If you follow me anywhere else on the Internet (I’m @OrionSTARB0Y pretty much everywhere you look), you probably already know how huge of a comic book geek I am—especially for Venom, Spider-Man’s snaggle-toothed, dark mirror reflection. Venom and symbiotes are my life, pretty much. (I’ll own up to that with no shame. At least I love something.)
I’m also a long-time member and de facto Community Manager of The Venom Site, an online fan club for all things symbiote (and as close to formally recognized by Marvel Comics as you can get without an official shout-out). I run the site’s podcast, We Are Venomaniacs!, which, in our next episode, my co-hosts and I will be discussing today’s topic, for sure, but probably not quite as in-depth as I’m about to.
Today’s topic is all about Venom’s movie adaptations both past and future and how all of the Chicken Littles of the Internet forums need to chill out about the news of Sony Pictures’ 2018 Venom spin-off movie which has been trickling out since mid-March.
I’m going to do my very best to convince you that Sony’s plans aren’t all that outrageous; that for all of its failings, Spider-Man 3‘s adaptation of Eddie Brock and Venom were actually better than you remember; that we, as comic book movie fans, should exhibit a healthier degree of cautious optimism in the face of this understandably shocking news; and that you should consider adjusting how you measure the quality of comic book movie adaptations, because if you take to heart what I’m about to spend 4,051 words articulating to you (buckle up, buttercup), you’ll probably feel a little less stressed and a bit happier for what we get.
I know this sounds like a tall order and a bigger effort than you’re probably willing to afford but I promise you that I’ll try to make it as entertaining and educational as possible. I appeal to your patience and better judgment to help me help you be a happier comic book movie fan.
Ready for some MANDATORY EDUCATION?
What We Know About the Venom Movie So Far
Let’s first collect all of the relevant and verified pieces of Venom movie news. On March 16, 2017, Exhibitor Relations’ Twitter account revealed that Sony locked in October 5, 2018 as the newest release date for the Venom movie. (Exhibitor Relations is a “Box-Office Authority” established in 1974.) Along with the release date, Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner were attached as the screenwriters. (Alex Kurtzman was, for a short time, attached as the movie’s director, but Exhibitor Relations soon confirmed that he’s no longer attached.)
Avi Arad, the producer of the previous Sony Spider-Man movies, is also attached as the producer along with Matt Tolmach. On March 27, My Entertainment World, a Canadian-American entertainment journalism site, revealed that the Venom movie would be rated R and would fit under the film genres of Action, Horror, and Sci-Fi.
On March 28, an interview with Spider-Man: Homecoming director Jon Watts revealed that the Venom movie would not be connected to the upcoming Spider-Man movie or the Marvel Cinematic Universe created by Marvel Studios. (This confirmed the rumors that Sony’s Venom movie would exist in its own universe separate from the MCU and wouldn’t feature Tom Holland’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man character.)
This concludes all of the known and confirmed Venom movie news to date. Everything else that you may have read or heard about the movie following the initial reports are very likely only fan-circulated rumors. This includes the possible misinterpretation of Sony’s Amy Pascal’s discussion about the nature of the Sony/Marvel deal surrounding the Spider-Man IP (intellectual property) rights-sharing and rumored turbulence in that relationship, which is said to possibly end after the sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming. I repeat: these are all rumors and speculation, so digest them with a considerable grain of salt. Trust only in officially verified news, not in what you hear from the echo chamber that’s the Internet fan forums.
Taking Your Criticisms and Concerns in Stride
As a forum lurker and the Community Manager for The Venom Site, I’m on the front lines for fan reaction to all Venom news. As expected, the dominant reaction to the Venom movie news and rumors is a mix of tribalistic fear and loathing towards Sony and the usual downplaying of Venom as worthy of his own movie, let alone a cinematic universe. In other words, not enough hype. (But that’s just my analysis.)
Amid the criticisms and concerns I’ve read are a few common threads, most of which are simply misconceptions born from echo chambered rumors.
“Spider-Man won’t be in the Venom movie [at all]!”
