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Why Venom 2 will be better than the first

2018 was a momentous year for comic book movies. Marvel delivered a cultural landmark, introduced a long-awaited classic character, and wiped out half of existence. Sony blazed a bold new trail in superhero feature animation. DC put Willem Dafoe on a shark. But of all these noteworthy achievements in the field of panel-to-screen adaptations, Venom stood out... because Venom is weird.

When Sony announced their intentions to build a cinematic universe around Spider-Man characters who aren't Spider-Man, fans weren't sure what to think. Once they got their first look at Venom, they... still didn't know what to think. Reviews were violently polarized, and the discussion surrounding the movie manifested mostly as memes. It became a pop culture moment all its own, albeit an odd one.

But it was a hit, and that naturally means Sony is prepping a sequel. So if Venom's success the first time around was largely due to the elements of surprise and strangeness, what could the second one have up its sleeve? A lot, potentially. While the law of diminishing returns runs rampant in Hollywood sequels, Venom 2 could actually improve upon its predecessor. Let's take a look at the reasons why.

There's gonna be Carnage

Making Venom the center of his very own franchise presents Sony with some unique challenges and possibilities. After all, it's not very often that a comic book character who's usually a villain — at best an occasional antihero — becomes the protagonist of multiple multimillion-dollar movies. Venom, though, is a nemesis who has his own nemesis: Carnage.

Carnage entered the Marvel Universe in the early '90s, when writer David Michelinie became intrigued with the idea of a symbiote stripped of Venom's twisted but strict moral code. "I intended to do this by introducing a similar but contrasting character with no sense of ethics or right or wrong at all — a sociopath," Michelinie later explained to SYFY WIRE. Along with artist Erik Larsen, he introduced Cletus Kasady, a deranged serial killer and Eddie Brock's cellmate.

After coming into contact with some of Venom's drippings, Kasady became Carnage, a blood red monster of raging, unpredictable id. He was a hit, becoming Venom's enduring archenemy and headlining such comic events as "Maximum Carnage," "Minimum Carnage," and "Carnage Unleashed" (in which he pushed his own grandmother down the stairs). Needless to say, Carnage creeping to the big screen in Venom 2 will make for a wild ride.

Battle of the scenery chewers

Carnage's appearance in the Venom sequel was promised by the movie's mid-credits sequence. If you got up and left the theater as soon as that Eminem song kicked in, you missed a performance with the potential to match Tom Hardy's in fearless weirdness. Woody Harrelson appeared (with some rather Ronald McDonald-adjacent hair) as Cletus Kasady, whom Brock is sent to interview in prison. "When I get outta here," he promised after a minute of scene-chewing, "there's gonna be carnage." Look, a Venom movie is never going to be subtle.

Venom's Blu-ray and video-on-demand releases are accompanied by an extended version of this scene, giving Harrelson a little extra time to make an impression by drawling about the experience of eating eyeballs. The actor confirmed to Collider that he "just rolled the dice" in signing on for both Venom and its sequel based on the strength of the first movie's script, a chance to work with Hardy, and a desire to re-team with his Zombieland director, Reuben Fleischer. With his history of going all-out as mesmerizingly unstable characters in movies like Natural Born Killers and Seven Psychopaths, Harrelson's expanded role in Venom 2 promises to push it even more over-the-top than its predecessor. 

"If that's the promise, that... Woody is gonna play Cletus," Spider-Man superfan Kevin Smith enthused in Venom's Blu-ray special features, "then you got my money."

Morbius inbound

Sony's plans to explore the dark corners of Spider-Man's world go beyond Venom and Carnage. In 2018, the studio made the somewhat left-field announcement that Jared Leto would be starring in Morbius. For those unfamiliar with the Marvel Universe's more nocturnal denizens, Morbius the Living Vampire, a.k.a. Nobel Prize winner Dr. Michael Morbius Ph.D. and M.D., has been appearing in Spider-Man comics since the '70s. He really came into his own, though, during the same '90s goth craze that propelled Venom to stardom.

Very little is yet known about the plot of the Morbius movie — it doesn't even have an official release date yet — but Sony is pretty much guaranteed to link these two antiheroes in their effort to keep up in the "Cinematic Universe" game. Though we have a few reasons to be skeptical about Morbius, including Leto's more insufferable qualities and the track record of the attached filmmakers, the fact remains that the introduction of a vampire into Sony's Spider-Verse opens up some intriguing new supernatural doorways for Venom 2.

A new universe

While Marvel Studios has fostered something of a "house style" for the MCU (a strategy that has brought them consistency at the occasional expense of filmmaker autonomy), Sony seems to be taking a radically different tack with its own Spider-Man franchise. The fourth quarter of 2018 saw them releasing two Spidey-based outings, and it's hard to imagine any two movies more different from each other. In fact, they're not even part of the same medium.

Into the Spider-Verse immediately became a must-see family movie for the holiday season. It not only does justice to beloved character Miles Morales, it supports him with a whole ensemble of "alternate dimension" spider-folk, all while telling a story sure to delight fans of all ages in an animation style like nothing the big screen has ever seen. Audiences got a special preview of Spider-Verse after the end credits of Venom two months earlier, with a scene from the animated film introduced by a title card reading, "Meanwhile, in another universe..."

What Sony has rather brilliantly done is open the door for any number of movies in any style or genre they can think of, all of which can be as connected (or disconnected) as filmmakers' imaginations will allow. Horror, comedy, live-action, and animation can all be separated by nothing more than a thin cosmic veil. That lends a lot of potential to future movies — including Venom sequels.

