Sony has provoked fury among fans by releasing the first teaser for the Tom Hardy-starring superhero movie – with no sign of Venom in it
Fiendishly determined … Tom Hardy in the Venom trailer.
Photograph: Sony Pictures
What’s the toughest job in film? Some might argue that actors face the most Sisyphean of tasks in Hollywood, doomed forever to give their all only for directors to leave their best work on the cutting room floor. Others might suggest that the work of the producer – forced to unite scores of competing egos in the vain hope that creative lightning will strike – is equally thankless.
Yet spare a thought for the poor trailer maker. In recent years we’ve seen examples of movies that have triumphed at the box office almost entirely on the basis of snazzy advance publicity – here’s looking at you, Suicide Squad – and others that have had to be almost entirely reshot when fans failed to warm to their first glimpses of footage. Trailers now play a huge part in setting the tone for a project, which is why Sony ought to be quaking in its boots following the negative reaction to the first look at Tom Hardy in Venom.
Likely rushed out to compete for YouTube likes with new trailers for Solo: A Star Wars Story and Deadpool 2, the teaser for the Spider-Man spin-off doesn’t at first glance seem all that controversial. Hardy is front and centre, making crazy faces and delivering a sombre voiceover, just as we’ve seen him do a dozen times before in arthouse fare. But perhaps that’s part of the problem.
The British actor has carved a career out of playing offbeat, larger than life figures, from maniacal prisoner Charles Bronson in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson to both Kray Twins in Brian Helgeland’s Legend. If you’re looking to cast an actor who can hold the camera’s gaze for two hours while delivering unwavering commitment to the part (with potential for the odd amusing segue into impenetrable broguery along the way), Hardy is the man for the job. Unfortunately, fans were more interested in finding out what the new big screen version of Venom looks like than charting the next stage in Hardy’s career-long mission to channel the most eccentric human beings on the planet. And, on that count, they were left profoundly disappointed.
You can hardly blame Sony here, for there is little point in casting an actor as fiendishly determined to deliver the goods as Hardy if you aren’t prepared to let them do their thing. And yet the absence of much actual Venom – the alien symbiote that we know will eventually bond with Hardy’s Eddie Brock – has left fans wondering what the studio is so frightened of.
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A similar hullaballoo erupted recently with the debut of Solo’s Han Solo-less teaser trailer, which immediately led Star Wars acolytes to ponder why Disney hadn’t offered up a proper look at Alden Ehrenreich’s take on the wily space scoundrel. Fast forward a week and the release of the first trailer proper inevitably led those same fans to wish they were able to put Aldenreich-Solo back in his box, largely for being absolutely nothing like the beloved Harrison Ford take.
Sony, of course, is facing a very different problem, in that its previous big screen incarnation of Venom was not beloved at all. In fact, the symbiote’s hamfisted inclusion in 2007’s Spider-Man 3 symbolised almost everything that was wrong with that film.
The other problem with the teaser is that it failed to even hint at how Tom Holland’s Spider-Man might play his part in this story – we know it’s very likely he will, as part of the pact Sony made with Marvel to allow the wall-crawler to join the latter studio’s wildly successful cinematic universe in last year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. Will Venom director Ruben Fleischer choose to avoid the symbiote’s comic-book origin story, which was borrowed almost wholesale for Spider-Man 3? If so, how will the wisecracking webslinger feature, given the loss of his natural place in the story as the first owner of the “alternate” spider-suit that turns out to be a devious alien creature, and later transfers its affections to Brock?
Perhaps difficulties in including Holland, as well as the Spidey 3 debacle, explain why Sony has chosen to play so heavily on its signing of Hardy to the role, rather than feed fans’ affection for Venom itself. Yet this is a dangerous game to play, not least because it runs contrary to the very rubric that Sony is so desperate to mimic. For Marvel has triumphed largely due to its commitment to ensuring it is always the characters themselves, rather than the actors who inhabit the suit, who are the true stars of these pictures.