WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Sony's Venom, in theaters now.
Despite largely negative early reviews that drove the film to a meager 31 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Sony's Venom appears destined to be a commercial hit, blasting past early projections with an estimated $80 million opening weekend. Although the studio was no doubt hoping to score a critical success as well, that financial performance should go a long way to ensure not only a sequel but also that plans inch forward for the so-called Spider-Verse, featuring such characters as Morbius the Living Vampire, Black Cat and Kraven the Hunter. However, despite its early box office victory, there remains the question about whether Venom provides a strong enough foundation on which to build such an ambitious cinematic universe.
Directed by Ruben Fleischer, the film revolves around Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an investigative journalist who uncovers deplorable experiments conducted by Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) and the Life Foundation intended to bond alien symbiotes to human hosts in a misguided effort to save mankind from inevitable extinction. However, in the process, Brock becomes bonded to a symbiote called Venom.
Venom comes at a time when the standards for superhero films have risen to new heights with highly successful films like the surprisingly poignant Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, which means poor critical reception may prove devastating if Sony is intent on creating its own superhero film universe.
Critics have praised Venom's cast but chided the dated humor and goofy writing. Audiences already got a glimpse of much of that from the second full-length trailer, which included the infamous "turd in the wind" line. The often mediocre and inconsistent special effects don't help, especially when they appear in such abundance, from messy fight scenes to long chase sequences.
That's not a strong foundation for an expansive cinematic universe. If you don't believe that, just look at Universal's aborted Dark Universe, which was supposed to have begun last year with The Mummy reboot, starring Tom Cruise. The studio was overeager in that attempt to create a shared universe featuring its iconic monsters, which is why The Mummy was chock-full of unfinished plot threads intended for development in subsequent installments. Unfortunately, those were surrounded by unoriginal screenwriting, which resulted in the film's poor critical reception. Since then, Universal has postponed development of future related films, such as the remake of The Bride of Frankenstein.
Despite the reviews, The Mummy performed decently enough at the box office, making $409.2 million on an estimated production budget of $195 million, accomplished with little hype and no real expectations. Sometimes breaking even is incentive enough for a studio to back a franchise for a little longer; record-breaking success, such as the case with Venom's October debut, makes it an absolute certainty. But even if that weren't the case, financial performance wouldn't be the only factor Sony would looks to when deciding to move ahead with the next Spider-Verse installment.