Spins a web, any size

We know that a Venom sequel is coming, and that Tom Hardy and Woody Harrelson are contracted to star, but that's really all we know for certain. Jeff Pinkner, co-writer of the first movie, couldn't confirm any more than that in a December interview with the Discussing Film YouTube channel. He also revealed that he won't be writing the follow-up, at least as of now.

But while that was all the writer was at liberty to say with certainty, he did drop one other major — if vague — statement: "Without revealing anything that I'm not supposed to reveal, it is not impossible... [that] Spider-Man will play a significant role." With Sony's rapidly expanding Spider-Verse, a potential cameo by the webhead could take many forms. Maybe Tom Holland's MCU Peter Parker (of whom Sony shares custody with Marvel Studios) would swing by, or perhaps another alternate universe incarnation would be the foil to Hardy's Eddie Brock. Regardless, the crossover would be sure to get fans' senses tingling.

The origin is over with

Superhero origins can be complicated. That's why comics history is so full of reboots, retcons, and reimaginings. Antihero origins can be even more complicated. That's why there have been three distinct big-screen takes and a TV series for the Punisher. It's also why the plot of the Venom movie was sometimes messy. Take a look at the reviews, and you'll find that the story structure is one of the most commonly criticized elements.

Sometimes, superhero sequels are stronger than their predecessors. Captain America: The Winter Soldier outshone The First Avenger, Thor: Ragnarok proved that the third time can be the charm, and The Dark Knight unquestionably topped Batman Begins. An origin story is sometimes obligated to hit certain checkpoints in its hero's journey to becoming super, while future installments can fly free of such constraints into more satisfying narrative territory. Done right, Venom 2 has the perfect opportunity to address the first movie's biggest issues.

Tom Hardy can make it weird(er)

Even the negative reviews of Venom tended to dish out some positive — if baffled — comments about Tom Hardy's dual performance as Eddie Brock and Venom. Hardy is one of the most respected actors of our time, a fact that was royally certified in November of 2018, when he was named a Commander of the British Empire for services to drama (one can't help but notice that this honor came immediately after the release of Venom — mayhap Her Majesty was moved). He just follows such consistently idiosyncratic impulses, in everything from choice of roles to verbal inflections.   

It's no surprise that Venom appealed to a performer as adventurous as Tom Hardy. After all, the job required him to tackle the primal acting challenge of performing two-person dialogues with himself. In fact, he may have had a little too much fun to fit in the movie, as he revealed during the press junket that much of his favorite material didn't make the final cut.

"There's probably about seven hours or more worth of footage of me playing as Venom and enjoying myself," he explained. Though trimming down a film's more indulgent passages is a normal (and usually positive) part of the filmmaking process, it's hard not to wonder about how entertaining all those scenes of Hardy enjoying himself would be. Now that the it's clear what a strong asset his eccentric choices were in the first movie, maybe the sequel will give him even more room to play.

Tonal takeaways

In his review for That Shelf, critic Victor Shiff said, "Venom feels like several competing films — a Jekyll and Hyde story, an odd couple movie, a broad comedy — stitched together into one incoherent mess." It's hard to completely disagree. Gritty violence, emotional melodrama, and wacky sci-fi goofs are all held together within the movie's gooey structure. Even when the individual elements make for a fun ride, it sometimes feels like a movie that isn't quite sure what kind of total picture it's going for.

Of course, some of that tonal dissonance could be considered an accurate reflection of Eddie Brock's splitting psyche as he adjusts to the idea of playing host to an alien entity. And let's not forget that it's basically a Spider-Man movie without Spider-Man, a pitch so odd that some uncertainty on the part of the filmmakers is understandable. Now, though, the creators of the sequel can look back at the finished product (and maybe peruse some reviews) to build a stronger foundation to support the next chapter.

Venom after dark

Even during those early days of Venom hype when no one knew quite what to expect, fans always had a checklist of things their favorite symbiote's big adventure should contain. A movie about Venom should be dark, it could definitely get violent, it absolutely must get weird, and it could potentially even get a little kinky. There was a certain amount of disappointment, then, when the MPAA slapped the finished product not with a hard R rating, but with a more crowd-friendly PG-13.

In response to some concern that the movie would be too tame, Tom Hardy reassured fans that the character's essence really could be captured in a movie aimed at a general audience. However, he also agreed that the idea of an adults-only Venom story had potential. "To be fair, the thing could fulcrum into R-rated," the star said with a characteristically odd turn of phrase. "It can fulcrum into for youth or children... but at the same time, there's a lot with the real estate that you can actually imbue with a complete sense of gratuitous ultraviolence if you really wanted to."

Now that Venom has proven successful enough to get a sequel, Sony might also consider it worth investing in a more niche film. Even if Venom 2 is another PG-13 outing, more intense footage could be saved for an alternate home video cut — just look at DC's handling of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Actually, you probably shouldn't, but the basic idea is there.

Happily ever after

Like it or not, "Symbrock" was inevitable. It's no surprise that a movie as bizarre and meme-worthy as Venom would inspire fans to spend way too much time thinking about the bond between its two intertwined main characters. Whether you see it as an interstellar buddy movie, a strangely star-crossed rom-com, or a very particular kind of fetish story, it's undeniable that much of Venom's charm is in the interplay between a boy and his blob.

Of course, it took a long time for these two to become one. Much of the movie was dedicated to introducing Eddie, setting up the symbiote's arrival on Earth, contriving their accidental encounter, and running them though the trials of their initially unwilling partnership. It wasn't until the story neared its climax that they really started working together, finally blossoming into the weird little family they were meant to be. The sequel can take their relationship to new levels... maybe even some weird levels.