HEAT VISION

Will Andy Serkis Take 'Venom 2' in a Darker Direction?

While the first film played as a delightfully weird buddy comedy, it wouldn't be surprising, given the nature of Carnage, if the sequel explores other genres.
Sony's 2018 'Venom'   |   Sony Pictures
While the first film played as a delightfully weird buddy comedy, it wouldn't be surprising, given the nature of Carnage, if the sequel explores other genres.

Venom 2 has achieved symbiosis with Andy Serkis. On Aug. 5, the filmmaker signed on to direct Tom Hardy in the sequel to the 2018 film, which grossed $856.1 million worldwide and launched Sony’s own cinematic universe of Marvel characters. Written by Kelly Marcel, Venom 2 will see Michelle Williams return as Ann Weying and Woody Harrelson make his full debut as Cletus Kasady following his mid-credits scene in Venom. While details are still scarce, Harrelson’s Kasady is expected to make his transformation into Venom’s arch-nemesis, Carnage.

In a moment of kismet, this week also marked the debut of the excellent Absolute Carnage No. 1 by Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman, the latest Marvel Comics event that has been building for a little over a year in the pages of Venom. While Absolute Carnage, a continuity lover’s dream for symbiote fans, is too large a tapestry for an immediate sequel, there’s little doubt that the long game is being played with Venom and that seeds for the future of the franchise can be laid in Serkis’ sequel.

Serkis spoke with SlashFilm this week about his plans for Venom 2, saying, “I’ve got some very clear ideas about the journey I’d like to see visually and how we can take the characters into another dimension.” It seems obvious that Serkis, the motion-capture master, will have some things in store for the physicality of Venom and Carnage, emphasizing the symbiotes as characters of their own.

While the first film played as a delightfully weird buddy comedy, sharing a tone with Venom’s earlier comic book solo series, it wouldn’t be surprising, given the nature of Carnage, if Venom 2 goes in a darker direction. In the comics, serial killer Kasady uses his symbiote, an offspring of Venom, to add to his body count and create chaos. Typically, his murder sprees occurred in densely populated areas, drawing the attentions of not only Venom, but Spider-Man as well. A sequel could presumably take a more subtle approach and find Eddie Brock using his skills as an investigative journalist to hunt down Carnage. But the challenge of using Carnage in the sequel is finding a way to create a satisfying showdown between the two characters, while also holding something back for future installments.

Of course Venom 2 has to be a success before we can start really talking about what comes next. But, when considering the box office of the first film, if the second film proves to be as big of a hit with audiences, and wins over critics, a billion-dollar Venom movie doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. Just as Marvel Studios has accomplished with their films, Sony is likely considering Venom 2 in the larger context of cinematic universe-building, though perhaps somewhat more contained.

Given the absence of Spider-Man in this burgeoning cinematic universe, Venom’s adversaries don’t get more popular than Carnage. Yes, there are other symbiotes he battles in the comics — Lasher, Scream, Phage, Agony, Scorn, Toxin — but short of having Venom go up against a team of symbiotes, the scenario basically repeats his battle with Riot (Riz Ahmed) in the first film. Carnage needs to stick around beyond Venom 2.

If I were in the gambling business, I’d put money on Maximum Carnage as the event Sony’s Marvel universe will eventually use as the basis for an inevitable team-up feature. That 1993 maxi-series saw Carnage and his collection of cronies — Shriek, Carrion, Doppelganger, and Demogoblin — face off against Venom, Morbius, Black Cat and Nightwatch — all characters that Sony has films planned for — alongside Spider-Man, Captain America, Cloak and Dagger, Iron Fist, and Deathlok.

Even without Spider-Man and the characters belonging to Marvel Studios, Sony still has quite a collection of characters and the means to shift the focus of that narrative to Venom. But Maximum Carnage doesn’t have to be a cinematic endpoint, just as The Avengers (2012) wasn’t the endpoint of the MCU. Absolute Carnage opens up new story avenues that could allow the franchise to expand beyond its '90s influences.

In the pages of Cates and Stegman’s Venom series, Brock encounters the god of the symbiotes, Knull, who seeks to return the universe back to its original state of darkness. The planet of the symbiotes is actually not a planet, but a cage keeping Knull trapped. But the god can assert his influence over other symbiotes, including the massive Grendel, a symbiote that takes the form of a dragon. Recently, Kasady, resurrected by his cult of followers, has gained control of Grendel and is coming after everyone who has ever possessed a symbiote in order to harvest their DNA, which contains codices that can free Knull.

While Absolute Carnage is just beginning, there’s already enough there to provide the basis of a film, and Cates has eagerly tweeted that he’d love to be involved in Venom 2. There’s a lot of directions Serkis could take the sequel, but having the latest Venom-centric event in his periphery could certainly help him ensure the longevity of the franchise. And I can’t deny that I’m already entertaining the idea of seeing Serkis take on the role of Knull himself. 

There’s something to be said about the fact that the height of Venom’s popularity in the '90s is only matched by his present-day presence. The release of Absolute Carnage No. 1 saw comic book shops holding midnight releases, and at my store eager readers lined up outside the door to grab that first issue and its many variants.

Venom films, just like the comics, don’t have to just stick to the familiar stories and characters of 30 years ago. The first film proved that Venom doesn’t need Spider-Man to work. The second film can prove the strength of that idea by showcasing just how vast this universe’s world-building can be. There will be carnage for certain, but hopefully, a lot more beyond that.

  • Richard Newby
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