With the superhero genre remaining as popular as ever on the big screen, studios are still looking to develop their own cinematic universes, with Sony's Spider-Man Universe serving as the newest of the bunch. Co-produced by Columbia Pictures and Marvel Entertainment, the new franchise revolves around characters connected to the iconic webslinger, most notably villains from his rogues' gallery, but takes an antihero approach to them. Previously known by the unofficial name of the Venomverse, the SSU originally was in development during the time of Andrew Garfield's The Amazing Spider-Man movies as Sony sought to develop their own shared universe, only for the financial disappointment of the 2014 sequel to derail them.
The SSU would officially kick off in 2018 with Venom, starring Tom Hardy as disgraced journalist Eddie Brock, as he becomes the host to the titular alien symbiote and must find a way to prevent Venom's species from invading Earth. The film proved to be a critical disappointment as reviewers targeted its inconsistent tone, lackluster story, dull direction and for being devoid of references to Spider-Man, though Hardy himself would see some positive reviews for his performance. In spite of the bad reviews, Venom went on to become a box office success, grossing over $856 million against its estimated $116 million budget and securing a sequel greenlight.
Along with the sequel, 2021's Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Sony got to work on a number of other projects for its universe, including Aaron Taylor-Johnson-led Kraven the Hunter, the unnamed movie that Olivia Wilde is directing, and Dakota Johnson's Madame Web. The most recent installment in the SSU is Jared Leto's Morbius, which marks both the big screen and live-action debut of the living vampire. Following a lengthy cycle of COVID-related delays to its release, Morbius is finally sinking its teeth into audiences. With its release, it's time to look back at the SSU thus far and rank the movies from worst to best.
3. Morbius (2022)
Prior to the film's release, various efforts to bring Morbius to the screen have been made over the years, including a deleted scene in Wesley Snipes' first Blade movie in which the living vampire was watching over the dhampir from a distance, while Guillermo del Toro was denied by Marvel Entertainment the rights to use him for Blade II. Unfortunately for the character, his long-awaited live-action debut ultimately could've used more time to bake. The script proves itself to be largely devoid of any personality, the story races through its 104-minute runtime without any semblance of character development and the direction completely fails to take advantage of the horror elements of the character.
One of the biggest flaws with Morbius is its struggle to understand what comic book cinematic universe it exists in and convincing audiences it does. Between a lazy connecting of the bridges with the MCU by utilizing Spider-Man: No Way Home's multiverse spell to drop Michael Keaton's MCU Vulture into a post-credits scene to references to both Venom and an unspecified Spider-Man, most will find themselves in the dark on whether a new webslinger is set to be introduced soon or if there are plans for Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield to return. This universe confusion also speaks to Sony's long-gestating Sinister Six crossover that they continue to try and race toward, an issue the DC Extended Universe experienced in its earlier efforts to rush to its Justice League movie before taking a step back and developing character-focused stories over interconnected ones.
2. Venom (2018)
Given the character's popularity in the comics, Venom was another property Sony has been attempting to push on the screen for a long time, with producer Avi Arad infamously forcing Sam Raimi to include Venom as a key villain in Spider-Man 3 despite the director's distaste for the character. After seeing a solo project set in The Amazing Spider-Man universe scrapped, Venom would finally get his time in the night with the eponymous 2018 film. It kickstarted the SSU, but had it not been a financial success, it likely would've been the end of the road for the character on the big screen.
Venom has a number of positives going for it, namely Tom Hardy's committed Eddie Brock performance as a man being driven insane and undergoing his own form of body horror. The first half of the film does very well to develop Eddie Brock as his own character with goals and conflict and even the unique nature of his relationship with Venom after becoming host to the symbiote. Unfortunately, the second half of the film is where its true problems begin to shine. The nighttime action sequences prove difficult to see its symbiote characters and its script shows signs of laziness and inconsistencies with its tone. Unlike Morbius, however, the first Venom had a better understanding of existing in its own universe and leaving more subtle clues of branching out its universe rather than rushed cameos or exposition dumps to tie threads together.
1. Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021)
If one were to look at the Rotten Tomatoes scores of its movies, it would seem like the easy choice for Venom: Let There Be Carnage to reign victorious amongst the SSU, but the reality is that it's truly the best of the three. Though not a perfect film by any means, it showed some signs of learning its lessons from the poor reception to its predecessor and working toward its strengths, leaning into the zany appeal of the first movie. As they developed the story for the sequel, Hardy and the creative team clearly understood the best approach was to further explore the odd-couple dynamic between Eddie and Venom for the film.
The biggest point of division for Venom: Let There Be Carnage is its handling of the titular villain and his partner, Shriek, and it really is a questionable one. Much like Hardy, Woody Harrelson truly goes all in with his turn as serial killer Cletus Kasady as he goes on a murderous rampage with his newly acquired symbiote Carnage, tapping back into the unhinged nature of his Natural Born Killers performance. Unfortunately for both Carnage and Shriek, they lack any major development or interesting character arcs, being solely driven by a desire to be with each other and kill Eddie, both rather dull motivations during a time in which comic book villains are being written with a more empathetic approach than much of their source material.
Despite its flaws, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is able to outshine its fellow Sony's Spider-Man Universe installments. By remaining more consistent in its tone than both its predecessor and Morbius and delivering some of the best-looking direction and performances the SSU has to offer, it should've marked the turning of the tide to fix the stumbling franchise. With multiple projects and Kraven the Hunter set to hit theaters in January, one can only hope Leto's Morbius marks the SSU's rock bottom and that the rest can clear its very low bar.
- Kraven the Hunter (2023)Release date: Jan 13, 2023