WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Sony’s Venom, in theaters now.
With director Ruben Fleischer opting to flesh out Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock as an antihero, he required someone formidable for him to fight in Venom. Without Spider-Man, that honor went to Riot, another symbiote-human hybrid who was changed up from the comics, with head of the Life Foundation, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), taking up this mantle.
Riot didn’t light up the screen as per other villains we’ve seen in comic book movies over the years, but he more or less accomplished what Sony wanted: He was someone to scrap with. There wasn’t that much depth to the character, though, and if Sony wanted a true brawler with a huge intimidating presence, then the studio chose the wrong symbiote; it should have been Carnage.
On the press circuit, Fleischer admitted he simply went for the biggest, coolest-looking symbiote, which seems like a reason based more on style than substance. Venom didn’t look scary enough in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, which is something co-creator Todd McFarlane wanted changed — so it was. But if Venom grew in size, it’d stand to reason Riot should be bigger too, which the comics depicted in stories like Lethal Protector and Separation Anxiety from the ’90s. But superhero flicks are more than just watching behemoths go at it in bombastic fight sequences, else we’d end up with countless franchises akin to Michael Bay’s Transformers.
As fun as it was watching Drake scheming about cosmic exploration, his bonding with Riot felt forced and was too similar to the schtick we’ve seen in so many other comic-based films where the villain is a carbon copy of the hero, such as Iron Man’s Obadiah Stane and Ant-Man’s Yellowjacket. We need some sort of emotional tether to back this up, which is what Carnage could have provided. He could have brought the kind of chaos Heath Ledger embodied in The Dark Knight, really teaching Eddie what it means to be a hero.
In an origin story, a hero learns from his villain, but there wasn’t much for Drake/Riot to teach Eddie, apart from the world’s elite really do get their way. He never came off as a villain whose actions could show Eddie what virtue was about. Carnage is a cerebral enemy, physically and mentally imposing, and with his thirst for blood and abuse of power, Eddie would have truly seen how power corrupts. There’s nothing to really learn from Drake, who’s already a jerk, becoming a bigger jerk by bonding with Riot. Carnage, on the other hand, is a reflection of Eddie — someone selfish, lost and giving into the darkness — thus illustrating why he needed to see the light.
The Carnage effect was already felt in the spine-tingling post-credits sequence featuring Woody Harrelson as Cletus Kasady, and perfectly sums up why he should have been used. As he waxed on about his appetite for murder, you could tell that Eddie, a reluctant savior, was already seeing validation in the heroic path he chose, and understanding that the world truly needed him. Carnage tests Venom on all fronts, and it’s a shame Sony didn’t go for broke and use him for his mind games, as well as his brawler and serial killer mentality.
While critics haven’t been too kind to Venom, the box office intake might help bring forth a sequel with Carnage, as planned. But if not, this would be similar to Solo: A Star Wars Story where the film hinted at an epic continuation with Darth Maul, only for plans to get squashed. If Venom doesn’t evolve into a sequel with Kasady, it’ll definitely feel like a missed opportunity to use his ultimate nemesis, a chance we don’t know when we’ll get again.
In theaters now, director Ruben Fleischer’s Venom stars Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate,Woody Harrelson, Sope Aluko, Scott Deckert, Marcella Bragio and Michelle Lee.
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