Ask any Marvel fan who Spider-Man’s greatest villain is and you’ll most likely hear three names. The first two would be Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus. Both were introduced in the classic 1960’s comics created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, and both also appeared in the first two hugely successful Spider-Man films directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire.
For Spidey fans who started reading about his adventures in the late ’80’s into the ’90’s and beyond, however, Spider-Man’s greatest enemy is Venom. It has now been reported that Sony, which still retains the rights to the Spider-Man franchise and has a partnership with Marvel Studios allowing Spider-Man to be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is ramping up a Venom solo spinoff film to be released on October 5, 2018. No director has been named and no actor has been announced to play Venom, but Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner (who wrote the reboot of Jumanji starring Dwayne Johnson) are Venom‘s screenwriters.
Venom, of course, has been in a movie already; played by Topher Grace, Venom shared villain duties with Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman in Spider-Man 3. Grace’s rendition of Venom was just one unsatisfactory component of the unpopular final chapter of Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. The opportunity now being presented to see Venom return to movie screens in all his malevolent glory – to see Venom done properly – is a very exciting turn of events. Frankly, there’s one way to do a Venom movie properly: it should be rated R.
Also known as Eddie Brock, Peter Parker’s rival photographer at the Daily Bugle, Venom is the result of Brock bonding with the alien symbiote that Spider-Man brought back with him from Battleworld during the original Secret Wars maxi-series. The symbiote became Spider-Man’s new black costume but it took over Spider-Man’s body and manipulated his actions while he was asleep. When Spidey realized the true nature of the symbiote, he broke his bond with it, earning its enmity. The symbiote bonded with Eddie Brock and together they became Venom, a nightmare version of Spider-Man.
Many superheroes have opposites: Superman has Bizarro, the Flash has Reverse-Flash. Venom is the best opposite of all – especially visually: He’s a hulking monster version of Spider-Man with an ever-smiling mouth full of razor sharp teeth and a long, prehensile tongue. Venom has been a villain and an anti-hero in the comics over the years. More recently, the symbiote bonded with Flash Thompson, Peter Parker’s high school bully-turned-ally, and for a time the Flash Thompson version of Venom was even part of the Guardians of the Galaxy. The lasting impression most fans have of Venom, however, is of a nearly unstoppable, vicious, and monstrous doppelganger of Spider-Man. Venom has all of Spider-Man’s powers, from wall-crawling to web-swinging, and none of Peter Parker’s respect for human life.
We don’t yet know whether Sony plans to integrate Venom into the MCU to join Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. Considering how inextricably linked Venom’s origins are with Spider-Man’s, it’s hard to see how Sony could create a standalone Venom movie without Spider-Man being involved in some fashion (could the reshoots for Spider-Man: Homecoming involve working in an end-credits tag teasing Venom?) What we do believe is that to present Venom in a movie properly – and few would argue that the petulant Topher Grace version in Spider-Man 3 was Venom done properly – this new Venom movie must be rated R.
THE RATED R SUPERHERO REVOLUTION
Studios were once understandably wary of making superhero movies with anything higher than a PG-13 rating, but last year saw a turning point in the form of the mega-successful Deadpool – the first R-rated spinoff superhero movie from 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise. Deadpool was a blockbuster crowd-pleaser that grossed an astounding $783 million worldwide, and a sequel was quickly green lit. That sequel, which will feature Cable and Domino and will also help launch an X-Force movie, was teased in a hilarious short film that preceded Logan, the final chapter in the story of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine.
A completely different kind of R rated superhero movie than the ribald, irrepressible Deadpool, Logan is a grim, solemn, and emotional exploration of the final days of not just the Wolverine but also of Professor Charles Xavier. Logan must lay everything on the line and choose to be a hero one last time to give his cloned “daughter” Laura aka X-23, a chance at life and a better future. Like Deadpool, Logan also features plenty of curse words and bloody bursts of violence, but in terms of tone the two films are like night and day – while still existing within the superhero movie genre.
Both Deadpool and Logan make no apologies for their decidedly adult subject matter, and they are better films for it. Thanks to the success of Deadpool and Logan paving the way, the R rated superhero genre has leaped forward and proven to be both critically-acclaimed and incredibly popular with audiences while admittedly not being family friendly. This is precisely the sandbox Venom needs to play in.
SPIDER-MAN FOR ADULTS
Spider-Man must be family friendly and appeal to all four quadrants of the moviegoing audience. Kids love Spider-Man, and the MCU’s version of Spider-Man played by Tom Holland literally is still a kid in high school. Marvel Studios plans to keep Spidey young for the foreseeable future, mining all of the adolescent tropes of being a teenager with great power and great responsibility introduced by Lee and Ditko, but updated for this new millennial Peter Parker. It should be fun to see Spider-Man go through all of his high school growing pains again, but this time under the creative auspices of Marvel Studios, with Spider-Man sharing his adventures with Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers.
Whether or not Venom is part of the MCU, Venom has to be completely different from Spider-Man: Homecoming. The lessons FOX learned with Deadpool and Logan can be best applied to Venom to deliver the first R rated movie spinoff from the Spider-Man property. Venom is simply a scarier, edgier, more violent character than Spider-Man. He looks and acts like a monster; to tame Venom to suit a PG-13 audience, especially in a market that has now proven it can overwhelmingly support adult-themed superhero films, would be a huge mistake.
Whether Venom is a villain in his own movie or is some kind of anti-hero, Sony should seize the chance to let audiences see him unrestrained. Venom is a violent killer; he can learn a lesson in his movie, and he can exhibit heroic traits, if reluctantly, but fans of Venom want to see him unleashed in all of his destructive glory. Perhaps the Venom movie could be an unflinching exploration into the psyche of a man forced to live with an alien bonded to him, urging him to succumb to all of his worst impulses. They could even face an even greater monster than what the symbiote is forcing Venom to become. Either way, what the Venom movie needs to be is a Spider-Man movie for adults only – one that doesn’t compromise for mass audiences, and one that doesn’t skimp on the carnage we expect from Venom (and yes, we do mean Carnage).