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EVERYTHING WE KNOW ABOUT VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE

While Marvel Studio pictures appear with a clockwork precision that only a worldwide pandemic could pause, Sony’s attempts to make use of the Spider-Man characters it controls have been less reliable. Amid multiple restarts, a long-in-the-works plan to make a Sinister Six movie, and a critical hack of Sony’s email system a few years back, it’s no wonder they chose to ally with Marvel Studios to bring Spidey to the MCU.

But Sony also continued to develop ideas independent of Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) trip to the larger Marvel world. Occasionally known as the Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters, the concept finally clicked with the one-two punch of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Venom. Both were commercial successes and proved Sony could mount a Spider-Man(-adjacent) film without Marvel’s help.

Provided, of course, they’re still interested in going it alone.

Now, after its own COVID delay, the first true installment of the Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters begins with Venom: Let There Be Carnage. If the recently released trailer is any indication, it should succeed in similar ways to its predecessor despite a new creative at the helm (more on that in a moment), but will it truly set the, er, “SPUMC” reality apart from the MCU? Let’s take a look at what we know about Venom: Let There Be Carnage to see if we can discover where the film exists in the many Marvel Universes.


FAMILIAR FACES

Poster for Venom

(Photo by ©Columbia Pictures)

It is fair to say one of the primary reasons for the first Venom’s success was the surprising double act of Eddie Brock and the symbiote on his back known as Venom, both played by Tom Hardy; happily, Hardy was the first element secured for the sequel. Of course, these days, studios sign actors up for multi-picture deals just in case, but with Venom, Hardy’s return for Let There Be Carnage and an eventual third film is essential.

Sure, Venom could find a new host. He has passed to others before, including Eddie’s ex-girlfriend Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), who also returns for Let There Be Carnage. Reid Scott also returns as Anne’s incredibly likable current boyfriend, Dr. Dan Lewis. And as the recent trailer made clear, Peggy Lu is back as neighborhood convenience store proprietor, Mrs. Chen – as it happens, she, Eddie, and Venom have worked out some sort of protection deal so she doesn’t get held up as often. Although, the trailer suggests that deal is still tenuous, as Venom is always looking to make a meal of the nearest non-Eddie human.

And, oddly, that’s pretty much all the returning cast Sony could really import from the first film. Characters played by the likes of Riz Ahmed and Jenny Slate did not make it out of that story alive. That said, there is one character who made a brief appearance returning for the sequel in a big way. Woody Harrelson’s Cletus Kasady – seen for a moment in Venom’s mid-credit stinger – is the primary antagonist this time around. From the trailer, it appears his execution date is approaching. It also seems it will not go well, as it activates another alien symbiote called Carnage.

Woody Harrelson in Venom: Let There Be Carnage

(Photo by Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Or, at least, that’s one interpretation. In the comics, Carnage was the disregarded offspring of Venom who found a kindred spirit in serial killer Kasady. Together they did plenty of damage and battled Venom, Spider-Man, and anyone else who got in their way. It will be interesting to see if this Carnage is also the offspring of movie Venom and whether or not his initial indifference to his child will be a point of contention between him and Eddie. That said, now that they share Eddie’s impossibly large San Francisco apartment, there still needs to be some conflict between them.

Behind the camera, the producing team of Avi Arad, Matt Tolmach, and Amy Pascal – of The Amazing Spider-Manduology — return, as do Hardy and Kelly Marcel as executive producers.


THE FRESH HOSTS

Naomie Harris in Venom: Let There Be Carnage

(Photo by Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Whether or not you consider Harrelson a new member of the cast, there are a handful of other freshmen to the Venom family. Naomie Harris joins up as Frances Barrison, a young woman whose encounter with the symbiote known as Shriek will lead her to Kasady before too long. Stephen Graham plays Mulligan, reportedly a detective looking to link Eddie to Kasady in the hopes of finding the location of victims the killer chose not to reveal — although, in the comics, Mulligan has his own symbiote issues to deal with. Sean Delaney and Larry Olubamiwo are also set to appear in smaller roles. Delaney even claimed his is a literal “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” moment.

