WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Sony’s Venom, in theaters now.
To say fans were skeptical about Sony's Venom when it was first announced would be quite the understatement. While the studio agreed to share rights with Marvel Studios and chart solo adventures with Tom Holland as Peter Parker, its own Spider-Verse wouldn't include the Wall-Crawler getting involved with the likes of Venom, Black Cat, Morbius and more.
This left fans wondering how stories about Spidey's villains could be told, well, without Spidey. Director Ruben Fleischer trudged on without Marvel getting involved, using Tom Hardy's Eddie Brock as the linchpin for the nascent cinematic universe. However, all Venom proved was that Sony's superhero universe just can't work without Spider-Man.
Don't get us wrong, for all its flaws Venom is still a fun ride, but that's mostly due to Hardy's bonkers performance as Eddie -- one that does wash away the bad taste Topher Grace left in our mouths after Spider-Man 3. The story lacked proper pacing, the villain didn't have depth and, apart from Hardy/Venom's quippy one-liners, it seemed like a jumbled mess coming together. But again, all this was saved by the chemistry between man and symbiote and the awesome CGI that painted Venom as a Hulk-esque figure fighting off another mammoth symbiote. However, if a hero (or in this case, a reluctant one) doesn't have a proper foil, how long can their story work?
Riot was superficial and used because he was a bigger version of Venom, but what we saw here is more or less what we can expect if Carnage hits the screen in a sequel -- symbiotes brawling. Simply put, Venom has no rogues that are really interesting, and this could lead to an Iron Man scenario where the second and third films were criticized for following a formula where Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark always ended up fighting a tech-powered villain. If Venom is to be used as a gauge, Sony's Spider-Verse runs the risk of becoming stale quickly due to the lack of intimidating antagonists for its array of antiheroes.
That's because what makes these antiheroes interesting is their rivalry with Spidey. Venom escapes by the skin of its teeth on Hardy's merits, but unless the performances from Morbius, Silver Sable, Black Cat and Kraven wow us in their movies, are we truly supposed to become emotionally invested in their journeys? It's still up in the air as to who'll be their antagonists, but apart from Spider-Man they've never truly had opposition to help them carry such solo outings.
In terms of brand leverage, Spider-Man adds a lot of value, which is why fans wanted Peter to at least cameo in Venom. The deal Sony worked out with Marvel seems to really benefit the latter because, whether it's the Avengers or solo flicks, Spider-Man sells. Venom sold due to Hardy, but that sort of momentum isn't guaranteed for the other movies unless big stars sign on. Even if that happens, these movies can end up disjointed and feel like cogs in a machine based on style, not substance, similar to how disconnected Fox's X-Men universe has felt at times.
Having Spider-Man act as a shadow looming over these characters while not allowing him to interact with them doesn't endear the audience. This became obvious when Eddie teased he was heading to New York to become a print journalist, presumably a nod to the Daily Bugle. It didn't hit home as planned because, in the back of our minds, we know Marvel insisted he won't crossover with the Wall-Crawler, and so the impact is diminished. If that's the case, then what's the point of teasing forbidden fruit? That'll be the question everyone will constantly ask unless Sony plans to throw these characters against Spider-Man someday.
Face it, Spidey's villains belong in movies tussling with him. If you try to force them down our throats as antiheroes, as Venom shows, you'll need a major trump card in the film to make up for the lack of the Web Head. Not all Spider-Man's enemies are on par with Venom. That's a risk the studio needs to be highly cognizant of when planning the future of the Spider-Verse, because unless these antiheroes are as intriguing as say, the Joker, a damn good story and cast will be needed to hook us in the long run.
In theaters nationwide, 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.