There’s a new Venom speeding toward theaters, with actor Tom Hardy cast in the lead role of symbiote-bonded Eddie Brock. The film, originally announced in March, independent of Hardy’s involvement, is part of Sony Pictures' planned Spider-Man cinematic universe that will exist separate from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But what does that actually mean? More importantly, what does that mean for Venom (the character, not the movie)?
Can the symbiotes alone be trusted to become the tent pole of Sony’s cinematic universe endeavors? Or is Venom being set up for failure? As you might imagine, it’s … complicated.
First things first: Isolating movie properties is something superhero fans are used to, despite the growing web of Marvel Studios' interconnected characters. Fox’s isolated X-Men properties in both film and television have managed to make their way into the zeitgeist, despite their separation from the familiar faces of the Avengers, for example, so there's precedent for Sony’s efforts.
Unfortunately, it’s likely not a precedent that can support a Venom film all on its lonesome, independent of Spider-Man’s world building.
Why? The reason is actually pretty simple: The Venom symbiote’s origin and subsequent fallout is a story about infection, and when it’s isolated from its superheroic context, that’s all it is.
Wait, wait, before you rush to say that Venom stories have existed independent of Spider-Man for decades in the comics (and that’s absolutely true, by the way -- Marvel Comics is about to launch into a Venom-focused event called the Edge of the Venomverse to prove that point in the most topical way possible), it’s important to understand something. Those comics? The ones that focus on the symbiotes exclusively and independently from Peter Parker? They’re afforded the space to do that precisely because they still exist in a context right alongside Marvel's superheroes, even if there are no other superheroes present on the page.
Even the comics that aren't officially part of primary Marvel Universe continuity still proceed under the assumption that readers recognize the symbiotes to have a relationship with superhero communities in some way, shape or form. Without the strong backbone of an already-understood superhero universe to support it, those jokes the about Sony’s sci-fi horror film Life being a back-door Venom pilot nearly become reality.
Eddie Brock could have the most interesting character arc in the world, but if he’s placed into a New York City that’s just New York City -- no Avengers, no Spider-Man, no Fantastic Four, no superhero lore of its own -- he becomes the victim of your run-of-the-mill alien-outbreak horror story. Sure, maybe that story pulls in some altruism in the form of Eddie wanting to do good with his newfound abilities, maybe it even borrows from the more recent Venom comics and uses the symbiote in some sort of secret-agent capacity, but at the end of the day, if Venom exists in a vacuum? The crux of the narrative can be reduced to the same driving factors that pushes sci-horror staples, a la Ridley Scott’s Alien: a human, contaminated by an alien infection, and made monstrous because of it.
But before you start to panic, it’s worth noting that Sony has yet to officially confirm the absence or inclusion of other heroes in its project; in fact, in a new interview, Venom producer Amy Pascal adjusted expectations by stating "there’s a chance" Peter Parker may have a presence in the film. She goes on to reveal that, despite earlier indications, the movie may actually take place in the MCU after all.
"Those movies will all take place in the world that we’re now creating for Peter Parker,” Pascal said of both Venom and Sony's Silver Sable/Black Cat spinoff, Silver & Black. “They’ll all be adjuncts to it. They may be different locations, but it will still all be in the same world. They will all be connected to each other as well.”
So, while Sony has used the phrase “cinematic universe” to imply that its Spider-Man branded films will eventually branch out to include more characters (which characters, when, and in what capacity are still largely up in the air), the planned Spider-Verse could be a subset of the greater MCU. That will help the studio avoid complicated licensing issues that have plagued Marvel’s cinematic forays in the past, something fans saw explicitly in the rather abrupt death of Quicksilver in Avengers: Age of Ultron while his doppelgänger in X-Men: Days of Future Past continued on in the Fox franchise.
What that means is, Sony won't throw into the same gambit by casting a second Peter Parker just to act as a background character in some of the Spider-Verse movies while the MCU has Tom Holland fast-tracked to become the next Marvel movie darling. But it doesn’t negate the definite potential for Sony to reach a bit deeper in its bag of tricks and pull out a more obscure roster for the franchise's supporting cast.
The complication then becomes figuring out how to cover the exposition needed to build a sustainable, believable superhero-populated universe -- one that can support the immediate introduction of Venom -- in the space of a single film. And to make things worse? That exposition must be handled in such a way as to clearly delineate this run of movies from not only the MCU, or the Fox goings on, but also Sony’s earlier Spider-Man series, a space that’s already undergone multiple unconnected reboots.
The unfortunate truth is that more and more frequently,studios are looking to emulate the MCU formula without actually laying a strong foundation. The same way that a character like Thor or Doctor Strange would have struggled to find their footing outside of a universe in which viewers already knew and understood both the rules and the scope of the landscape, a premise like the Venom symbiote can’t be expected to find success without first building scaffolding -- something Sony's “cinematic universe” simply doesn’t have yet.
Is there space for a Venom solo film somewhere down the line? Certainly. Can Eddie Brock carry a plot all on his own with little to no direct outside interference? Of course. But can he exist to his fullest capacity as a character in a vacuum? Probably not. If Sony is genuinely looking to build a sustainable infrastructure for a cinematic universe to grow and flourish on, it needs to reassess and find a tentpole character off of whom Venom can take hold -- and to do that, its best bet is to re-adjust its approach to include Spider-Man in the movie after all.