A penny for the thoughts of Sam Raimi, director of the original Spider-Man movies, should he have happened to watch the new trailer for Sony’s Venom this week. For the first instalment in the studio’s own Marvel universe (not to be confused with Marvel’s own Marvel Cinematic Universe, owned by Disney) looks like just the sort of movie Raimi would have chopped his own hand off to be given the chance of directing.
Raimi was cast aside by Sony after the critical drubbing received by 2007’s Spider-Man 3, even though that movie’s well-documented problems (mainly involving Venom) were allegedly not all of his making. He appears to have been in the directorial sin-bin since 2013’s middling Oz the Great and Powerful, so it is ironic that the studio now seems to be moving its superhero movies in the kind of comedy-horror direction that would have been second nature to the creator of Evil Dead II and Drag Me to Hell.
I like this new Venom trailer. The previous one was the very definition of the disappointing teaser – lots of gurning Tom Hardy doing his arty-weirdo thing and very little of the horrifying symbiote. As Hardy makes clear in the trailer, Venom isn’t only journalist Eddie Brock, it’s also the horrific, glistening mask of alien teeth. Finally we get to see both, and it turned out all Sony had to do to get us excited about this movie was show us the money.
It makes sense why the studio has plucked Ruben Fleischer from Hollywood purgatory, where he had been languishing since 2013’s Gangster Squad, to direct Venom. Fleischer’s Zombieland (2009) is a rare example of the perfect blend of horror and comedy, a worthy successor to Raimi’s late-80s work.
That film had the seamless double act of Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg as a hardboiled killer of the undead and a twitchy, self-deprecating college kid. Fleischer’s new film will get its laughs from the interplay between Brock-Hardy and symbiote-Hardy. (Again this starts to make sense: Hardy has been talking to himself in movies for most of his career.)
What a staggering feat of CGI-work the new Venom is, especially given how many superhero films over the past decade have been littered with dismal digital characters (hello, Justice League’s Steppenwolf).
Originally pitched as a skewed send-up of the Spider-Man costume, Venom here has morphed into something altogether more odious and disgusting. There is even a hint of David Cronenberg’s body horror in the way the symbiote wraps itself around Hardy’s face.
Funnily enough, the CGI work in Spider-Man 3 was one of the film’s best elements. It was that Venom’s origin story was relegated to one of several competing sub-plots which annoyed fans. Nevertheless, there looks to be a definite quality improvement in the antihero’s debut solo outing.
Might Sony have stumbled on a new direction here, a darker tone to the films of the Marvel studio? In Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner, a man whose fear of turning into the Hulk is so great that he admits to having tried to end it all, the MCU has occasionally explored the torment of a superhero browbeaten by his own powers. Venom looks like it will immerse itself in that ice cold pool of curdled existential dread, while at the same time having a whole lot of fun with the old twin-driver, Jekyll and Hyde concept.