I added that last part even though that’s not what people actually say, but it’s definitely what they’re thinking and implying from what I’ve heard and discussed with them. So let’s set this straight for the record: no one from Sony or officially attached to the Venom movie has said there won’t be *A* Spider-Man in it.
Only Watts confirmed that Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, who exists in the MCU, won’t be in the Venom movie (by way of confirming its separate existence from the MCU altogether).
Perhaps people have forgotten two years later that Marvel still doesn’t own the Spider-Man movie rights. Go back and read Marvel’s official announcement about the deal from February 9, 2015. The key quote there is, “Sony Pictures will continue to finance, distribute, own and have final creative control of the Spider-Man films.” (Emphasis is my own.)
Marvel didn’t purchase or recover the movie rights to the character or his library of other IPs. Sony is sharing Spider-Man with Marvel. They’re allowing Marvel to use Spider-Man in their MCU movies and any standalone Spider-Man movies like Spider-Man: Homecoming are being produced by Sony with creative direction from Marvel. In simplest terms, Sony is allowing Spidey to play in the MCU sandbox and allowing Marvel to play house in their own spider-infested sandbox while dictating the rules of engagement.
It’s Sony’s prerogative to create their own cinematic Spider-verse separate from the MCU and to stick their own Spider-Man into the Venom movie. Nothing prohibits Sony from recasting Peter Parker/Spider-Man or even incorporating another Spider-Man character like Miles Morales or Ben Reilley into the Venom movie. (Though Reilley would be a stretch considering his origin, but even that can be reworked to fit the narrative.)
Sony could even take a page from DC Entertainment and NBC’s Powerless television comedy series. Powerless exists in its own TV universe separate from other DC TV universes like the CW-verse or Gotham-verse. DC’s entire library of characters exist in the Powerless-verse, but we never see tentpole figures like Batman, Superman, or Wonderwoman in the show, though they are constantly referenced. Sony could approach Spider-Man in the same manner, by which he’s only mentioned in dialogue references and vague camera shots, hence eliminating the need for recasting so the movie could focus on building its titular character, Venom, apart from Spider-Man.
As for the matter of the audience’s potential confusion of why Sony would possibly have two Spider-Men existing in cinema at the same time, that’s a risky gamble I can certainly imagine Sony taking, especially since they’re apparently adamant about establishing their own Spider-verse separate from the MCU.
“It will just be another Spider-Man 3!”
I’ll give you a point on this one but only because Spider-Man 3 suffered from too much studio intervention in the creative process, especially when they forced director Sam Raimi to include Venom against his wishes. Sony Pictures’ money troubles are no secret (just Google “Sony Pictures losing money”) and the Internet sharks smell the blood of Sony’s desperation to salvage its film studio. It’s very likely that the Venom movie will be heavily influenced by studio desperation to make a quick buck to appease Sony Corporation in Japan and to keep the Spider-Man rights that much longer, especially since Spider-Man is its highest-grossing franchise.
However, I’ll explain a bit later why you should rethink your opinions about Spider-Man 3‘s Eddie Brock/Venom. There was a lot more to how his character was handled than meets the eye.
“The movie is being rushed! 2018 is too soon!”
The Venom movie is an interesting case as it has been in Sony’s plans on and off since shortly after Spider-Man 3‘s release. While most new comic book movies are officially announced two or more years in advance of their release date and have been in pre-production at most another two years prior to its first official announcement, the Venom movie has been in pre-production for essentially nine to 10 years.
The rumors that have trickled out between 2007 and 2017 have been pretty homogeneous concerning a general plot direction for the Venom movie even though it’s very likely that its plot has been through many revisions. However, the fact remains that with how long the movie has been in pre-production, a 2018 release date isn’t all that unreasonable. The movie very well could be a lot further along in pre-production than we know.
“Any Spider-Man movie Sony will make is going to be terrible because they only care about money! Marvel Studios or BUST!!!”
And you don’t think Marvel’s got the same gold fever? (Yes, it’s probably not as severe as Sony’s but money is king in Hollywood, no exception.) Marvel’s had a stellar run and will continue to roll in the ratings and cash. There’s no stop to the Marvel train in sight. They have a creative formula that’s golden. Yadda yadda. Perhaps even their lower-ranking masterpieces still outpace the last three Sony Spider-Man movies.
