Now that Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige has confirmed that Sony's upcoming Tom Hardy-starring Venom film will not be part of the MCU, there are far more questions than answers about the nature of the project.
Sony is in a difficult spot with Spider-Man. Following the lukewarm reception to the two Amazing Spider-Man films, a deal was struck with Marvel to co-produce a new version of the web slinger; a younger version played by Tom Holland who debuted to near universal acclaim in Captain America: Civil War. That version of the character is pretty tightly entwined with the rest of the MCU, going so far as to have Tony Stark provide Peter Parker with his iconic costume and serve as something of a superhero mentor to young Peter Parker.
This has worked out great for the MCU, with anticipation for the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming reaching fever pitch and finally letting Marvel's most iconic character interact with the rest of his universe.
Integrating Spider-Man into the MCU meant Sony had to cede some creative control to Feige and Marvel. It also seemed to put the brakes on the idea of the studio starting its own shared universe with Spider-Man and his considerable cast of supporting characters -- an idea Sony had been toying with for nearly a decade.
And yet with the announcement that Venom will be a separate entity from the MCU, Sony is planting its shared universe flag anyway. Despite his recent enthusiasm at the prospect, it's unclear at this point how much Tom Holland's Spider-Man would factor into Venom, if at all. Venom's backstory generally depends tremendously on events set into motion by Spider-Man (a story that was attempted in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3), and it's difficult to envision that story working in any way without Peter Parker around.
Venom in a universe without Spider-Man seems like an obviously bad idea. It's much more likely that Sony will attempt some sort of delicate balance where Venom and Spider-Man exist in the same universe without actually utilizing Spider-Man all that much (the idea of Venom smashing around New York City without ever running into any of the other ever-expanding roster of Avengers is an entirely different, yet equally troubling prospect). It's possible that, with a clear creative direction, Venom is a rich enough character that this could possibly work, and casting Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock is certainly the best move the film has made so far. If Venom is essentially a one-off film that uses the broad strokes of the character to tell a darker, more horror driven and self-contained story, Sony probably has a decent chance of success.
If, however, Venom is intended as a springboard for Sony to produce more movies starring Spider-Man supporting characters that are disconnected from the MCU and Holland's Spidey, this whole thing is likely to turn into a train wreck very quickly. Sony would be smart to learn the hard lessons Universal is digesting right now in the wake of The Mummy's failure: if you attempt to conjure a shared universe from a grab bag of available characters without any clear creative vision, you are courting box office disaster.