I was first introduced to the character of Venom in Spider-Man: The Animated Series in the 1990s, where he became one of my favourite villains despite only appearing in a few episodes. Since then, I’ve experienced more of Venom through comics, video games and various other sources, and I still think he’s great. He’s one of those villains who sees himself as the good guy, motivated by his hatred of Spider-Man rather than a desire for power or money; he has a devilish sense of humour; and he has a very strong coolness factor, in both his look, and the fact that he’s a fusion between a human being and a symbiotic alien that was previously bonded to Spider-Man.
The trouble with bringing Venom to the big screen – at least if you’re taking the traditional route – is that he has such a long and complicated backstory compared to most comic-book villains. You have to introduce the symbiote, have it bond to Spider-Man, have Spider-Man use it for a while, gradually realise the negative consequences and reject it. At the same time, you have to introduce Eddie Brock and how he comes to hate Spider-Man. Then you bring Brock and the symbiote together, and have them go to war against Spider-Man.
With the benefit of hindsight, it feels like it should have been obvious back in 2007 that Spider-Man 3‘s inclusion of Venom would be less than satisfying. Maybe you could pull it off in a single movie if it were entirely devoted to the symbiote storyline, but Spider-Man 3 was going to have Sandman and Harry Osborn as villains as well. Nor did it help that director Sam Raimi wasn’t really interested in Venom and only included the symbiote because the studio pressured him into it. But in the buildup to the film, I wasn’t thinking about the practicalities; I just thought it was great that Venom was going to be there, and judging by the message boards I read, there was plenty of excitement about it among other fans.
And then the film came out.
To be fair, Topher Grace, who played Eddie Brock/Venom, did his best with the material he had to work with. But physically, he was a far cry from the muscle-bound Venom of the comics. With the sheer number of subplots in the two-and-a-half hour film, there was limited time to properly develop Eddie as a character. Once he became Venom (a moniker which only appeared in the end credits), he kept peeling back his symbiote-face for conversations, and tended to shriek rather than talk when he had it on. He barely got to trade any punches with Spider-Man, given that he was sharing the climactic action scene with Sandman. And on top of that, the final battle ended with both Eddie and the symbiote getting blown up, removing them from the franchise. I was disappointed, to put it mildly.
There was a lot of denial online afterwards, with some fans suggesting that Eddie and/or the symbiote had actually survived and could therefore come back in a sequel – even though you could momentarily see the silhouette of Eddie’s skeleton in the explosion, which made the odds of his survival pretty low. Of course, as it turned out, that particular franchise ended with Spider-Man 3 anyway. But it wasn’t long after the film’s release when Sony began talking about a Venom solo project. Maybe this could do the character justice, even in the absence of Spider-Man?
Years went by, and nothing solid actually materialised. It wasn’t until 2017, when it was announced that Tom Hardy was going to be playing Venom in a solo film, that it really looked like something was happening – but I was older, wiser and a bit more cynical, so I didn’t get my hopes up. The casting of Hardy, who is both a fine actor, and considerably bulkier and more imposing than Topher Grace, was obviously an improvement. However, the fact that the film wasn’t going to be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe made me uncertain about how good it would actually be. Sony could easily make a hash of it.
It seemed to take ages for any promotional material to come out; and when a teaser did appear, my worst fears seemed to be confirmed, as it offered nothing to get excited about. Then came the first proper trailer; at the end, we see the symbiote’s jaws slide over Eddie’s face and, with a toothy grin and a cheerfully malevolent twitch of his eyes, he declares, “We….are Venom.” With just three words, he improves upon the Spider-Man 3 version in two separate ways. Suddenly, this film looked far more concrete and interesting. The second trailer, and the clips that have been released, look even better: Venom looks big, slimy and mean, with his sense of humour intact, and hopefully the final film isn’t going to skimp on his appearances. One recently released clip which features the symbiote talking telepathically to Eddie during an action scene actually made me laugh.
In an ideal world, Venom would be incorporated into the juggernaut that is the MCU and we could see him going toe-to-toe with Spider-Man, this time done right. Still, I’m feeling optimistic about this solo film right now. Even if Spider-Man is taken out of the equation, it’s still perfectly possible to just make a good story about a man who gets superpowers from becoming host to an alien symbiote who wants to eat people.
So, I’ll let you know what I think when I see the film next week!