Sony made a trilogy of Spider-Man movies directed by Sam Raimi and starring Toby Mcguire. That series of films ended with Spider-Man 3, which featured the very first live-action version of Venom played by Topher Grace. The movie was so bad that it killed the Raimi/Spider-Man universe entirely. A year or so later Sony rebooted Spider-Man, with The Amazing Spider-Man 1 & 2, starring Andrew Garfield (who, to his credit, played a marvelous Spider-Man). Sony intended for that series to spawn off a “Spider-Man-Movie-Verse,” where villains and heroes would get their own movies, but all be connected much like all the other films by Marvel Studios. Venom, arguably Spider-Man’s most revered villain, was in the mix for a possible Spin-Off, but thanks to the bomb that was The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the franchise was once again dead and put back in the on-deck circle while Sony tried to figure out how to kick start another set of Spider-Man movies. Then Marvel Studios stepped in and negotiated a deal with Sony to resurrect (and give us an AWESOME) Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War and start production on Spider-Man’s own MCU movie Spider-Man: Homecoming.
With the resurgence of Spider-Man on the silver screen, and given FOX’s latest runs with wildly success R-Rated superhero films like Deadpool and Logan, Sony wants in! They’ve just pushed through their long-conceived plan to make a spin-off film focusing on the villain Venom and plan to release it in Oct 2018. Venom is a fan-favorite character that many have been clamoring to see on the big screen. One major question the Sony should ask first though after considering who Venom is, his history, and how this possibly ties into the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe): “Is a Venom spin-off a good idea?”
In short, the answer is “No”. Why? We’ll get to that.
But first. Who is Venom?
Venom is a villain from the Spider-Man universe that was spawned after an alien symbiote attached itself to Spider-Man. Once Spider-Man shed himself of the symbiote, the alien life form had gained the same powers as Spider-Man and passed them on to another host. The most well-known human host was Eddie Brock, who wore the symbiote suit and was transformed into Venom. His most recognizable form/visage is that of an all-black, hulking mass, with a white Spider on his chest, and a monstrous head with gnarly teeth and a tongue that would make Gene Simmons jealous.
FOX Studios, who have redeemed themselves as of late with the likes of Deadpool and Logan, have found that taking risks and letting creators have their way is turning out to being a winning formula. They’ve even pushed the boundaries and thrown caution to the wind when it comes to respecting continuity and its own universes, what with Logan being its own film not directly tied to any of the X-Men movies before it. Good story and characterization trump all, so it doesn’t per say matter if a Venom movie has anything to do with MCU’s Spider-Man or Spider-Man at all (Though it should. Venom is a character intrinsically tied to Spider-Man. Cutting that tie would be like making a Joker movie that doesn’t acknowledge the existence of Batman). Sony Pictures, who owns film rights to Spider-Man and Co, are clearly attracted to what FOX is doing and want in on some of the action. What worked for Deadpool and Logan, however, doesn’t so easily apply to Venom. Those are characters with much greater recognition and appeal and, well, they’re also heroes.
For all intent and purposes, Venom is a not so good dude. He’s a terror, actually. A monster. Look at him, he’s basically what kids fear are hiding in their closets. There’s is a problem with making a villain movie. You have to want to root for the villain. And Venom really doesn’t have any (in the most generalized way of saying this) likable qualities, other than that he looks really f’n cool. So what would the plot be?
It is unclear which Venom incarnation is being used for the new project. In his current incarnation, Venom is paired with Flash Thompson, a Peter Parker bully-turned-close friend and now a government agent. Using the current symbiote lore it’s entirely possible to tell a compelling origin without Spider-Man. But then it’s not really the same character. The problem is for that to happen it really needs to be tied into Spiderman and establish Venom there and more importantly establish Flash Thompson as a character. Let’s say Sony goes with Eddie Brock version, and draws a story inspired from the “Lethal Protector” series, where Venom goes around saving people but he’s apathetic, violent, and very often lethal with his actions (hence the “Lethal Protector”). That’s cool when it’s in comic form but there is certainly a disconnect when taking that to live-action – it’s harder for mass audiences (aka people who are unfamiliar with the character) to root for something that looks like it wants to eat your face-off.
Even Venom’s creator co-creator Todd McFarlane has gone on the record as being concerned about kind of good story would warrant a Venom movie:
“I’m thinking about how they want to make anti-heroes nowadays… Those don’t work. The reason they’re so cool as a bad guy is because they’re bad. And as soon as you try to give too much humanity to them, then you go, no! Now they’re not as good as a bad guy because you’re trying to redeem them.”
Then there is the problem with dealing with the origin of the suit, the origin of Eddie Brock, and the origin of Venom as a synthesis of the two. The film must firmly establish all of these things and tell a complete narrative. That’s really hard to navigate in a 2 hour movie, particularly if it has nothing to do with Spider-Man.
The only thing that ever made Venom interesting is that he was a guy that had everything and lost it all, and Spider-Man was to blame. Outside of that, he is a one-note character. He’s got a gimmick and look that has had a lasting affect, but all he will ever really be is an “evil Spider-Man in an alien suit.” We can’t truly have a Venom movie without Spider-Man and we can’t have a Venom movie without it looking like another Spider-Man movie. It’s too much of a juxtaposition for audiences to grab onto. As cool as it would be to see Venom swing from his tendrils or maybe even fight his brood, a homicidal maniac know as Carnage, it all just doesn’t work.
In making a case for how a Venom movie COULD work, if it steals anything from 2013’s short film Truth in Journalism (above), which is essentially a “mash up” of the Belgian mock documentary Man Bites Dog, then that would be something. Even a loose play on American Psycho could work as well. What it would really take, is for Sony to reinvent and characterize Venom as something drastically different that what has been known for. They would need to move beyond the classic origin story and alter the Eddie Brock’s mythos into to something deeper and more compelling. Perhaps a psychological thriller where Eddie Brock doesn’t know he’s Venom, he tracks murders that he in unknowingly responsible for, he then meets his killer alter-ego ala Fight Club style, and is forced into a moral quandary that results in losing his humanity all together. A sci-fi thriller that explores that bad guys are not born, they’re pushed. Memento meets Slenderman, now that would raise some haunting questions and leave viewers something to feel atop all the cool visuals
But, hey, this is Sony we’re talking about. They’re not that deep.
But who really knows. Maybe a Venom solo movie without Spider-Man could be the dark horse of the superhero genre. Time will tell.