I’ll concede that Sony Pictures is past its prime, but to say it doesn’t have at least one or two gems up its sleeve is downright pessimistic. (No pessimism allowed here, ya’ hear? Pragmatism and cautious optimism only!) It’d be a huge comeback if their Spider-verse pans out. We can only hope that they learn a thing or two from Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s impending success. (Damn me if I’m rolling the dice on this one, but c’mon, it’s an MCU Spider-Man movie!)
Let’s be honest: you can’t objectively predict that the Venom movie or any other Sony Spiderverse movie will bust. Most of the people who’ll read this article likely have the MCU fever. That’s okay; what’s not okay is this tribalistic hatemongering for any Marvel movie that exists outside of the MCU. Yeah, you liked Deadpool or Logan, but tell me you aren’t whispering to yourself that you’d rather see them back with Marvel and in the MCU despite the Fox X-Verse’s resounding, resilient success.
Sony’s major problem with how they’ve handled the Spider-Man franchise is that they’ve been approaching every movie since Spider-Man 3 with a focus on a studio agenda instead of a creative agenda. Marvel’s done a great job of leveraging their studio agenda with a creative agenda and both Fox and Sony, understandably, are trying to ride the product of that synergy wave: the shared cinematic universe. Fox has done a better job at it than Sony had in the past with their Amazing Spider-Man movie series, but don’t start demanding Sony to lie in their grave and die just yet.
I’m hoping Sony learns from the success of Spider-Man: Homecoming—that magic synergy between creative and studio direction—and applies it to the Venom movie to wow audiences with something truly unexpected. I also hope Sony decides that maybe involving Marvel Studios in Venom‘s production is a good idea, even if that means a delay on the release date. And you should hope these things come to pass, too, instead of hoping for Sony’s failure.
How Spider-Man 3 Got Venom Right and You Didn’t Realize It
If you need some assurance that Sony is capable of making a good Venom movie, then let’s talk about their last attempt at adapting Venom in a film: Spider-Man 3.
Are you done shuddering and cursing under your breath? Good, then I ask you to set aside your prejudices about the movie for the remainder of this section and to just be open to what I’m about to reveal.
Spider-Man 3, while a horror show example of when a studio stifles the creative process, actually contained a very faithful adaptation of Eddie Brock/Venom. Yes, it was Sony’s mistake casting Topher Grace to play what should’ve been an oppressively menacing, physically imposing, lethally dangerous, and hopelessly broken mockery of everything Spider-Man represents. It’s a damn shame, too: Topher was a confessed Venom fan and seemed really ecstatic to play Eddie/Venom. His part also suffered from poor writing, awkward handling due to the fact that Sony forced Raimi to use Venom instead of Raimi’s original villain choice, the Vulture, and that too many villain plots were stuffed into a two-hour-plus dress.
But let’s set all that aside and dig deeper into Eddie Brock Jr.’s character—the real heart of the adaptation, so to say. To do that, we first need to look at the source material that influenced his character.
The one, the original Brock
The obvious source is the original Eddie Brock/Venom character from the comics with a focus on his earliest cameos in Amazing Spider-Man #300, 315–317, and 330–333. This version of Eddie is a former journalist for the Daily Globe who ruined his career by running exclusive interviews with a compulsive liar whom he believed was the serial killer known as the Sin-Eater. When Spider-Man revealed the true killer, Eddie’s career was crushed by the scandal to the point where the only jobs he could get was writing venomous exposeés for tabloids (hence where he got the name, Venom, from).
This Eddie wasn’t an evil character before he became Venom. In fact, in a later comic, Daredevil determined that Eddie himself (without the symbiote) posed no threat toward Spider-Man before or after becoming Venom. He was just a regular joe with daddy issues who made some poor career moves and suffered from a mild victim complex. He’s an addict for power and recognition. He’s always trying to prove himself as a good guy, though his methods are flawed.
