Sony's Venom is intended to be the beginning of a Spider-villains universe - but realistically, the studio needs to recast Spider-Man to reach its full potential. In 2015, Marvel Studios and Sony launched an unprecedented deal that saw the latest iteration of Spider-Man, played by Tom Holland, join the MCU. But Sony was still determined to do their own thing with the Spider-Man franchise, and those plans begin with this year's Venom and the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
So far, though, the most intense debate has been whether or not the Sony Spider-villain movies are considered part of the wider MCU or not. First reports were that Venom was a separate, distinct project, but Spider-Man: Homecoming producer Amy Pascal confused the issue when she described the Sony spinoffs as "adjuncts" to the MCU. She seemed to be describing the same kind of relationship the TV shows have with the Marvel movies. But her comment was followed by a stream of supposed "clarifications," both from herself and Kevin Feige, all of which essentially served to muddy the water. The latest update seems to be that Venom is not part of the wider MCU at all; Avengers: Infinity War director Joe Russo was forthright in claiming that it wasn't, while the most recent sources have described Venom and the rest of the Spider-villain films as "a separate world from last year's Spider-Man: Homecoming."
A core problem is that it's not easy to see how some of Sony's proposed spinoffs can work without Spider-Man. Venom's trailers have revealed the tongue-slavering symbiote's rewritten origin, one centered upon a crashed alien spaceship and illegal experiments by the Life Foundation. But while Venom is the star of a comic book franchise in his (their?) own right, some of the other spinoffs feature characters who've only ever really existed in the context of their relationship with Spider-Man. Take Black Cat, for example; barring a couple of crossover miniseries with Wolverine, of all people, she's best known for her flirtatious relationship with the wall-crawler, serving as his version of Catwoman - sometimes ally and even lover, sometimes opponent. Many viewers are skeptical as to whether or not these films can work without Spider-Man.
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The Problem with Tom Holland "Cameos"
There are persistent rumors that Sony's workaround for this will be a string of Tom Holland cameos, with one believed to happen in Venom. Sources close to the production told Screen Rant that one scene in Venom sees Life Foundation boss Carlton Drake leading a school field trip around the building. That tidbit led us to suggest that perhaps the Tom Holland cameo will simply be a glimpse of Peter Parker as one of the students, presumably on an extended trip with his school. If that's the case, it would seem that Sony wants viewers to believe their films are at least tangentially connected to the MCU, even if they don't want to make it explicit.
But is that really enough? This would essentially be the same kind of ambiguous relationship the MCU movies have with the TV shows, with cameos only ever working one-way. The Marvel TV shows, such as Daredevil, Cloak & Dagger, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., reference the movies; but the films never reference the small-screen adventures. Indeed, the very fact characters are consigned to the TV shows precludes them from appearing on the big screen. With Vincent D'Onofrio playing Kingpin in Daredevil, the villain is never going to appear facing off against Spider-Man. Luke Cage will never join a team of Avengers, given Mike Colter plays the "bulletproof black guy" in his own Marvel Netflix series.
In exactly the same way, the Sony Spider-villain movies would only ever have the most subtle nods to the MCU. Tom Hardy's Venom will never make the jump into a Spider-Man film, meaning the much-loved rivalry between Venom and Spidey will never be brought into the MCU. The same is true with Black Cat; there's never going to be a scene in which she attempts to seduce the wall-crawler (in the Ultimate Comics universe, such a flirtatious moment came to a hilarious end when Black Cat realized how young Spider-Man really is). The Tom Holland cameos won't resolve this issue; they'll underscore it, reminding viewers that this Spider-villains film franchise can only ever be loosely connected.
These Characters Need Spider-Man Eventually
The problem facing Sony is that each of these characters is originally designed to serve as a foil for Spider-Man. It's true that the web slinger's rogues gallery is one of the best developed in the entire comic book industry, but each of these characters works best in stories that explore their relationship with Spider-Man. Venom is compelling as an antihero precisely because he contrasts so markedly with Spider-Man; even the classic Venom: Lethal Protector miniseries, inspiration for Sony's Venom movie, saw Spider-Man pursue his old foe to San Francisco. Black Cat works best as an awkward love interest, challenging Peter Parker's morality. "Kraven's Last Hunt" is the most memorable story featuring Kraven the Hunter, but that will now never be reproduced accurately on the big screen. Using these characters without Spider-Man will simply leave the Sony Spider-villain universe feeling diminished and impoverished, with anyone familiar with the comics knowing the films could be so much more.
It's possible Sony is attempting to fill this gap with the character of Silk. In contrast to the other properties Sony is developing, Silk is no villain; she's a hero who was created by writer Dan Slott back in 2014, bitten by the same radioactive spider as Peter Parker. Many of Cindy Moon's powers are analogous to Spider-Man's, although she has natural webbing. But, again, simply introducing a Spider-Man-esque character will serve to highlight Peter Parker's absence.
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- Venom (2018) release date: Oct 05, 2018