There is perhaps no bigger comic book-inspired cinematic enigma than Sony's "Venom" movie, which will arrive in theaters this October.
After a seemingly pointless teaser trailer release in February that had plenty of star Tom Hardy, but absolutely no Venom, the grumbling began as to whether Sony, which needed Marvel Studios to save Spider-Man on film, could be trusted to spin off a new Marvel movie franchise by itself.
That first teaser likely served as a gentle reminder to the comic book movie faithful that yes, this movie is actually being made. For the first full trailer, which debuted in late April, Sony was going to have to bring it with a Venom money shot.
And it delivered. It took until the final moments of the trailer, but there was Hardy, rising from the ground, in black, symbiotic ooze with creepy all-white eyes, instantly going from prey to predator.
There he is. Venom. One of Spider-Man's most popular villains, brought to life by the '90s comic book artwork of artists such as Todd McFarlane and Erik Larson. The seconds' worth of a glance we get, after he declares "We are Venom" in a ghoulishly dark voice, instantly pass the comic book geek visual test.
But do we have a hit franchise here? It's just too soon to tell.
Sony and "Venom" will have to overcome the stigma of being a Marvel movie without the guidance of Marvel Studios, something 20th Century Fox knows all too well. In "Deadpool," which has a sequel dropping this week, Fox struck gold with a raunchy, R-rated hit that stayed true to its comic book roots while also taking the superhero movie to a place that it hadn't been before, stylistically. But Fox's "X-Men" franchise, with 2014's "Days of Future Past" and 2016's "Apocalypse" as recent outings, feels like it's on its last legs and could use a Marvel Studios infusion.
"Venom" has two options. It can go the "Deadpool" route, creating something that feels new with a highly fan-recognizable comic book property, embracing the opportunity to make some comic book-inspired horror with a character that's hella scary. Or the movie could come off like those Andrew Garfield "Amazing Spider-Man" movies: good, not great, and seemingly made just to hold on to a character's movie rights.
Hardy has already given an all-time supervillain performance as Bane in 2012's "The Dark Knight Rises." Can he be just as convincing as an anti-hero? He certainly looks a lot more like Venom alter ego Eddie Brock, bringing way more bulk than Topher Grace did when he played the character in 2007's "Spider-Man 3."
"Venom" has a chance to give Sony some much needed independence from Marvel Studios. With the rights to so many Spider-Man universe characters, Sony could prove that it's still got a little comic book magic left. Or this could be the movie that leads fans to demand that Marvel Studios take over everything Marvel-related on film.