The question of if Venom is or isn't part of the MCU still lingers, but it may be better for it to be separate - if only because Marvel's already got the perfect Symbiote analog. The morally-complicated alien "Symbiote" who typically originates as part of the Spider-Man mythos will arrive in 2018 theaters for a solo feature from Sony starring Tom Hardy as an investigative journalist who becomes the "host" for the alien creature of the title.
The film, which has been in development in some form or another as far back as Spider-Man 3 in 2007, had been planned (along with Gina Prince-Blythewood's Silver & Black) as part of Sony's spin-off universe of features based on tertiary Spider-Man characters before the deal was struck to reconnect Peter Parker's relaunched adventures to the official Marvel Cinematic Universe. It remains unclear (and unconfirmed) whether or not Venom or any of these spin-off features will be officially connected to either Spider-Man or the MCU-proper, and rumors persist that the decision may rest both on how the films are received and yet-to-be-formed opinions of Marvel heavy-hitters like Kevin Feige.
What makes that unusual is that, while Venom remains a somewhat divisive figure in the Spider-Man fandom, there's no denying that he remains one of Marvel's most recognizable and popular characters in terms of merchandise sales. So it's somewhat surprising that the studio would let its first MCU-era (if not necessarily MCU-connected) film appearance be in a mid-budget early-October release controlled by another company. But is it possible (whether it's the plan or not) that Marvel already has a more interesting take on Venom - one that would both be a unique 21st Century reinvention of the core concept but also closer to the original Symbiote storyline than the Sony film seems to be - already waiting in Spider-Man: Homecoming?
Venom Is More Than Just A Symbiote
Even among Spider-Man villains, Venom's origin story is convoluted and absurd. As part of the hype for the original 1980s Secret Wars crossover, some of the Marvel heroes who were zapped off to outer space for the event series returned to their main series sporting radically-changed costumes and team-compositions in subsequent issues in order to encourage readers to go back and learn what happened. For Spidey, the big change was a slick new black and white "alien" suit with an unlimited webbing supply, shape-shifting costume-change powers and other cool gimmicks.
However, in what turned into one of the most memorable long-term storylines in the character's history, the "costume" turned out to be a living, sentient organism (discovered in what was essentially a cosmic vending machine during Secret Wars) with parasitic tendencies called a Symbiote, which developed a jealous obsession with Peter Parker that led to him having violent episodes as Spider-Man and deciding to separate himself from the creature permanently. Eventually, the Symbiote found a new host in Eddie Brock, a disgraced journalist who blamed Peter Parker for his career ending, and they bonded to become Venom - who hates Spider-Man but has been otherwise known to see itself as a "lethal protector" superhero in its own right.
The plot of Sony's Venom movie has been kept under wraps for the most part, but looks to diverge fairly radically from both the original comics or previous incarnations of the character, with Hardy's version of Eddie Brock being a good guy journalist who becomes bonded to Venom while investigating the nefarious doings of the Life Foundation. While the origin story appears wholly changed (seemingly removing Spider-Man himself from equation entirely, though it's possible some tangential connection could end up being a surprise twist) it seems likely that the change has an understandable aim: getting Venom more quickly into the "anti-hero" version of the character many younger fans are more familiar with.
But while that's all well and good for Venom, it seems a shame that Tom Holland's Spider-Man would potentially be robbed of not only a classic Spidey storyline but one uniquely well-suited to his "kid figuring things out" take on Peter Parker. The brilliance of the Symbiote suit story, even before Venom shows up, is that it literalizes the core thematic struggle of the main character's life: Peter always feels like his duties in the Spidey-suit are symbolically pulling him away from his family, friends, love-life, etc - what if the suit started actually physically dragging him off against his will for real? It's a brilliantly creepy idea, loaded with extra metaphoric layers about addiction and identity that one can see Holland making great use of - too bad it's already been claimed by someone else's movie.
Or is it?
- Venom (2018) release date: Oct 05, 2018
- Silver and Black (2019) release date: Feb 08, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 05, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019