Although a lot of moviegoers have become weary of the current comic-book movie craze, you have to admit that the genre has undergone a subtle revolution over the past couple of years. With the release of adult-oriented and genre-savvy films like Logan and Deadpool (not to mention the slightly formulaic but cleverly written Marvel Netflix series), it could be said that we’re on the verge of a reinvention of what it means to be a comic-book movie.
These changes have it made it possible to greenlight stranger films that studios might have shied away from in the past. Hell, we’re even getting an R-Rated Spawn movie written by Todd McFarlane himself, what’s not to love about that? One of the more peculiar projects among these movies is Columbia Picture’s Venom, which (despite some studio confusion) might be the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first foray into “R”-rated territory.
For those unfamiliar with this infamous character, Venom is widely regarded as one of Spider-Man’s greatest enemies. The details are kind of convoluted, but Venom’s origins lie in an extraterrestrial symbiotic organism that grants its host extraordinary powers at the cost of becoming a bloodthirsty monster. Though the specifics vary according to which comic-book multiverse we’re talking about, the Symbiote is usually attached to Eddie Brock, a disgraced journalist who bears a grudge against both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Venom did eventually become an anti-hero of sorts, but the character never abandoned his horrific and villainous roots, which is part of what makes him such an interesting figure.
While I personally find it baffling that the studio plans on introducing this iconic character through a standalone film only tangentially related to Spider-Man: Homecoming and the rest of the Marvel universe, you have to give them props for trying something different. Ruben Fleischer (of Zombieland fame) is attached to direct, and he’s already given us some insight to the supposedly terrifying nature of the film, making parallels between Eddie Brock and the Symbiote with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Studio head Sanford Panitch has also drawn comparisons between the film and the work of legendary horror directors like John Carpenter and David Cronenberg, making Venom sound like a horror fan’s wet dream of what a comic book movie could be. That being said, this is all speculation, and the final product might end up drastically different from the original vision behind the project, so I wouldn’t get my hopes up just yet. This is the same studio that brought us The Amazing Spider-Man 2, after all.
However, I’m still dying to see what will come out of this cinematic experiment, regardless of how good or bad the film ultimately turns out to be. Nevertheless, no matter the outcome, it’s worth remembering that we already got a scary live-action version of Venom, albeit a bootleg one.
Back in 2012, movie producer Adi Shankar (Dredd, The Grey, Castlevania) launched a multi-media project entitled “Bootleg Universe“, which resulted in several independent short films featuring licensed characters. The shorts were massively popular online, featuring grittier versions of beloved properties like the Power Rangers and James Bond. In 2013, Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, Knights of Badassdom) directed my personal favorite of the bunch, Truth In Journalism.
Taking heavy inspiration from the found-footage/mockumentary sub-genre (With striking similarities to the 1992 Belgian black comedy Man Bites Dog), Truth In Journalism stars Ryan Kwanten as –spoiler alert– Eddie Brock, host of the Venom Symbiote, as he’s followed around by an unsuspecting film crew that plans on documenting his slightly unethical journalistic escapades.
While the short was featured on Bloody Disgusting and several other websites back in the day, it, and the bootleg universe as a whole didn’t have the impact on the genre that Shankar hoped it would. Despite their raging popularity online, the shorts didn’t quite catch the attention of big studios and were mostly lost to the ever-growing sea of obscure internet media.
This is an incredible shame, as the amount of work that went into these shorts, not to mention love towards the source material, is downright jaw-dropping. Truth In Journalism is an especially good example of this with its unorthodox presentation and subtle yet clever build-up. It would have been amazing to see this kind of creativity behind a full-length feature film.
The short isn’t at all perfect, with several issues stemming from the shoestring budget and a few awkward moments, but it’s an intelligent and unique take on a beloved (and somewhat creepy) character. It may take a while to get to Venom’s big reveal, but it’s totally worth it. The entire sequence is presented in a suitably monstrous fashion, and it somehow works despite the obviously limited special effects. It’s the kind of thing that we don’t see very often in big studio pictures, and Venom will probably be no exception.
Of course, I’m not saying that the new Venom movie will bomb because Lynch isn’t directing it (I’m actually a big fan of Ruben Fleischer’s work), but I think it’s clear that both studios and audiences would definitely benefit from more independent filmmakers willing to take risks with comic-book adaptations. These properties, in the hands of loving fans who also happen to be skilled movie makers, could end up as unique and financially viable blockbusters as long as studios have a little faith in their vision.
Hell, a lot of big directors began with schlocky low-budget horror movies. Names like Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi and James Gunn are just a few examples of fellow horror fans who made it to the big leagues thanks to studios taking a chance on them. It may not always work, but the results are at the very least interesting.
Either way, even if next year’s Venom is a ridiculous flop akin to his portrayal in Spider-Man 3, we can all rest easy knowing that there was at least one excellent attempt at a horror-inspired live-action incarnation of the character, even if it wasn’t exactly a feature-length blockbuster.