But perhaps the biggest name to join the franchise is not a new actor, but the new director. Due to scheduling difficulties with his commitments to Zombieland: Double Tap, director Ruben Fleischer stepped away from Let There Be Carnage. Sony quickly launched a search for a new filmmaker and found Andy Serkis.

Yes, you read that right, the man who brought Gollum to life in The Lord of the Rings trilogy directed Venom 2. As it happens, Serkis began directing features with the 2017 biopic Breathe, starring former Spider-Man Andrew Garfield. The next year, Netflix released his second film, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle – which had the misfortune of arriving on the scene after Jon Favreau’s remake of the Disney animated version. Nevertheless, Sony and the film’s producers went with him because of his extensive knowledge of motion capture technology and performance.

Andy Serkis

(Photo by Priscilla Grant/Everett Collection)

Backing Serkis up on screenwriting duties is Marcel, who replaces Jeff Pinker. The Saving Mr. Banksco-writer wrote the script after hashing out a story with fellow EP Hardy. Hutch Parker, a veteran of Fox Marvel movies like X-Men: Days of Future Past and Logan, is also an executive producer on the film. Other crewmembers include Breathe and Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood’s Robert Richardson as director of photography, production designer Oliver Scholl, and composer Marco Beltrami.

This new company of talents will tell a further tale of Eddie and Venom becoming besties – in fact, Tolmach, Hardy, and Fleischer (before he confirmed his departure) all emphasized the buddy movie feeling would be amplified this time around. Meanwhile, they will also have to face the threat of Carnage, Shriek, and whatever other symbiote terrors may yet emerge as part of the plot. Thanks to Venom’s popularity in the 1990s and today, there are plenty of his fellow goo-monsters out there waiting for their chance on the big screen.

Well, provided Venom doesn’t face Peter Parker first.


THE MADNESS OF THE MARVEL MULTIVERSE

Stephen Graham in Venom: Let There Be Carnage

(Photo by Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Eagle-eyed watchers of the Let There Be Carnage trailer took note of a partially obscured headline during a shot in which Graham’s detective character is reading the Daily Bugle: “ENGERS L IGHT M.” The potential meaning of the first word in that headline is clear — Marvel superheroes exist in Venom’s world. But are they same Av-“ENGERS” we’ve come to love thanks to films like Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy?

After a contentious renegotiation of the film rights to Spider-Man in 2019, it is unclear if Disney and Sony are chummy enough to share characters with more abandon. But at the same time, a 2020 trailer for the much-delayed SPUMC film Morbius (read more about that here) featured references to Spidey’s current problems in the MCU and an appearance by Michael Keaton as (presumably) Adrian Toomes from Spider-Man: Homecoming. Also, Serkis has said the characters in Venom are aware of Spider-Man, and more recently, Sony struck a deal to bring the Spider-Man films to Disney+, so the relationship may be warm enough for more cross-company cooperation.

J.K. Simmons in Spider-Man: Far From Home

(Photo by Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Oh, but then there’s the Bugle itself. Since the newspaper is part of the wider Spider-Man license, it did not appear in the MCU until the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home, where it was the name of J. Jonah Jameson’s (J.K. Simmons) conspiracy theory website. The Bugle‘s usual print dimensions and trade dress in the the Carnage trailer suggests we are still dealing with two separate film universes.

To a certain extent, the Carnage and Morbius trailers are having a laugh with the asides to the MCU, but it is also possible a clearer narrative understanding will come to light once Spider-Man: No Way Homeis released in December. Since that film will feature appearances by Sony Spider-Man characters like Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), Electro (Jamie Foxx), and further references to the Multiverse, it is not outside the realm of possibility that Let There Be Carnage’s relative distance from the MCU will be explored in some way. At the moment, we’re inclined to believe Eddie and Venom’s adventure occur in a universe or two away from the prime MCU reality, but it could be the place Peter ends up calling home. That’s probably a good thing, as there are five other live-action Spider-Man related projects at Sony in need of a webslinger to tie the whole thing together.

As for now, Let There Be Carnage’s references to Spider-Men and the Avengers will probably remain joke fodder.


Venom: Let There Be Carnage releases on September 24, 2021.

By Erik Amaya

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