Kiss of the Spider-Man: what will a Venom movie actually look like?

Sony has been trying to get a solo outing for Spider-Man’s nemesis off the ground for a decade. Can its next attempt benefit from the success of Deadpool and Wolverine?

If only Life, Sony’s forthcoming science-fiction thriller about the discovery of a dangerous new alien, really were a prequel to Venom, the studio’s latest attempt at bringing Spider-Man’s extraterrestrial nemesis back to the big screen. This tantalising fan theory – which cropped up on Reddit has been dismissed out of hand, but it goes to show how much of an appetite there is for the concept of shared universes and linked movies. 10 Cloverfield Lane got away with its slightly shonky sci-fi finale because the denouement proved it actually is a sequel to 2008’s Cloverfield (a third movie, God Particle, is set for release later this year), while M Night Shyamalan’s Split produced its own OMG moment when Bruce Willis popped up to prove the horror outing exists in the same universe as the film-maker’s 2000 movie Unbreakable.

The theory about Life was linked to the fact that Sony retains the rights to Venom, despite its deal with Marvel to share Spidey, and that Life’s screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, once wrote an abandoned movie about the alien symbiote for the studio. A similar theoretical link, this time between Venom and the hideous shapeshifting alien lifeform introduced by John Carpenter in 1982’s The Thing, has been explored in the 2003 comic-book run by Daniel Way, suggesting – at the very least – a fascination for digging deeper into the creature’s back story. Unfortunately, Sony is not known for this kind of joined-up thinking, with its own efforts to transform Spider-Man and associated supervillains into a cinematic universe having died a death following the critical failure of 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Moreover, the last time we saw Venom on the big screen, in 2007’s muddled Spider-Man 3, there was little or no effort on the part of the film-makers to give the symbiote a meaningful origins tale: it simply turned up one day on Earth and decided to try and bond with the wisecracking wall-crawler (likely a legacy of the studio’s fateful decision to shoehorn in the fan-favourite property against director Sam Raimi’s wishes).

For this reason alone, the announcement that Sony is working on a new Venom movie has been viewed with apprehension. If the studio isn’t capable of producing decent Spider-Man movies without Marvel, how can it deliver a worthwhile entry about a title so closely linked to the web-slinger? There are also numerous unanswered questions about this complex game of inter-studio Mahjong: how can current Spidey Tom Holland appear in the Venom movie, perhaps as the antagonist, if Marvel is not involved? Especially as Sony has proven itself an untrustworthy keeper of the wall-crawler’s flame. The studio could avoid featuring Spidey entirely, of course. But the symbiote’s origins story is inexorably linked to that of Peter Parker – Brock is inspired to become Venom by his hatred for and jealousy towards the superhero – so this would be something of a strange move. In fact, it’s arguable that Venom without Spider-Man represents a rather lukewarm proposition for all but the most hardcore fan of 1993’s Venom: Lethal Protector storyline from the comics.

Venom and Spider-Man face off in a still from the 2007 film.
Venom and Spider-Man face off in the 2007 film. Photograph: Merie W Wallace/Columbia Pictures

There’s also the fact that Sony has been trying to get a Venom movie off the ground for the best part of a decade, without any real success. The deal with Marvel was supposed to put an end to this barrel-scraping approach to its rights to Spider-Man and associated characters, while allowing a whole host of classic Spidey villains to turn up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Instead, it seems as if Sony wants to let Marvel reinvigorate the character and still wants to spin off the likes of Venom into dubious solo adventures.

This move has clearly been inspired by Fox’s success with R-rated solo outings for Deadpool and Wolverine, two antiheroes who offer an alternate take on the classic superhero template – just like Venom. The alien symbiote even shares a cancer-stricken backstory with Deadpool. But Spidey’s nemesis – at least in his classic Eddie Brock form – has never quite had the offbeat charm of Wade Wilson, nor the grouchy, taciturn charisma of Logan. The one thing Spider-Man 3 got right about the character is that he’s kind of a jerk.

Venom in Raimi’s Spider-Man 3.
Venom in Spider-Man 3. Photograph: Marvel Studios

DC’s execrable Suicide Squad also flagged up the pitfalls of the antihero movie. Amanda Waller’s rather left-field decision to use supervillains to take down the latest metahuman menace (despite the fact that she’s on speaking terms with Batman) always made no sense in a universe with any adherence to basic logic. And the narrative curveballs required to make such a conceit work – making Waller a lunatic – ultimately destroyed the movie.

It’s easy to imagine the same happening to a Venom spin-off, which might have to make us (briefly) hate Spider-Man to create any sympathy for Brock, leaving Marvel to reverse the polarity and reconfigure Venom as a bad guy in a future Spidey flick. The Disney-owned studio managed to pull off a similar trick when it successfully cast Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man as the ostensible villain of Captain America: Civil War, but it was a screenwriting flick of the wrist that took at least half a dozen movies to set up.

Still, few could ever have imagined the appalling version of Deadpool we saw in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine becoming the star of Fox’s X-verse. Yet Ryan Reynolds and his team had such a diamond-cut vision of how they wanted to reintroduce the Merc with a Mouth that Tim Miller’s film proved irresistible.

The screenwriters of that movie? Messrs Reese and Wernick once again. So far, there is no sign that the writers of Life are involved in Sony’s next comic-book film, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t time to recruit them. The space thriller may only be a prequel to Venom in our most glorious fanboy fantasies, but the guys on Reddit might have been in the right ball park after all.


Ben Child

The GuardianTramp

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