Venom is Spider-Man's single most popular enemy. As soon as Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man film hit theaters in 2002, fans were already clamoring for the black symbiote to get involved — a clamor that eventually resulted in Sony forcing Raimi to incorporate Venom into Spider-Man 3, even though he had planned to use the Vulture. Since then, there's been immense hope of Venom one day getting another shot on the big screen. With the acclaim that Tom Holland's new Peter Parker is receiving, it would seem like a sure bet that Venom might someday creep into a future Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel.
Well, maybe not. Instead, Sony has announced that they'll be releasing a Venom movie on October 5th, 2018. Since Marvel Studios won't be involved, it will presumably not be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe - though this disconnect isn't yet confirmed. There's also a real possibility that Sony may aim for to an R-rating, in order to cash in on the current buzz of R-rated superhero movies such as Deadpool and Logan.
Between Venom's fantastic character design and the unique sci-fi nature of the symbiote, it's easy to see why he has such an appeal. It's also easy to see why Sony would want to make a Venom movie independent from the MCY, since the studio has wanted more Spider-Man-related franchises for years now. Now that Spidey himself is a shared Disney property, Sony is pouncing on the next best thing. That doesn't mean it's necessarily a good idea, but their motivations are easy to pinpoint.
But which version of Venom are we going to see? Venom has gone through many different alterations in the comic books, with many people hosting the familiar alien symbiote, but which one will take center stage in Venom's first solo movie?
Eddie Brock, the Classic Venom
There's no question that when people think of "Venom," they think of Eddie Brock. Brock is to Venom what Norman Osborn is to the Green Goblin. While the symbiote's other hosts have spawned great story lines, no other version of the character has become so iconic. There's a reason that Eddie Brock and the Venom symbiote are so intrinsically linked, even today.
While Venom's origin has been updated numerous times, at its core it is the story of a reckless, prideful hypocrite with a warped sense of reality, who blames another man for his failings — and then, when given power, seeks to ruin that other man's life with every means at his disposal. Brock's hypocrisy, his rage, and his weak moral justifications are all key to his character. The alien symbiote that finds him is not a mindless beast, but rather a wounded lover. The symbiote is crushed by Peter's rejection of it, and so it falls into Brock's arms, and then uses Brock as a way to get back at its ex (Peter). Together, the two entities become something terrifying, but very human in their weaknesses.
The original Venom is the best, but the challenge in bringing this character to a solo Venom movie is that his entire origin is deeply involved with Spider-Man. He even looks like Spider-Man. To take Spidey out of the equation would mean changing the entire story, as David Goyer did in his Venom script back in the 90s. Considering that the whole reason Sony wants a Venom movie is due to his connection with the webslinger, it's going to seem quite weird to ignore all of that. It's not impossible to make it work, but it's definitely not easy.
At the same time, any Venom film doesn't take Brock into account risks drawing the ire of fans. If the writers want to use Eddie Brock as their protagonist, their best bet is to loosely adapt the whole "lethal protector" angle that defined Venom for a period in the 1990s. This concept worked off of Brock's Catholic upbringing, with him decided to recreate himself as a hero. The key to making a lethal protector Venom work, though, would be making it clear that Venom isn't actually a hero, but rather, a self-justifying hypocrite. He thinks he's a hero, but he's not. At all. Making him into a true hero would be a misstep.
Having a villainous protagonist should be fine, though. A Venom movie won't need an actual hero, considering how evil the villain is going to be... because, let's face it, we all know that it's going to be Carnage. With a psychotic guy like Cletus Kasady as your antagonist, particularly if he's allowed to go crazy in an R-rated film, even an immoral and hypocritical Brock looks good in comparison.
Agent Venom is a Possibility
In recent years, one of the more popular interpretations of the character has been Agent Venom, who is actually former Peter Parker bully Eugene "Flash" Thompson. After high school ends, Flash ends up apologizing to Peter, reforming his old obnoxious ways, and joins the US Army — only to lose both legs in combat. Later on, Flash volunteers for a special military operation: the government has now contained the Venom symbiote, and they need a soldier who can operate it. Flash becomes "Agent Venom," with the symbiote basically recreating both of his legs while he wears it. Agent Venom is sent out on special missions where he can only be bonded with the symbiote for 48 hours at a time, in order to prevent it from taking over his mind and breaking out in the sort of violence that it's known for.
Agent Venom was an entirely new take on the Venom concept, and gained a lot of fan acclaim as a result. However, for the purpose of a film concept, Agent Venom would have the same difficulty as the Eddie Brock Venom: once again, Flash Thompson's story is deeply tied to that of Spider-Man, and taking Peter Parker out of the equation weakens the impact of the story. Besides that, Flash Thompson is going to be just a teenager in Spider-Man: Homecoming, where he'll be played by Tony Revolori. If this movie does want to link to the MCU, this Flash is nowhere near ready to become a special agent yet, much less enlist in the military. If it isn't linked to the MCU, it would be confusing to have two versions of the same character.
What Sony might do, potentially, is try to incorporate a few elements from the Agent Venom storyline into the Eddie Brock character. Perhaps in the film, the military somehow steals the symbiote off of him, and his only way to retain it is do a special mission for them. This would force him to be a hero, a la Suicide Squad, without ruining the character; though hopefully the film would handle this plot element better than Suicide Squad did. If they did take this approach, it could conceivably be used as a justification to pit Venom against Carnage, with the military/government/etc. enlisting Venom for the purpose of taking out the even worse alien.
Who Needs a Host?
