The first teaser for Sony Pictures' Venom movie is here, and fans are feeling a bit... well, underwhelmed. If you haven't already, you should watch it right now so you can judge it for yourself. Done? Good. Now let’s dive into why this is a bit of a letdown and what can be done between now and the movie's October 5 release date.
Are you there, Venom? It's me, Eddie
I know many of you reading this are probably at least vaguely aware of Venom's history, if not intimately knowledgeable about the character's origin story. But just in case you need a refresher: in the comics, "Venom" is not one individual, but two. There is the human half, Eddie Brock (played in this film by Tom Hardy) and there is the symbiote, a sentient blob of alien goo that can shift into any number of shapes and greatly enhance its host's abilities.
In the main series of comics, the symbiote first bonds with Spider-Man, but is later rejected by the hero. It finds Eddie Brock, a disgraced former journalist, and bonds with him instead. The shared hatred between the two inspires them to fight Spidey together as a singular entity, self-dubbed "Venom." In the Ultimate series, the symbiote's origins were synthetic instead of organic and it wasn't fully sentient - but otherwise the story plays out pretty similar.
In light of this, the biggest issue many seem to have with the trailer should be obvious: there's almost no screen-time given to the symbiote (we see it squirming in a tube at one point and there's literally less than a second's worth of it crawling up Brock's neck as he screams at the end), no mention of it aside from an indirect allusion when Hardy says we all have our demons, and certainly no imagery of Brock and the symbiote together. For a movie called and centered on the Venom character, this teaser has very little... well, Venom. To someone not familiar with the material, this could be any movie about an experiment gone wrong and a man on the run.
But to play devil's advocate for a second, maybe that's a good thing.
Selling tickets vs selling concepts
People often talk about why the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to excite people 10 years on, and we've heard the short version of this argument many times: each MCU film tries to inject aspects of various genres into itself. Instead of feeling like an endless parade of generic superhero films, fans have something just a little bit new, just a little bit different to look forward to every few months.
Some bemoan the "Marvel formula" for being predictable - hero has responsibilities thrust upon them that they're not ready for, hero's greatest weakness turns out to be their greatest strength (or vice versa), hero fights villain who is basically their mirror image (Ant-Man/Yellow Jacket, Iron Man/Iron Monger, Dr. Strange/Kaecilius, etc) - but keeping the overall foundation the same while tweaking the fine details is what allows each film to feel unique. More important, it helps each film have broad appeal.
With the massive success of the MCU, the cornucopia of high-concept sci-fi and fantasy on TV (Westworld, Game of Thrones, Altered Carbon to name a few), and the absolutely bonkers amount of money that Star Wars rakes in, it can be easy to think that nerds rule the world. And maybe, right now, stories that were once niche and limited to being "for geeks" are the dominant voice in pop culture. But if you're looking to score a major hit, one big enough to kick off a cinematic universe of your own (which Sony is trying to do with Venom) you still need Bob Brown the tax accountant and Becky Bryant the mortgage broker to want to see your movie.
Go back and watch the first Thor: Ragnarok teaser. It's nearly two minutes long, but you can count the number of sentences actually spoken on your hands. If you knew nothing about the character, what would you have gleaned from those 112 seconds? In terms of actual plot, there's not much revealed - but there doesn't need to be, because the tone tells you everything you need to know: this is going to be a loud, action-packed explosion-fest, and it's going to be funny. And whattaya know, that's pretty much exactly how it turned out.
Venom is a complicated character with complex origins. Hell, just the fact that "he" is actually a "we" could be a bit much for someone to process. Do you really want to bring in the whole 'well it's an alien, but it's also a suit, and it was first attached to Spider-Man during Secret Wars, which is when the Beyonder transported all the Marvel heroes to Battleworld...' Yeesh, I just gave myself a headache writing that. No. Go too deep early and you risk overloading your potential audience. Establish tone. Make the people who know nothing about the character curious. Better to paint in broad strokes early and bring in the fan service later.
Room for improvement
This isn't to say the Venom teaser is perfect. Hardy's voiceover is well-done, but there are a few too many explosions, car crashes, and shots of Hardy sprinting. It sort of blurs together on first viewing, and the mystery of 'what exactly is going on here' could be sold a bit harder.
I also think it's coming in a bit early. Venom won't be out for another 8 months, and only wrapped shooting a week ago. It's no wonder there's hardly so much as a glimpse of the symbiote; the movie is barely into post-production!
The timing is also coming hot on the heels of a new Deadpool trailer and just ahead of the Black Panther release date. I'd say Venom is caught between a rock and a hard place but it's more like being caught between one of the most highly-anticipated sequels of the year and a superhero movie that has already broken pre-sales records. And you want people to pay attention to and remember this teaser? Come on, Sony.
And let's be honest: even if we acknowledge the need for the movie to introduce itself slowly and in a way that makes sense to your gran-gran, deep down you and I still want to see the monster. It's that intense anticipation of seeing a character we've come to love over decades of storytelling on the big screen. It's the giddy excitement we feel as we think back to how flat-out cool we thought Venom was when we first discovered him. Them. Whatever. That's just how a gut feeling works, and the most well-reasoned arguments in the world often fail when faced with raw emotion.
I don't know about you, but for now I'm going to try and take the Venom teaser for what it is: a flawed, if understandably so, product of marketing with a lot of weight on its shoulders. Oh well. Maybe they'll get it next time.