The journey of the Spiderman franchise has somewhat been like the Baudelaire twins from Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. The rights to the original Spiderman character were passed around from one owner to another during a severe cash-crunch in the 90s that had pushed Marvel to the brink of bankruptcy. In a time when Joel Schumacher’s Batman franchise promised to be the last nail in the coffin for the Dark Knight, the superhero movie business was in shambles where no self-respecting writer wanted to sell his/her character rights to the big production houses. However, Marvel was going through a bitter rivalry case between co-founder Stan Lee and Chief Artist Jack Kirby who eventually joined DC, citing creative differences. Believe it or not, the times were so dire that Marvel reportedly made a bid to Sony asking $25 million for a host of its characters which included Iron Man, Thor and Black Panther among others. Sony, of course, rejected the offer – one of their many terrible decisions – and the rest we know is history. MCU would have been a very different right now had Sony accepted the offer. Spiderman, however, ended up with Sony who now shares the distribution with Disney’s Marvel, with the former owning the creative rights for any film where any character from the Spiderman universe is the lead.
Following Marvel’s strategy on cashing in on the lesser known sub-characters, Sony’s Venom comes as a second chance for the symbiote after a messy adaptation into Sam Raimi’s most hated Spiderman film – Spiderman 3 – where Peter Parker turns into his alter-ego after contracting the organism, somehow resulting in an oddball who dirty-dances down the street.
Following Marvel’s strategy on cashing in on the lesser known sub-characters, Sony’s Venom comes as a second chance for the symbiote after a messy adaptation into Sam Raimi’s most hated Spiderman film – Spiderman 3 – where Peter Parker turns into his alter-ego after contracting the organism, somehow resulting in an oddball who dirty-dances down the street. I am not even going to explain that. Despite the fan-bashing that he movie received, there seemed to be an intriguing appeal to Spiderman’s black suit. Raimi’s origin story for Venom has since been resurrected into several of Marvel’s animated movies.
Director Ruben Fleischer’s much anticipated origin film Venom stars Tom Hardy as investigative reporter Eddie Brock who is infected by the symbiote while trying to blow off the covers of a genetics research firm called Life Foundation which may have been involved in scientific malpractice. Led by the obsessive CEO Carlton Drake, the Foundation gets its hands on a sample of the symbiote from one of their recon space-shuttles that had crashed under mysterious circumstances while returning back to Earth. With the help of Dr. Skirth, Drake realises the powers that the symbiote may yield if paired with a human host, and orders his team to begin human trials immediately. Brock gets embroiled in the fiasco when Dr. Skirth reaches out to him so that he could leak the story and stop the deaths of the human volunteers. While sneaking into the Life Foundation premises to gather evidence, Brock gets infected with the organism and Venom is born.
Where’s the Spiderman connection ?
One of the most interesting characteristics of Venom is his roots in the Spiderman story and its relationship with the character itself. If you observe his various appearances throughout the comics and the animated films, you would find the common thread that Venom knew everything about Spiderman, because it had possessed him at one time. Venom co-creator Todd McFarlane once mentioned that Venom would not work in a standalone movie and, the reason for that is his close connection with Spidey. Just going by his appearance, you can easily see a lot of similarities – the big white elongated eyes, the round head and the spider logo on his chest. He is a subverted Spiderman from the upside-down, far more powerful and malicious. You cannot have an anti-Spiderman without Spiderman. And yet, Fleischer’s story does not provide any links to the Spiderman arc. Even a glimpse of the web-swinger or Parker would have reinforced the timeline and where Venom stood in the universe. Right now, you are left asking – where is Spidey at ?
Where did Riot come from ?
Let’s keep Spiderman aside for a moment and look at Venom from the perspective of a third-contact film. A space-shuttle with an alien lifeform crashes on earth and infects a large group of people. There are at least two instances in the film where Venom and Riot mention that there were millions like them. This being Venom’s film, we get to see his story-arc but Riot receives no such treatment. We do see random people getting infected as Riot jumps from one host to another in rather public places, but no news channel covers this. Instead, there is a much too convenient scene where a little girl infected by Riot just walk into Life Foundation and infects Drake. How exactly did that happen ? Life Foundation is supposed to be one of the most secure locations. During Brock’s sneak-in, we see Dr. Firth using biometrics to let him in. Also, Riot’s plan of bringing back more symbiotes to Earth is much to far-fetched, especially when there are other symbiotes right there in Drake’s lab waiting to inhabit hosts. Why did he not free them ?
What do we really know about Brock and Drake ?
Besides the Venom story-arc, what do we really know about the primary characters? In the first few minutes, we see through a series of news-clips that Brock is this explosive reporter who goes after “evil organisations” and exposes them through the Eddie Brock Show. He has no sense of morality when it comes to getting his scoop, so much so that he hacks into his girlfriend’s laptop and publicly uses that information to accuse Drake of malpractice. There is absolutely no background about what makes Brock this obsessive, manic reporter that he doesn’t care about ethics. The character-writing in this film almost makes Raimi’s version of Venom far more sensible. Drake receives a similar lackadaisical treatment where he is shown to be this mild-mannered philanthropist but he is obsessed about space exploration to such an extent that he doesn’t care about ethics and order human trials on the symbiotes straightaway. What made him like that ? Riz Ahmed’s portrayal feels more like a slighted nerdy kid who will scream at you if you didn’t give him an A+. The character kills humans to save humanity. ‘Nuff said.
Why was Brock’s personality not affected by Venom ?
Based on what we have already seen in earlier Spidermen films, Venom doesn’t just affect a change in the physical appearance of the host. It changes his personality as well. Spiderman 3 ran with this idea in 2007 where we saw Peter Parker change into a darker personality even when he was not wearing the black suit. Despite the execution, this was a great idea where you try to remove (temporarily) everything that is good about him. Fleischer uses this idea too but only on Drake. Even though Drake was already a bad guy, we still see a significant change in his personality as he accepts the symbiote into his body. But interestingly, Brock remains untarnished. Even while Venom is talking to him in his head, he remains impressively moral and asks Venom not to eat people. What’s even more interesting is that Brock’s goodness may have rubbed off on Venom. Case in point – the “turd in the wind” speech, which was possibly the best moment of the film.
Needless to say, Fleischer’s Venom-origin will go down in the Spiderman franchise just like Halle Berry’s Catwoman did in the Batman franchise – as if it never existed. Although the inclusion of Tom Hardy in the MCU makes me excited, I would love to see a better-written character arc for Brock. A Spiderverse film (post-credit scene) is eventually going to happen, and by then, hopefully, Venom would become a better villain than he is right now.