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How Venom Secretly Sets Up The Spider-Man Villain Universe

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Venom is intended to be the first movie in Sony's Spider-Man villain shared cinematic universe. The new franchise seems to be getting off to a strong start; the film has crushed October box office record with poor critical reviews and a B+ CinemaScore not seeming to have dented its performance at all. On review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, Venom currently has a 32 percent critic score - and an 89 percent audience score. It looks set to be critic-proof.

Next up is Morbius, starring Jared Leto as a scientist whose attempt to cure his own blood disorder goes horribly wrong and turns him into a vampire. Venom's box office performance will delight Sony, although they'll probably hope to create future films that garner a bit more praise from the critics. After all, none of the other Spider-Man-centric characters - including surprising names like Silk or Jackpot - have anywhere near the exposure and interest of Venom.

Related: Every Spider-Man Villain Spinoff Sony is Developing

But just how does Venom establish a new shared universe? Here, we're going to explore the disparate elements that have been set up, and the deliberate strategic decisions Sony has made.

Venom is Like Iron Man or Man of Steel

Hollywood is obsessed with shared universes right now, even though there are massive risks to that approach. A film's core narrative can be unwittingly sacrificed in order to set up future movies, and Sony is more than familiar with this particular blunder after The Amazing Spider-Man 2 essentially sabotaged by the studio's hopes of launching a Sinister Six spinoff. The marketing for Venom had seemed to strike all the wrong notes too, with Sony encouraging discussion over whether or not Venom is part of the MCU. In the end, of course, there wasn't even the much-debated Tom Holland cameo.

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In the end, though, Venom has neatly avoided all the typical problems. It's reminiscent of both Iron Man and Man of Steel, which both launched shared universes yet were primarily focused on exploring a single comic book mythology. With Iron Man, the shared universe only really comes to the forefront in the post-credits scene, while Man of Steel is even more self-contained, with only Easter eggs teasing a larger universe (similar truths apply to successful franchise-starters The Conjuring and Godzilla). Venom likewise has some subtle nods to the wider Spider-Man mythos (as we'll see) but it's otherwise almost entirely dedicated to its own concept. The plot is heavily influenced by the Lethal Protector miniseries and the Planet of the Symbiotes event, both popular stories from the '90s, and explicit setup is reserved for the post-credits scene.

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This is undoubtably the right approach to take. This early in the game, the shared universe is a distraction. Ruben Fleischer's priority had to be producing a film that works in its own right, one that is worth building a cinematic universe on. The director struck a careful balance, most notably in his decision not to use Carnage as the villain in this film. He appears to have succeeded, with an audience reaction seems to be generally positive. Given the movie's budget was just $100 million, it looks dead set for sequels and spinoffs.

Related: Venom Suggests That Superman Exists In Sony's Universe

Venom Still Introduces Spider-Man Elements

While Venom works effectively as a standalone, it does contain a number of key references to the broader Spider-Man mythos. The most notable is John Jameson, one of the Life Foundation's astronauts and the only one to survive the crash. Jameson was Riot's first human host, although the symbiote swiftly jumped to one of the ambulance staff. The astronaut's fate is unknown, but he could easily be a key secondary player in Sony's shared universe. John Jameson is the son of J. Jonah Jameson, owner of the Daily Bugle and a very well-known member of Spider-Man's supporting cast.

But John Jameson is important in his own right. In Amazing Spider-Man #124-125, we learned that John was part of a top secret lunar expedition - one whose purpose remains unexplained to this day. John discovered a beautiful gemstone, a rock that he was inexplicably drawn to. He sneaked it out of quarantine and had it made into a pendant. Horrifically, the pendant carried some sort of curse and wearing it meant that he transformed into a werewolf form at night - becoming the creature known as the Man-Wolf. The rock became grafted to John's skin, impossible to remove - at least until Spider-Man tore it off in a fight. The Man-Wolf would certainly fit in well with Sony's fledgling Spider-villain universe, a franchise that includes alien symbiote/parasites and will soon feature a sci-fi version of a vampire. The Man-Wolf and Morbius have clashed on occasion, with Michael Morbius believing the Man-Wolf's bloodwork could present a cure to his vampiric condition.

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And John Jameson isn't the only element of the Spider-Man universe set up in Venom. The film is set in San Francisco, but it also establishes a couple of minor parts of Venom lore back in New York as well. Just as in the comics, the film reveals that Eddie Brock used to work for is Daily Bugle rival the Daily Globe - he even texts its editor at one point - but departed under a cloud. Although it's left ambiguous, it's not hard to deduce that Eddie could have made a mistake when identifying the murderous Sin-Eater. In the comics, that blunder cost him his New York career.

Page 2 of 2: So What Comes Next for the Spider-Villains Universe?

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Key Release Dates
  • Venom (2018) release date: Oct 05, 2018
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