One of the key characteristics of this version of Eddie is that, as Venom, he rarely posed a true, lethal threat to bystanders, including Peter’s Aunt May (whom Eddie considered an innocent he’d never harm, though he’d imply that he would to play with Peter’s emotions) and Mary Jane Watson. Sure, Venom’s terrorized and placed MJ into dangerous situations that threatened her life, but that’s about as far as he ever went. He only put the people around Peter in danger to rile him. Venom is a vengeful troll who wants to terrorize Peter before actually killing him.
(I’d like to note that I didn’t include the limited series, Venom: Dark Origin in this character analysis. The comic series was published after the release of Spider-Man 3 and served to retell Eddie’s origin while incorporating the psychotic characteristics from the movie adaptation into Eddie’s pre-Venom personality. Venom: Dark Origin was an example of the comics imitating their movie adaptation.)
The angsty reboot Brock
Now, another source that influenced the movie’s character is Eddie Brock Jr. from the Ultimate Spider-Man comics. This version of Eddie is actually a reboot of the original featured in a reboot of the Marvel comics universe, the Ultimate Marvel Universe. Ultimate Eddie Jr./Venom is vastly different from the original Eddie/Venom and, as you’ll find, is a lot closer to the movie adaptation.
This Eddie was a childhood friend of Peter’s. Their parents worked together on Project Venom, which was developing an experimental suit that would cure any disease, including cancer. When both sets of parents died in a fateful plane crash, the two young friends were separated. Years later, Peter (now in high school) meets up with Eddie (now in college) when Peter discovers his father’s research on the Venom Project. Eddie reveals that their fathers left behind a sample of the suit.
After Spider-Man has his jaunt with the suit to realize it’s seriously flawed, Eddie finds out that Peter is Spider-Man and had “stolen” the suit when he catches Peter putting the suit back in its lab locker. Eddie feels betrayed by Peter for going behind his back like that and, an accident later, is taken control of by the suit to become a hulking, rage-filled Ultimate Venom.
The key character difference between Ultimate Eddie Jr. and the original Eddie is that Ultimate Eddie was a pretty messed up kid before he became Venom. He had some scientific smarts to him (nothing compared to Peter, though, which was probably embarrassing/frustrating considering Eddie was a bioengineering major), but he’s your stereotypical privileged frat boy. He presents himself as a sleazy ladies’ man who made moves on a teenage Gwen Stacy (and that didn’t go over well for him). He was a total creep—that childhood friend you had fond memories of but grew up to be a terrible person who definitely suffered from a lack of parental wisdom.
Putting it all together
So what elements did Spider-Man 3 borrow in its adaptation? Let’s make a list. In Spider-Man 3, Eddie Brock Jr.:
- Is a total womanizing sleaze/creep before and after becoming Venom (Ultimate Eddie).
- Has a victim complex in which he blames others for problems he created (Original Eddie).
- Wasn’t a substantial threat to Peter before becoming Venom (Original Eddie).
- Was a Catholic, to some degree (Original Eddie).
- Was a rival photographer working for the Daily Bugle before being disgraced for publishing a falsehood (Original Eddie with some modifications for dramatic effect).
- Is addicted to the power of the symbiote and is in full control of his actions as Venom (Original Eddie).
- Only put MJ in harm’s way without trying to actively kill her to rile Peter up (Original Eddie).
- Venom’s killing Harry Osborn in the final fight doesn’t count because, as far as was depicted, Eddie didn’t know Peter’s personal connection to Harry. Also, Eddie only killed Harry because Harry was interfering with his revenge plan. That’s double points for Original Eddie, actually, since Original Eddie only tried to kill other heroes/villains who antagonized him or got in his way with Spider-Man.
- Represents the polar opposite of Peter Parker: he possessed and used great power but with no regard for responsibility (Original Eddie).
- Is a sniveling, self-obsessed, delusional pest (bonus point for Ultimate Eddie because I felt like it).
As you can see, this all adds up to a pretty faithful adaptation of the source materials despite poor writing, casting, and handling. I dare you to read the comics that inspired Spider-Man 3‘s Venom and then rewatch it with these points in mind. I mean, it’s still cringe-worthy, but you may develop an appreciation for Sony’s fumbled effort.