If Sony wishes to ditch the superhero aspect altogether and go with an all-out horror film, they could take a look at Daniel Way's 18-issue Venom series from back in 2003. Inspired by John Carpenter's creepy horror classic The Thing, the first issues of this series take place in the Arctic Circle, where the Ararat Corporation has managed to clone the Venom symbiote. The protagonist is U.S. Army communications specialist Patricia Robertson, who goes to the arctic outpost for a supply run only to discover that the symbiote has broken free and killed all of the scientists.
While this symbiote clone wasn't the actual Venom, what was interesting about the series, on a conceptual level, was the notion of the symbiote as a free agent, bonding from one person to the next in pursuit of a goal. However, the Venom series wasn't very well received by readers, and it ended up going off in all kinds of bizarre sci-fi directions, so it's unlikely to be something that Sony is looking at while figuring out how to make a Venom movie work. In addition, having a loose canon symbiote would make it into a sci-fi horror film, with no superhero connections at all, and it's more likely that they're going to try to find some sort of middle ground between the horror/superhero genres.
What About the Other Hosts?
Part of Venom's storyline involves Eddie Brock developing cancer. He sells the symbiote at an auction, tries to move on with his life, and since then there have been a lot of other characters who have worn the black. His ex-wife, Anne Weying, briefly became She-Venom at one point. The guy who first received the symbiote was Angelo Fortunato, son of mafia boss Don Fortunato, though the symbiote quickly grew sick of him and dropped him off a building. Following that, former Scorpion Mac Gargan became Venom, and went full-on cannibal. The current Venom is a discharged Army Ranger named Lee Price,, who wants to use the symbiote for criminal purposes. However, the reintroduction of Eddie Brock and the fact that Venom's getting a massive crossover event this year might mean that Price's fanged days are numbered.
Each of Venom's other hosts could make for interesting stories. Gargan would be unlikely, as would Anne Weying. But it's possible the studio could be considering Lee Price.
The biggest challenge is that each of these characters, and the meaning behind why and how they bond with the symbiote, is entirely derived from Eddie Brock's connection to it. For sequels, any of these other hosts could work. But in the first Venom movie, the one that reintroduces the character, featuring an unknown person like Lee Price would anger the same fans that Sony wants in the seats, and risk audience backlash. Venom isn't an unfamiliar character who can be drastically rewritten: he's a well known property, his origins are familiar to the general audience, and everyone has certain expectations.
However, let's not forget that there's more than one version of Eddie Brock that the writers can look to for inspiration. Ultimate Spider-Man, the comic book which updated Spider-Man's origins for the present day, had one of the best Venom depictions to date. The Ultimate Venom origin took all of the original story's strongest elements and reworked them into an epic tragedy, perfectly suited for the big screen.
In Ultimate Spider-Man, Eddie Brock, Jr., is depicted as Peter's long lost childhood friend, and "the suit" is a genetically engineered life form created by Richard Parker and Eddie Brock Sr., as a cure for cancer. Depicted this way, instead of the suit being a random alien lifeform, it instead becomes something deeply connected to Peter and Eddie's past — bringing both orphans closer to the parents they lost as children. When Peter dons the suit, then ditches it, there is a lot of deep symbolism in there. Eddie's rage at Peter for rejecting the suit, which he sees as the last link that either of them have to their fathers, is actually understandable.
If Venom were being introduced in a Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel, then the Ultimate Venom storyline would make for a terrific launchpad, since the story is already cinematic in scope. It's already been proven effective when the underrated cartoon Spectacular Spider-Man adapted it into animated form. But for a solo Venom project, it really depends on where they want the story to go. If Sony was willing to dive deep, then the concept of the "cancer suit" could be used allegorically, perhaps as a way to plunge into the nasty politics of corporate healthcare; it could explore ideas such as how the corporations would likely want to sell a cancer-curing suit at insanely high prices, or keep it locked away, rather that make it available and/or affordable to the general public. Eddie's own cancer storyline could also be brought in, with this approach.
On the other hand, if they want to shoot for a sci-fi/horror angle, then the alien symbiote storyline would hearken back to films like Alien, The Thing, and so on. There are lots of options. One thing that becomes increasingly clear, though, is that whatever version of the symbiote they use, there's probably only one host who would make this thing work.
Eddie Brock Seems Like the Clear Choice
When it comes to name value, backstory, and crafting a storyline that does some justice to the character, Sony's best bet is to use the Venom that everyone knows, instead of confusing them with a Venom that they don't. Ditching Brock stands a huge chance of turning off a huge chunk of the viewers, and this project is already a risky one to start with: Sony has done nothing to engender faith from the general public, and if they want this film to be a success, they really have to release something that gets the fans drooling with excitement.
Agent Venom also holds a lot of potential, but it would likely result in a secret agent action movie that would stray pretty far from what most viewers expect when they hear the name "Venom." Brand confusion is a real issue here. Again, this isn't a minor character. This is one of the most well known comic book supervillains out there, and Sony will have to be careful.
But coming out the gate, their best bet is to use the Venom that everyone recognizes, and somehow craft a storyline around him that lets him stand on his own two feet. If they're looking for a way to make Eddie Brock come across effectively on screen, then it might be a good idea for them to watch Adi Shankar's 2013 fan film Venom: Truth in Journalism. This short movie stars Ryan Kwanten as Brock, perfectly capturing both his sympathetic side as well as his self-justifying pseudo-morality, depicting a Brock who wants to believe that he's the hero of the story, and doesn't realize how transparent his lies are. The first step to a great Venom movie is getting Eddie Brock right. If Sony can do that, then they have a shot of crafting a truly unique comic book film that might surprise people.
In the meantime, let's just keep our fingers — and long, prehensile tongues — crossed.