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The age of franchising and shared universe has been one of severe disappointment and frustration among all the good stuff. As much as I love Marvel Studios, the CW shared superhero universe, or the emerging Kaiju-verse of Godzilla and King Kong those make up the occasional rarities. For every one of them, it feels like we’re buried in terrible DCEU installments, ill-conceived horror universe, and yet more incompetent misfires from the people at Sony.
There has truly been no one more knee-capped by the demand for cinematic universes than Sony, mainly because they only have 1 brand under their belt that could be turned into a bigger universe and now that brand is co-owned by Marvel and Disney.
Obviously, I’m talking about Spider-Man- the franchise that started the modern superhero fixation at the turn of the millennium. Sony still remembers those days when Spider-Man made them enough money to buy the Rock of Gibraltar and have been trying to recapture that moment ever since, without realizing it’s their corporate meddling that drove the brand into the ground from #3 onwards.
However, now that Sony has to share the profits of its new Spider-Man film with the folks at Marvel Sony is trying to branch out with unofficial spin-offs. So far these have all languished in development hell, but now they’ve finally started to get their act together with the first such project: Venom, starring Tom Hardy.
First a little background. The character of Venom can best be described as HARDCORE Spider-Man. He was created in the late ‘80s after Spider-Man got a black suit costume from an alien world in the adventure Secret Wars. The black suit turned out to be an alien symbiote that formed a bond with Peter that made him stronger while increasing his aggression and dependence on the suit.
Eventually, Peter rejected the symbiote and it latched onto Eddie Brock, a rival reporter for the Daily Bugle who hated Peter’s guts. Despite being a villain, Brock’s Venom proved massively popular and infinitely merchandisable, so he quickly was spun-off into his own comic.
Venom’s a good example of something that happens with a lot of inherently kid-friendly superheroes like Spider-Man or Superman. A lot of those folks are the first heroes younger kids are exposed to, and adults tend to like for the genuine moral drama that informs them. However, in between kid and adult, there is dumb teenager which is the age folks usually break away from Spidey or Superman and gravitate to Wolverine and Batman.
As such, comics publishers will try and produce a faux-mature version of these heroes meant to appeal to that sensibility- that’s Venom. He’s got all of Spider-Man’s powers but none of his heartfelt dedication to doing good, none of the bright colors, and none of the humanity. He’s a big, seething black monster version of Spider-Man who’s only a hero because he occasionally faces down worse monsters.
Since then the Symbiote has gone through a ton of various owners and a handful of unique iterations. It most often defaults back to a monstrous version of Spider-Man, but there was also a secret agent version and a space knight version of the character. There were also several spin-off characters, most popular being Carnage, the direct spawn of the Venom symbiote that attached to a crazed serial killer. There’ve been several more spawns, all pretty short-lived, along with Carnage’s own spawn Toxin and the bizarre Anti-Venom character but really none of those folks have proved all that memorable or long lasting.
As for the movie, this has been in the works since the time of Amazing Spider-Man 2. The plan, allegedly, was for Peter to dawn the black suit in Amazing Spider-Man 3 in order to defeat the Green Goblin, with the film ending in a tie to facilitate a Venom spin-off from the suit and a Sinister Six spin-off with Goblin. Obviously, Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a flop, and none of this ended up mattering, but Sony’s had the Venom film in their back pocket ever since regardless.
In fact, back before 2015 and Josh Trank was branded persona non grata, Trank was supposed to direct the Venom movie, but that fell through. Everyone assumed the project was dead when Sony Japan stepped in and forced their American disappointment to play nice with Marvel and start making money again with the shared custody agreement. However, chatter for a renewed venom film picked up again in early 2016 after the monster success of Deadpool, with reports suggesting a bloody hard-R for the new movie.
A lot of folks, myself included, assumed that the Deadpool-inspired new life found by the Venom movie meant the film would be more of a brutal comedy but with Tom Hardy as our Eddie Brock that doesn’t seem the case. Instead, I’d expect Venom will be another entry in the 2010s’ most popular late stage trend: cheaply made, hard-R, first quarter action films.
This trend may have started with John Wick, but it was cemented by Deadpool, with action movies getting made quick and dirty with a lot of nasty gore and action to secure a hard R rating and then popping out in the first few months of the year with no competition. This method has made blockbuster mega-bucks for stuff like Deadpool, John Wick Chapter 2, and Logan so it makes sense that the folks behind Venom would go this way if they didn’t really want to try that hard.
As for the casting of Tom Hardy, I’m a little mixed on this. Normally there’s a lot you can tell from this kind of casting, in particular on the adaptation side, but this project is a very bizarre case. So much of the Venom material, especially the stuff about Hardy’s character Eddie Brock, is grounded firmly in the realm of Spider-Man so trying to make a Venom movie without Spider-Man seems unwise.
Eddie’s whole persona was just hating Peter Parker, and his entire menace came from knowing everything about him thanks to the Symbiote. The actually more interesting stuff like Agent Venom or Space Knight Venom is out of the question and the specter of what villains Sony owns the rights to looms large over the proceedings. The most likely conceivable bad guy would be Carnage as he fits the needs of most superhero films as an evil version of the hero, or rather in Venom’s case an eviler version of the hero.
Most vexingly in the midst of all this is why Tom Hardy would willingly throw himself into another potentially calamitous superhero project. The last time Hardy entered this arena it produced the universally parodied Dark Knight Rises, in which his character ended up the butt of every joke for the rest of the year. Honestly, Hardy as Venom feels like typecasting in a pretty shortsighted way. Venom from the comics didn’t have much personality beyond a snarling monster badass, and I get the sense the filmmakers are going after Hardy because he’s kind of a name star who can work the whole laconic, soft-spoken brute angle.
They have to know whoever they get isn’t that important given the demands of Venom’s monster form so just grabbing Tom to play a variation of his role from Taboo/The Revenant/Lawless probably made sense. The thing is, Hardy’s hulking brute persona is probably his least compelling acting trait. He can play the thuggish bruiser fine, but it’s not like any of those roles have defined his career in a positive way. Honestly, I think the production would be better served with Hardy as a more comedic version of Venom, perhaps in line with his character from RocknRolla, though I doubt they’d be that clever.
So where does this leave us on the subject of the Venom movie? Well, what it sounds like the most is basically a big budget version of the kind of stuff FX has become famous for making, which is probably another consideration that went into scooping up Tom Hardy. I’d expect the film to have a lot of gloss and a lot blood slathered onto a weak screenplay that leans on the R-rating and Hardy’s acting to paper over the weaker elements. Whether or not this will make for a good movie or even an interesting one is obviously up in the air but I don’t really have a lot of hope.
Hardy isn’t the actor to show up with the natural charisma to run a film like Jason Statham or Chris Pratt and while this style may work for long-form TV shows I don’t think it’s a great fit for the tight budget of a January R-rated action flick. I bet Sony is hoping to get their own answer to Logan or Deadpool or even Legion but I really don’t think they’re going to get it. Overall, it’s a little hard for me to muster that much enthusiasm for a Sony tentpole when it took them 3 movies to get the Smurfs right.
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