If anything, this shows that Sony actually grasps what makes Eddie/Venom what he is. Now, if only Sony would allow the filmmakers free reign to work with these core concepts (minus many of the Ultimate Eddie characteristics) with less studio interference…
Addressing the Elephant
Here’s where I stop talking about Venom so we can discuss the issue at the core of the criticisms and concerns surrounding Venom movie news which represent an even larger problem among comic book movie fans.
Everything I’ve talked about thus far in this article all boils down to how fans measure the quality of a comic book movie and I can’t be the only one who’s taken notice. This could be symptomatic of the spoiler culture we’ve become entrenched in as a community, too. We can’t help overanalyzing every shred of news and every rumor to jump to conclusions about how good or bad we predict a comic book movie will be. And we get stuck in the echo chamber until the opinions we form before ever seeing the finished products become so deeply seated that it completely alters our judgment when we’re actually watching the movie.
I’m talking about how we measure the quality of a movie by its fidelity to the source material. This isn’t an issue that’s unique to comic book movie fans—you can find this issue with fans of prose novels or other media that’s been adapted into film (say, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit as perfect examples of this issue). However, comic book movie fans have exacerbated the issue to new heights and continue to do so with each new project, and it’s all becoming extremely toxic for the community’s growth.
I’m not saying that fans aren’t within their rights to use an adaptation’s fidelity to its source material as a measure of the adaptation’s quality. Sure enough, an adaptation should have a significant degree of fidelity. The problem is, though, that comic book movie fans are consistently expecting too high of a degree of fidelity.
The question is simple: what is a healthy and acceptable ratio of fidelity to originality for comic book movie adaptations? I won’t discount that fidelity is an important factor to the quality of an adaptation, but comic book movie fans are consistently discouraging and demonizing originality. We want our comic book movies to faithfully adapt its source material to the panel. If you don’t see the problem with that, I don’t know what to tell you except for “join a movie/book club that discusses adaptation.”
It’s still a huge problem, though, because we’re the biggest critics for these movies and what we say does matter. The Internet becomes inundated with our reviews and rants about the newest comic book movies, news, and rumors for the world to see. When people who aren’t comic fans hear comic fans lamenting a movie for this or that trivial thing, their opinion may be influenced—and not for the better.
At the end of the day, comic book movie fans are vital to the success of comic book movies. Here’s a hard truth pill to swallow: we are not a film studio’s target audience. Our box office dollars are only a small part of a comic book movie’s revenue. Studios aim for much broader swaths of audience demographics—what I call the general audience. We are a niche audience whose only use to studios besides spending our small portion of their income is to spread the word about the movies to the general audience. We are the gatekeepers. We help to influence the masses into theater seats with our hype or out of seats with our hate.
Then there’s the matter of audience conversion—turning moviegoers into comic fans. You may think we don’t have as much of an impact on their views of the movies as I’m suggesting, but imagine how we could be turning moviegoers away from even a passing interest in comics with our vitriol. Comic fans’ hyper-criticism is a topic for a whole other article in itself, especially the damaging tribalism of the prevailing “us vs them” mentality. (I’m talking about that oft-used and inherently fandom-killing designation, “fake (comic) fan.”)
I’m not even touching upon how we may even negatively influence studios and filmmakers during the creative process. (I’m looking at the DC movies and Iron Fist in particular.) That’s a gray area I’m not prepared to speculate on.
I’m drained, you guys. Not just from writing his feature for your consideration and for my sanity, but also because I’ve been repeating these points on forums and Twitter ever since the latest generation of Venom movie news dropped. I feel like a firefighter in a blazing inferno that was once a forest armed with a super soaker. I’m hoping this article is at least one, large water balloon.
That’s what makes me a cautious optimist: I believe that a positive attitude toward the issues I talk about will make some difference, but I’m also fully prepared to continue fighting against the inferno, knowing full well that there may be no happy ending. I’m cautiously optimistic about Sony’s Venom movie; I’m hoping against hope that it will finally happen and that it will be good enough, even though I’m fully aware of Sony’s track record and mindset and I’m bracing for the worst.
I keep fighting, though, and that should count for something, right? I hope that after 4,051 words, you’ll join the fight, too, in the hopes that something will change—and if not, then at least you’ll be a bit happier than you were before. We all need a little positivity in our lives.