Venom 2 has found its director, with Andy Serkis set to direct the sequel to 2018’s Venom, so what can we learn from his previous movies? Venom 2 has been in need of someone to take the helm after it became clear Ruben Fleischer wouldn't return, with the shortlist recently narrowed to Serkis, Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and Travis Knight (Bumblebee).
It’s Serkis who has won the job in the end, which is an interesting choice for Venom 2, a film that will once again star Tom Hardy as both Eddie Brock and the titular symbiote. Venom was a hit with audiences, making $856 million, but not so popular with critics. Still, its previous box-office and likely increased budget make this the biggest directing job of Serkis’ career so far.
Although Serkis is an absolute master of motion-capture, he’s only directed two feature films so far, as well as performing second unit duties on other movies he’s appeared in, and consulting on mo-cap through his Imaginarium company. His filmography suggests he’ll have something to offer Venom 2 in a few key areas, but might be found lacking in others.
Andy Serkis made his directorial debut in 2017 with Breathe, a drama starring Andrew Garfield and Clare Foy. Breathe tells the true story of Robin Cavendish, who was left paralyzed from the neck down by polio when he was just 28. The film was moderately liked by critics, with 67% on Rotten Tomatoes, while it made $4.9 million against a budget of $15m. In terms of looking for what it can tell us about Venom 2, then Breathe doesn't give us a full picture as it doesn't utilize Serkis' best talents, but it does hint at his approach to story.
Unfortunately, that's not a great sign. The direction in Breathe is fine, but doesn't particularly stand out, and he takes a very basic approach to the real-life tale he's telling, rather than doing anything to enhance the script he's been given. That in turn suggests he's going to need a good script to work with for Venom 2, which is once again being written by Kelly Marcel. It's worth remembering, too, that Breathe was Serkis' first movie as a director, and with more experience under his belt he should be able to do better things with Venom 2.
Mowgli: Legend Of The Jungle
Andy Serkis' second movie as a director was originally supposed to be his first, with Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle initially slated for release in October 2016. Delayed numerous times to allow for more work on the extensive visual effects - and to give it some distance from Disney's The Jungle Book - Mowgli was eventually released in 2018, but not before moving from Warner Bros. to Netflix, with reports that WB was avoiding a box-office bomb. Again, there's an issue with the story here, which strives for a much darker tale than Disney's but can't quite find the right balance.
Still, in terms of Serkis' work, this is mostly about the visual effects. Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is heavily reliant on CGI and motion-capture, meaning this does make more sense as a Serkis movie than Breathe, but it's a bit of a mixed bag. The mo-cap animals look a little too much like the humans voicing them, while the CGI is utterly stunning at times, but falls flat in other spots. Given the many delays, we can perhaps assume some difficulties in that regard, but Serkis' work on Mowgli does tell us more about Venom 2: that he will be looking to use more CGI and motion-capture, which should work a lot better with a character like Venom than it does animals.
Andy Serkis returned to the role as Gollum for the first movie in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy, but he also stepped up to help Jackson direct parts of the movie. Serkis worked as the second unit director on The Hobbit movies, and while the end product wasn't great, that's more to do with the bloating of a fun children's story into a Lord of the Rings-esque epic and such a focus from Jackson on working with a higher frame rate. As second unit director, Serkis helped shoot a lot of supplementary material, but was involved in the process throughout, including shooting the sequence where the dwarves clear the plates away in Bilbo's hobbit hole.
Working on The Hobbit means that Serkis has considerable experience of helming a major blockbuster, which should come in handy on Venom 2. It again follows with his love of effects-driven work, with Serkis of course once more using mo-cap for Gollum and helping lead on that, and also means that he'll likely have a real focus on big action set-pieces as well, following in the footsteps of Jackson, with whom he has worked a lot throughout his career. Serkis helped shoot some huge battle sequences for The Hobbit, and while Venom likely won't feature anything on that scale in terms of the number of people involved, it does mean we'll likely see plenty of Venom fighting, which bodes well for the impending introduction of Carnage in Venom 2.
After his groundbreaking work as Gollum in Lord of the Rings, Serkis continued to pursue his passion for motion-capture technology, eventually setting up The Imaginarium in 2011 alongside producer Robert Cavendish. The purpose of The Imaginarium was to serve as a performance capture studio and training center, whereby Serkis would be both shooting his own films and further developing the existing technology, while also teaching actors how to become more emotionally invested in digitally-created roles.
The Imaginarium has since provided motion-capture for a number of major blockbusters, including Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and War for the Planet of the Apes, which starred Serkis as Caesar and featured some astonishing mo-cap performances from himself and others. The Imaginarium was also involved in Avengers: Age of Ultron, with Serkis and his team working particularly closely with Mark Ruffalo to better develop the Hulk's performance in Age of Ultron. After that, Serkis went on to perform mo-cap duties as Supreme Leader Snoke in both Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
It's very likely that The Imaginarium will be involved with Venom 2 now that Serkis is directing, which means a heavy use of motion-capture in the sequel. Tom Hardy didn't use a mo-cap suit in Venom, because the scale of the character didn't allow for it. That should be less of a problem with Serkis onboard given his previous creations, and means we'll likely see Hardy giving a motion-capture performance as Venom. The relationship between Venom and Eddie Brock was the highlight of the movie, and Hardy's performance was key to that. If Serkis can find a way of bonding the two even closer together by allowing Hardy's performance to fully shine through in the symbiote (and giving us more of Venom), then that'll be the biggest and best thing he can bring to Venom 2.
- Morbius (2020) release date: Jul 31, 2020