All aboard the R-rated express: Sony announce 2018 release date for Venom

Following the success of Marvel’s interlinked superhero franchise, which now amounts to a dozen films, half a dozen TV shows and many more on the way, other studios want in on the action. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was clearly intended as a gateway into a new DC Comics cinematic universe, and Fox has of course been chugging along making X-Men films and spinoffs for years. Now Sony, who hold the rights to the Spider-Man franchise, seem to want in on the act.

Venom was already in Spider-Man 3, but that’s what you call a missed opportunity.

No, I’m not talking about the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming, which sees Tom Holland’s incarnation of the character returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe he visited in Captain America: Civil War. Sony’s got a new franchise in mind, and following on the success of R-rated superhero films like Deadpool and Logan, they want to create something a little darker. And when you think “Spider-Man but darker,” you think Venom. Literally.

Although Venom first appeared in the form of Spider-Man’s black costume in 1984, it wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s that he really took off, appearing as a separate character in tiny cameo appearances until he finally emerged as a full-fledged villain in 1988’s Amazing Spider-Man #300.  The character quickly developed into an antihero, and several of Venom’s incarnations over the years have been more or less straightforward good guys. Why was Venom so popular? Maybe the late 80s and early 90s were a time for dark antiheroes. This was the age of Ghost Rider, the Punisher and what we then thought was Peak Wolverine, after all. Maybe it was that Venom’s fluid, grotesque design suited Todd McFarlane’s exuberant pencils. Whatever it was, it left us with a character that for many people is an integral part of the Spider-Man canon — and maybe the only major addition to the canon since the 1970s.

So what do we know about Sony’s attempt to bring Venom to the big screen? Well, not a lot. We don’t have a director, much less a star, although we know that an original script by Alien: Covenant screenwriter Dante Harper is being touched up by Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner. We know that the film is supposed to be something more like a science-fiction horror film than a conventional super-hero action movie. We don’t know that Sony is going to release an R-rated film (after all, they haven’t even started making it), but considering the success of Deadpool and Logan it seems pretty likely. It also appears that this is meant to be part of a network of films made using the various characters associated with the Spider-Man franchise. When studios license the rights to Marvel characters, a whole range of other characters come with them — buy Spider-Man, for instance, and you also get Black Cat, for instance.

That being the case, studios eager for some of that MCU money can create their own film franchises just by spinning off supporting characters from other franchises. If that sounds like a weird idea, it’s not that crazy — even in comics, Wolverine originally appeared fighting the Hulk, and the Punisher was a Spider-Man villain. That doesn’t mean that every supporting character is gold, though: Sony is reportedly considering spinning off Black Cat and Silver Sable. The one seems like a marketable character (cool thief with an occasional heart of gold, has some name recognition despite being an obvious knock-off), while the other is a little more debatable. Perhaps they’re aiming for big fans of the 1990s cartoon?

Regardless, if Sony completes the project — and that’s a big if, as the studio has been down the Venom road before — it’ll be the ultimate test of the darker, more violent superhero film. It’ll be like the 90s all over again. Maybe pouches will even come back into fashion.

About James Holloway

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