How Venom Secretly Sets Up The Spider-Man Villain Universe
Venom is intended to be the first movie in Sony's Spider-Man villain shared cinematic universe. The new franchise seems to be getting off to a strong start; the film has crushed October box office record with poor critical reviews and a B+ CinemaScore not seeming to have dented its performance at all. On review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, Venom currently has a 32 percent critic score - and an 89 percent audience score. It looks set to be critic-proof.
Next up is Morbius, starring Jared Leto as a scientist whose attempt to cure his own blood disorder goes horribly wrong and turns him into a vampire. Venom's box office performance will delight Sony, although they'll probably hope to create future films that garner a bit more praise from the critics. After all, none of the other Spider-Man-centric characters - including surprising names like Silk or Jackpot - have anywhere near the exposure and interest of Venom.
But just how does Venom establish a new shared universe? Here, we're going to explore the disparate elements that have been set up, and the deliberate strategic decisions Sony has made.
- This Page: How Venom Sets Up The Spider-Verse
- Page 2: What's Next For Sony's Spider-Man Villain Shared Universe
Venom is Like Iron Man or Man of Steel
Hollywood is obsessed with shared universes right now, even though there are massive risks to that approach. A film's core narrative can be unwittingly sacrificed in order to set up future movies, and Sony is more than familiar with this particular blunder after The Amazing Spider-Man 2 essentially sabotaged by the studio's hopes of launching a Sinister Six spinoff. The marketing for Venom had seemed to strike all the wrong notes too, with Sony encouraging discussion over whether or not Venom is part of the MCU. In the end, of course, there wasn't even the much-debated Tom Holland cameo.
In the end, though, Venom has neatly avoided all the typical problems. It's reminiscent of both Iron Man and Man of Steel, which both launched shared universes yet were primarily focused on exploring a single comic book mythology. With Iron Man, the shared universe only really comes to the forefront in the post-credits scene, while Man of Steel is even more self-contained, with only Easter eggs teasing a larger universe (similar truths apply to successful franchise-starters The Conjuring and Godzilla). Venom likewise has some subtle nods to the wider Spider-Man mythos (as we'll see) but it's otherwise almost entirely dedicated to its own concept. The plot is heavily influenced by the Lethal Protector miniseries and the Planet of the Symbiotes event, both popular stories from the '90s, and explicit setup is reserved for the post-credits scene.
This is undoubtably the right approach to take. This early in the game, the shared universe is a distraction. Ruben Fleischer's priority had to be producing a film that works in its own right, one that is worth building a cinematic universe on. The director struck a careful balance, most notably in his decision not to use Carnage as the villain in this film. He appears to have succeeded, with an audience reaction seems to be generally positive. Given the movie's budget was just $100 million, it looks dead set for sequels and spinoffs.
Venom Still Introduces Spider-Man Elements
While Venom works effectively as a standalone, it does contain a number of key references to the broader Spider-Man mythos. The most notable is John Jameson, one of the Life Foundation's astronauts and the only one to survive the crash. Jameson was Riot's first human host, although the symbiote swiftly jumped to one of the ambulance staff. The astronaut's fate is unknown, but he could easily be a key secondary player in Sony's shared universe. John Jameson is the son of J. Jonah Jameson, owner of the Daily Bugle and a very well-known member of Spider-Man's supporting cast.
But John Jameson is important in his own right. In Amazing Spider-Man #124-125, we learned that John was part of a top secret lunar expedition - one whose purpose remains unexplained to this day. John discovered a beautiful gemstone, a rock that he was inexplicably drawn to. He sneaked it out of quarantine and had it made into a pendant. Horrifically, the pendant carried some sort of curse and wearing it meant that he transformed into a werewolf form at night - becoming the creature known as the Man-Wolf. The rock became grafted to John's skin, impossible to remove - at least until Spider-Man tore it off in a fight. The Man-Wolf would certainly fit in well with Sony's fledgling Spider-villain universe, a franchise that includes alien symbiote/parasites and will soon feature a sci-fi version of a vampire. The Man-Wolf and Morbius have clashed on occasion, with Michael Morbius believing the Man-Wolf's bloodwork could present a cure to his vampiric condition.
