Part One: Success in Villainous Spin-Off & Bond vs. Spidey
This past Saturday, October the 5th, marked the 1 year anniversary for the release of a little film some of you readers may or may not have heard of. Just a small indie picture. Grossed over 850 million dollars at the worldwide box-office, nothing fancy. I’m speaking, of course, about Venom (2018), a truly impressive cinematic feat when one considers this film took a comic-book villain, removed any mention of his do-gooder counterpart (the mascot of Marvel Comics himself, Spider-Man), and asked a general viewing audience to allow this initially ruthless fiend to become the sympathetic protagonist of his own story. The results, it’s fair to say, were astronomically positive.
Now who exactly, for those unaware and possibly asking, is Venom? Well, the story of Venom begins in the pages of Marvel comics, circa the late 80s, with journalist Eddie Brock, a not entirely “bad” man per se, but one who is willing to play a bit fast and loose with his professional ethics. Such behavior didn’t bode well for Eddie whilst he was attempting to discover the identity of a serial killer known as the Sin-Eater, and his sources proved dubious. Said knowledge was revealed to the public by Spider-Man, and fallout from the reveal resulted in Eddie Brock’s reputation as a reliable journalist being tarnished, if not completely ruined, forever. Burdened by the additional revelation of being diagnosed with cancer, and the rejection from his wife Anne Weying, Eddie went to a nearby church to ask forgiveness from God for the suicide he planned to commit…
Around this time in the Spider-Man comics, Peter Parker was strutting his stuff in a snazzy new black suit. Unknown to many however, save Peter himself and select confidants, this black suit was in fact an alien symbiote, that is, a parasite that attached to Spidey whilst off-world, and now was in a seemingly mutually beneficial relationship with Parker. The “suit” enhanced Peter’s natural spider-powers, whilst also giving him new ones, such as adaptable camouflage and infinite webbing, produced from the symbiote itself. The symbiote, in turn, would leech off Peter’s own life-source, being particularly stimulated by his adrenaline. Eventually, this dynamic proved too good to be true, as Peter’s antics as Spider-Man, and even his personal life, took an aggressive, all too dark turn, jeopardizing his relationships and effectiveness as a crime-fighter. And so, having discovered that the symbiote had a weakness to high frequency sounds, Peter forcibly removed it from his person by ringing the bell at a local church, the same church that Eddie Brock had come to…
Having witnessed Peter remove the symbiote, and thus revealing his identity as Spider-Man to Eddie (a co-worker of Peter’s at the Daily Bugle), the now merged Eddie & symbiote knew exactly who they could seek revenge upon. With this knowledge, they launched a campaign of terror against Peter and his loved ones, calling themselves “Venom”, as they would be the poison that ruined Peter’s life, much as Peter had ruined Eddie’s, or so he believed. After a series of skirmishes between the two, Eddie and Peter eventually realized the chaos their conflict caused to those around them, and as a result, made a truce that had Eddie/Venom moving to the West Coast (back to his hometown of San Francisco) and Peter/Spider-Man staying in New York City, agreeing to not interfere in the exploits of one another. This began Eddie’s path as an anti-hero, and star of his own title, Venom: Lethal Protector, which in turn provided most of the source material for the Venom solo film in 2018.
It was eventually revealed through interviews that the Venom film we received wasn’t all that different (if at all) from an earlier version of the project that would have served as a spin-off for the second variation of Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man film franchise, which only reached two entries when it was all said and done, The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) & The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014), starring Andrew Garfield as the Web-Slinger. Now, whilst we perform the transition over to the Spidey side of things, it wouldn’t hurt to provide an observation on the Spider-Man film series having already seen three different actors play the titular role (Tobey Maguire from 2002-2007, Andrew Garfield from 2012-2014, and currently Tom Holland, 2016-Present).
In this author’s view, the various iterations haven’t really had time to properly catch on for everyone, the franchise seeing two reboots in not even 20 years time. If we may compare Spider-Man with the James Bond/Agent 007 franchise (which was also once owned by Sony Pictures), the general public consensus of preferred actors for Jimmy seems to fall on Sean Connery, Roger Moore, & Pierce Brosnan (from the first 20 films of that franchise, at least), each one of the three being the chosen actor of a particular generation viewing the films. On the Spidey end of things, Maguire & Holland seem to have become the crowned champions. The difference here is that only nine years separate the end of Maguire’s run as the character (again, in 2007, with Spider-Man 3), with just three films to his name, and the beginning of Holland’s (in 2016, with his shoehorn into Captain America: Civil War), who currently has five overall appearances, but only two films to his character’s name.
