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One thing is clear from the new trailer for Venom, The monster onscreen isn’t the classic Venom of Marvel’s comic books in almost all the important ways. Does this bode ill for the movie, Sony’s solo outing for the fan-favorite Spider-Man villain, when it reaches theaters this fall?
Separating Venom from Spider-Man was always going to be a difficult task; in both the regular comic book mythology and early 2000s ”Ultimate” universe versions of events, Peter Parker proves to be integral to the character’s origins, whether it was his accidentally bringing a disguised alien back to Earth so that it could leech his life energy and pretend to be his clothes, or activating (and enhancing) a science experiment gone wrong, before accidentally releasing it into the wild. Moreover, in both mythologies, Parker provides the common ground between the symbiote and host(s); he’s a shared obsession that allows the two to bond so intensely. Removing Spider-Man from Venom’s story just transforms it into a more generic alien-possession tale.
Worse still, it’s unclear from the Venom trailers if the symbiote remains extraterrestrial; it looks as much like a science experiment as anything else, with Riz Ahmed’s scientist trying to create the next evolutionary step for humanity and getting it very, very wrong. This, again, draws obliquely on the “Ultimate” incarnation of the character, in which Venom started as a “biosuit” intended for both medicinal and military application — an origin far less complicated than the regular Marvel comic mythology, in which Spider-Man got the symbiote on an alien planet after a team-up with lots of other superheroes organized by an omnipotent alien being (acting as a stand-in for the real-world toy company that needed an excuse to sell Marvel action figures).
Again, though, both the “Ultimate” Venom and now the Tom Hardy cinematic take, in trying to find something more acceptable to contemporary audiences that doesn’t require such a leap of faith, strip the concept of its unique (and crazy) energy, and transform the character into something more normalized, nonspecific and… well, boring.
Add to this an Eddie Brock that bears little resemblance to the comic book versions — yes, he’s still a reporter, as he was when he debuted in the comics in 1986’s Web of Spider-Man No. 18, but now he “always seem[s] to find myself questioning something the government may not be looking at,” a conspiratorially far cry from the washed-up crime reporter of the comics — and the end result is a movie that has the surface elements of Venom (The tongue! Referring to himself as “we”! The violent antihero appeal!) but feels oddly distanced from the real thing.
More than anything, it feels like a cover version of Venom, or a tribute band’s take on the concept. It’s Venom-esque, perhaps even “inspired by” Venom, but it doesn’t really feel like the genuine article. In 2013, director Joe Lynch and producer Adi Shankar released Truth in Journalism, an unofficial take on the Venom concept that feels as authentic as this take on the character, despite having more in common with the found-footage horror movie genre than anything superheroic.
For fans of the comic book character, after Spider-Man 3, Venom may leave the impression that the character can’t be fully brought to life onscreen — or, at least, not without the framework of the massive shared universe provided by Marvel Studios. For everyone else, Venom could prove to be a test of what’s truly integral to the character’s appeal: his complicated backstory and emotional ties to Spider-Man, or simply the idea of a monstrous antihero with a giant tongue and a penchant for terrifying people.
Venom will be released Oct. 5.
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