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Why Sony Announcing A ‘Venom’ Film Hurts ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’

Venom versus Spider-Man in ‘Spider-Man 3’

There was a whirlwind of release date news yesterday, starting with Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc. moving Aquaman from Oct. 5, 2018 to Dec. 21, 2018. Then Sony went and dated its would-be Venom movie for Oct. 5, 2018 while moving The Girl in the Spider’s Web to Oct. 19, 2018 against Warner Bros.’ Jungle Book: Origins. As of now, Sony’s animated Spider-Man movie remains on Dec. 21, 2018, but I imagine it will move elsewhere. The announcement of the Venom release date (courtesy of Exhibitor Relations) was something of a shock, as that’s one of those projects that no one expects to actually get made. To be frank, it stands as an example of somewhat backward thinking regarding what a franchise is. And it runs the risk of not just not breaking out but actively hurting Sony’s 2017 biggie, Spider-Man: Homecoming.

First, it is entirely possible that the Venom movie will end up about as real as (for now) Channing Tatum’s Gambit film. But let’s assume that this is happening and that Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner-penned Venom movie, which by the way will no longer be directed by Alex Kurtzman, opens a year from this October. Will audiences care? A Venom movie disconnected from the Spider-Man continuity is about as appealing as Halle Berry’s Catwoman. It’s worth repeating that the very idea of a franchise or a cinematic universe is not inherently appealing to audiences if they haven’t already embraced the world in question. To use the obvious example, Marvel waited until after Iron Man broke out to announce their big MCU plans. Announcing that your Tetris movie will be part of a trilogy doesn’t make a Tetris movie more enticing.

I have harped a lot on John Wick: Chapter 2 over the last few years precisely because it is a franchise that was requested/anticipated from fans of the first film because they liked the first film and wanted to see more. That used to be the way things worked. Audiences embraced Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, so we got Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Ditto Pitch Perfect 2, The Bourne Supremacy, Police Academy 2 and Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Nowadays, big films are preemptively announced to be the start of a franchise, trilogy and/or expanded universe and are considered an automatic failure if the already hoped-for or dated sequel gets pulled. It’s a presumption of interest in the very idea of a franchise regardless of whether audiences embrace that initial film.

More importantly, audiences have already said “No thank you” to the concept of an expanded Spider-Man cinematic universe. While The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a mostly stand-alone Peter Parker-centric adventure, it was hobbled both by its franchise-building set-up and by the whole “learn about Peter Parker’s dad” stuff that are the very hallmarks of in-vogue universe building. The very things that were supposed to entice fans about Marc Webb’s second Spider-Man movie were the things, emphasized far more in the marketing than they were in the film, which drove audiences away. Sure, the film still made $709 million worldwide (on a $255m budget), but it collapsed in North America barely clearing $200m from a $93m debut weekend. The emphasis on future spin-offs (Sinister Six, Venom, a young Aunt May as a spy, etc.) actively hurt the movie in question.

That’s why announcing a Venom movie now, with the understanding that release dates must be claimed years in advance, is itself a risk to the reception of Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming. As of this moment, the July 7th release is considered a somewhat stand-alone affair, absolutely a part of the MCU (complete with Robert Downey Jr. popping up) but not necessarily immersed in the “Road to Infinity War” mythology. It is being sold as a stand-alone coming-of-age story for Tom Holland’s Peter Parker that will build on the character’s extended cameo in Captain America: Civil War. But now will fans and general audiences spend the run-up to Spider-Man: Homecoming wondering if it operates as a backdoor pilot for the Venom movie and whatever else Ari Arad and friends have in store for Peter?

A Venom movie disconnected from the Spider-Man mythos is about as appealing as Steel. But connecting Venom to this summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, especially in the marketing, risks repeating the core Amazing Spider-Man mistake. Unless the Venom movie turns out to be exceptionally good AND sells itself as something appealing for those with no inherent interest in the character, it’s a dicey proposition for itself and Sony’s newest iteration of Spider-Man. While I get the constant pressure from shareholders (and the media) to have a steady supply of franchises in the bin, it should be noted that Sony has been on an absolute roll of late with non-franchise/smaller films. I’ll discuss this in detail once I’m allowed to talk about a certain upcoming release, but Sony scored huge last year with the likes of The Shallows, Don’t Breathe and Sausage Party.

We’ll see how this all plays out, and I’ll happily eat crow in October of 2018 if the result justifies an appropriate mea culpa. But for the moment, the continued attempts to “make Venom happen” is an example of newfangled thinking about franchises. Too many in the industry think that the very idea of a franchise or an expanded universe is inherently appealing to moviegoers sans a firm commitment and embrace of the first film(s) in question. We wanted John Wick: Chapter 2 from Lionsgate because we loved John Wick. We will flock to Walt Disney’s Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 because we loved Guardians of the Galaxy. Sony should wait until audiences fall in love with Spider-Man: Homecoming before they even consider what to do next. If you make a great Spidey movie, viewers might just ask for more.

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