If we compare that with Bond, there are two actors of the three favorites, Connery & Moore, who shoulder what would amount to the equivalent of Maguire’s run as the Spider-Man character. Connery and Moore both, however, enjoyed a lengthy run as the Bond character, Connery being in 6 of the official films, and then Moore appearing in 7. Adding in Connery’s one time playing the character in another studio’s adaptation of the book Thunderball, known as Never Say Never Again (1983), that brings both Connery and Moore to a total of 7 films apiece. Compared to that, Maguire only managed a trilogy, the third entry being a clumsy film that half-heartedly adapted the Black Suit/Venom source material (a situation of director and producer being at odds on said material), and in turn basically killing this incarnation of the franchise.
This then leads us on the road to the middle stretch of either franchise, where fatigue for the tropes of either, plus the tastes of the audiences at the time resulted in an abrupt end, and then reboot, before pressing on. In the case of Bond, the franchise actually flirted with this occurrence right after Connery’s fifth appearance as Bond in You Only Live Twice (1967). Unknown Australian actor George Lazenby became Connery’s first replacement, and despite being in one of the most well regarded and successful entries (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) ), Lazenby’s surprise turn-down of appearing in any future films had the producers, by popular demand, bring back Connery for his second to last appearance as Bond, in Diamonds Are Forever (1971). After this, Moore took over, effectively establishing his own style, but more or less continuing where Connery had left off. Moore almost left the role in the early 80s, paving the way for long time contender, and eventual Bond, Timothy Dalton, to make his debut 6 years earlier than he actually did. Moore stuck around for three more films though, signing off with A View to a Kill (1985).
Dalton then made his debut, rather successfully, as Bond in 1987’s The Living Daylights. Which brings us back around to the Spider-Man counterpart, Andrew Garfield, who stepped into the role of Peter Parker just five years after Maguire had parted ways, and only 10 years from the first Spider-Man film in 2002. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) was a success, and so a sequel followed. Here’s where trouble rears its ugly head for either series though. Bond proceeded with Licence to Kill in 1989, whilst Spider-Man proceeded with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in 2014. Neither film was a bomb, as some opinions would have you believe, however, Licence debuted in the crowded summer of ’89, where Tim Burton’s Batman came away the undisputed champion of the season’s box-office. By this time, fickle audiences had decided the film’s under-performance amounted to Dalton not resonating with them, and to add insult to injury, production problems delayed the Bond series for 6 years. For Spider-Man, a growing desire to have the character become a part of the increasingly popular MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), alongside the Avengers and other characters (now household names) launched a biased campaign of criticism against Amazing 2.
At this point, for either franchise, a give-in to popular trends was in effect. For Bond, the very popular television show Remington Steele, starring Pierce Brosnan, had nurtured a desire for Brosnan, as the Bond-esque Steele, to actually tackle the role, which he had auditioned for at the same time as Dalton before Living Daylights released. For Spider-Man, an unintentional offense made by a sick Garfield to a Sony company meeting in Japan through his having unattended, ultimately closed the deal on his franchise discontinuing, making it all the easier for Sony to recast and move forward on their deal with Disney to have Spider-Man appear in the MCU. Garfield’s replacement ended up being Tom Holland, who was another Brit playing an American, like Garfield, and not entirely different from one another in personality/demeanor (not unlike the Dalton-Brosnan situation, in fact). The difference was, Holland was 13 years younger than Garfield, and the public appeal that had been decided on for this next iteration of Spider-Man was youth. Brosnan as Bond, brought a well-received (at the time) sense of humor & charm to the proceedings, not unlike Moore before him. By the same token, Holland’s youthful charm & wit as Spider-Man meshed with the MCU’s sense of humor perfectly.
So as we come to a close for this Part One, I must state that my favorites of the Bond & Spider-Man pantheon are Dalton & Garfield, which I have hopefully illustrated clearly as being the “forgotten” & “dismissed” of the actor entourages for either role. Both actors became the characters they played at transitional times in their respective franchises, only playing their respective characters twice apiece, and then being dropped unceremoniously from said roles, much to the chagrin of devoted fans, who would argue both brought a sense of accuracy to their characters (based on the source material), which had long been dismissed by the public because the pop culture expectation of either character had been established as something wholly different from the get-go.
I would have happily taken Timothy Dalton as the Bond for all of the 80s films (all directed by John Glen), debuting in the film he was supposed to, For Your Eyes Only (1981), and continuing on with Octopussy (1983), A View to a Kill (1985), and then rounding out with the films he actually appeared in. On that note, and leading into Part Two, I would have happily taken Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man for the planned series that would’ve, among other things, featured a team-up with Venom, against one of their mutual, and most hated, adversaries. Join me next time as we dive into what that would entail, and how I would’ve tweaked it to make the ride a smooth one.