And John Jameson isn't the only element of the Spider-Man universe set up in Venom. The film is set in San Francisco, but it also establishes a couple of minor parts of Venom lore back in New York as well. Just as in the comics, the film reveals that Eddie Brock used to work for is Daily Bugle rival the Daily Globe - he even texts its editor at one point - but departed under a cloud. Although it's left ambiguous, it's not hard to deduce that Eddie could have made a mistake when identifying the murderous Sin-Eater. In the comics, that blunder cost him his New York career.
Page 2 of 2: So What Comes Next for the Spider-Villains Universe?
Venom 2 Is Clearly Established
As we've seen, Venom does a solid job of laying the foundations for the Spider-villains shared universe. But what can we expect next? A sequel is definitely on the cards, not least because Tom Hardy is signed up for a three-picture deal; he's also suggested that he's open to extending that contract. Given that's the case, the end of Venom should be seen as the establishment of a new status quo, one that will allow the tongue-slavering antihero to truly become San Francisco's "Lethal Protector." Eddie Brock and the Venom symbiote have struck a deal; the symbiote will only chow down on the bad guys, making Venom a dangerously brutal antihero.
Meanwhile, two other elements from Venom clearly seem to be looking to the future. The first is Anne Weying's brief stint as She-Venom, which is surely a hint of things to come. Although Eddie doesn't notice it, the symbiote appears just as interested in getting Ann back as he is, and possibly for its own reasons; in the comics, Anne was far less restrained when bonded with the symbiote, even going on a brutal killing spree that she blamed on the Venom symbiote. It's possible Anne has a little more darkness in her soul than she likes to admit, and that the symbiote enjoyed liked it. If that's the case, we can expect the sequel to involve the symbiote switching between Ann and Eddie a few times.
Of course, the second key setup is Carnage. Director Ruben Fleischer has said he doesn't yet know how this story would play out, but that the plot will inevitably be different to the comics. This version of Cletus Kasady is already obsessed with Eddie Brock (for unknown reasons), and warns Eddie that he'll be coming for him the moment he breaks out.
What's Next for the Sony Marvel Universe?
Looking beyond Venom 2, Sony has a number of other Spider-Man spinoffs in the works. The most advanced is Morbius, which will reportedly begin production in November. Rumors suggest this will be a pretty comic-book-accurate origin story; the female lead is reportedly Martine Bancroft, Morbius's fiancée in the comics, while the villain is believed to be Emil Nikos, who was Morbius's best friend - and first victim. Sony has presumably been waiting to see how Venom fared in the box office before revealing any details, but if production really is set to kick off in just a month's time, we should expect more news shortly. A Kraven the Hunter movie is also in early in pre-production, with Richard Wenk (The Equalizer) on board to write the script.
A number of other projects have also been discussed, some of which have been rather surprising. The studio is confirmed to be working on films featuring Nightwatch, Silk, and Jackpot, none of whom are exactly A-listers. Nightwatch is a vigilante who became trapped in a time loop in which he saw his own death; Jackpot is a redhead whose DNA was rewritten to grant her super-powers; and Silk is a classmate of Peter Parker's who was bitten by the same radioactive spider. Silk is perhaps the most interesting of these projects, as the character could conceivably play the role of a Spider-Man substitute in Sony's Marvel Universe. Finally, although Silver & Black has been canceled, Sony has indicated it's working on separate films for these two femme fatales.
It's interesting to note that, should all these go ahead, Sony's Spider-Man spinoff universe will have a very healthy ratio of male-to-female leads. The male franchise leads would be Venom, Morbius, Kraven, and Nightwatch; the female leads would be Silk, Jackpot, Silver Sable, and Black Cat. Quite how these would relate to Venom is as yet unknown; it's possible the studio has some sort of "event movie" in mind that will tie their franchises together, in the same way The Avengers assembled the likes of Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor back in 2012. But one thing is clear: with Venom it's already begun.