nailed the part. He absolutely steals the show in every scene he's in, and he probably represents the most interesting subversion in the entire movie.



Michael Keaton has once again learned to soar; not as a bat this time, but as a bird, man.