Now there's a date: Sony's long-gestating Spider-Man spinoff Venom will hit theaters in October next year, launching a potential new franchise for the studio. But how do you turn one Spider-Man villain into an entire franchise, and which version of Venom should make it to the big screen, anyway?
Ultimately, there are three directions in which Venom could be taken, according to his almost-30-year comic book career - and, depending on which is chosen, it could shift not just the movie, but any potential franchise it builds from that point forward. But what if there could be a middle ground that could allow for each incarnation to co-exist…?
Venom as Monster
The original take on Venom as a comic book character - and the one most familiar to movie audiences, thanks to 2007's Spider-Man 3 - is Venom as a monster hybrid of human and alien, wherein an extra-terrestrial parasite bonds to a human host, giving him super-powers while also amplifying whatever psychosis the host might already possess. That's certainly the case with Eddie Brock, the first Venom - although, technically, the alien symbiote had previously attached itself to Peter Parker - whose obsession with Spider-Man only became stronger when he found himself a new partner-in-crime. Brock would later be replaced by Mac Gargan, who becomes a subtly different Venom - one where the alien is more in charge, and the result is even more monstrous (Cannibalism was, it sees, suddenly on the menu.)
Venom as Anti-Hero
Brock's time as Venom was a curious one; like the Punisher, a character that initially started out as an outright villain quickly became a vigilante that fans were supposed to root for and ignore all that killing people stuff because of a rigid, if somewhat skewed, moral code. For much of the mid-to-late '90s, Venom was recast as an antihero who wanted to protect "innocents" from danger in an attempt to turn him into the star of his own comic books. His antagonists included another symbiote who bonded with a human serial killer to become the even-more-monstrous threat, Carnage, who we'll be returning to momentarily.
Venom as Hero
Over the past decade, there was an attempt to retool the Venom concept by having the symbiote attached to a good guy - Flash Thompson, Spider-Man supporting castmember turned marine who'd fought in Afghanistan - to create a super-powered secret agent connected to the Spider-franchise. In this scenario, the alien part of the pairing was essentially a silent partner while Thompson was able to keep control of his own thoughts (for the most part) while gaining a number of additional abilities he wouldn't possess without the symbiote. This would later evolve into the character joining the Guardians of the Galaxy and becoming an intergalactic peacekeeper for the 13-issue Venom: Space Knight series, before the symbiote was once again passed on to a new host who, as fate would have it, happened to be evil again. (As of next month, in comic book continuity, original host Eddie Brock will once again take on the Venom mantle.)
All of the Above
There are two keys to building out the Venom franchise as a franchise, and they're both very clear in the comic book continuity of the character. Firstly, that the symbiote affects different people differently - Mac Gargan is essentially subsumed by the alien personality, while Flash Thompson remains in control. Secondly, that there is more than one symbiote, a la Carnage. With those two pieces in mind, why can't the movie simply posit that there is more than one Venom symbiote, and therefore multiple Venoms - a hero, a villain and someone somewhere in between? That would allow for Sony to choose from any and all Venom comic books in terms of source material, without having to worry about bridging gaps between who last had the symbiote and how and why it moved on to someone else.
With that one basic decision, multiple genres from sci-fi horror to spy thriller are opened up to the series, with the one additional concept of there being an alien parasite who amplifies aspects of its host, whether physically, emotionally or psychologically - which, when it comes down to it, is a pretty good hook to base a movie series around.
Venom is scheduled for an Oct. 5, 2018, release.