A SHAKY START DOES NOT SHAPE A SEQUEL
A disappointing origin story doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look forward to what follows — and that includes Venom, says Empire’s Dan Jolin
ORIGIN STORIES HAVE always been tricky things. With all the required setting up and exposition, they all too regularly drag their protagonists from a slow, pre-powered start to a rushed, contrived-feeling climax — more often than not involving a battle with a villain who’s no more interesting than a beefier, nastier version of the hero.
And so it proved with Venom. By the time it finally found its tone (symbiotic buddy horror-comedy), our alien-gooinvigorated anti-hero was Cg-rasslin’ Riz Ahmed’s ridiculous Riot during an ill-fated rocket launch. After which an
optimistic mid-credits sting cued up future Venom foe Carnage, played by a wild-eyed Woody Harrelson.
Judging by the reviews — a slew of aghast and infuriated one- and two-star write-ups — you would be forgiven for thinking that, just like Riot’s planned rocket trip, Venom represented a resounding failure to launch. And that its sting would wind up being the only time we’d get to see Woody’s Carnage. Yet the opening weekend box office told a very different story.
Taking a whopping $80 million Stateside, Venom now stands as the biggest-ever US opening during the month of October (beating the previous record holder, 2013’s Gravity, by $20-odd million). With that take, it also beat the opening weekend of Ant-man And The Wasp, while breaking October records internationally, too, with $125 million worldwide. The bums on seats have spoken. So, unlike the “Dark Universe” non-starter that was last year’s The Mummy, it seems we’ll be seeing Venom 2, whether we like it or not.
But why shouldn’t we like it? There are plenty of other great superhero series which had shaky starts. Bryan Singer’s X-men was by no means as bad as Venom, but it left plenty of room for improvement, which Singer filled three years later in X2. Captain America’s first adventure was relatively mediocre, but was followed by The Winter Soldier and Civil War, which remain two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s strongest entries. Alongside Thor: Ragnarok, in fact, which itself came after two of the MCU’S least-loved films.
A sequel is an opportunity. An opportunity in many cases to let a different director loose on the material and take it in an interesting new direction, as Taika Waititi did with Thor and the Russos with Captain America. And an opportunity in every
case to hit the ground running with established characters, skipping all that chewy exposition and dumping all the origin-story narrative baggage. It is also, of course, an opportunity to learn from the previous film’s mistakes.
Imagine that with Venom 2. We get straight in there with Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock and Tom Hardy’s Venom, bickering away in one mind as they right wrongs and (literally) bite off people’s heads. That slim sliver of a fun buddy movie we saw in Venom (which was perhaps better represented in the 40 “best” minutes that Hardy said were cut) could easily fill out the whole of the sequel to a satisfying degree.
And that’s not all. There’s still the promise of the Sony Marvelverse crossovers. Venom’s strong box office has also no doubt given Sony encouragement to push on with vampire-vigilante tale Morbius (set to star Jared Leto) and sort out its Black Cat and Silver Sable
adaptations, too. It will be interesting to see how Brock and his parasite buddy will mix it up with these other characters. Not to mention Peter Parker himself, whose appearance in this cinematic super-strand has not, it seems, been ruled out. The battle of the Toms: Holland versus Hardy? We’re in.
So let’s not write Venom off as a toxic property. There are plenty of places to take the slavering space-beast, especially with Hardy playing him — and Harrelson, for that matter, as his next nemesis. A well-handled sequel could be just the antidote we need.
Clockwise from left:Venom scored two stars in reviews but five at the box office; Origin story Captain America: The First Avenger paved the way for the excellent The Winter Soldier and Civil War; The triumphant Thor: Ragnarok followed two of Marvel’s least popular films