We are officially less than two months out from the theatrical premiere of Tom Hardy's Venom, the Spider-Man spinoff that will include exactly zero participation from Spider-Man himself, brought to you by Sony. So far, visuals have leaned heavily on the darker elements of Venom’s already dark story, and interviews with director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) more or less confirmed the movie would be R-rated. Following the success of adult-geared comic book movies like Deadpool and Logan, this all seemed on par for the course.
An in-depth Variety piece on Sony's plans throws cold water all over those expectations, revealing that certain execs would prefer a safer PG-13 rating. They fear if Venom is too dark or gore-filled, the success of their future Spider-Man–adjacent films could be in jeopardy, especially considering Spider-Man himself can only ever go as far as PG-13.
This concern stems from Sony’s ambitious plans for its stake in the Marvel world. Disney has long enjoyed a stronghold in the Marvel character department, but by buying up 21st Century Fox, they also become the proud owners of characters like the Fantastic Four and the X-Men—and leave Sony as the only major non-Disney studio with rights to the comic publisher's characters. They've got about 900 to work with, and the undertaking is internally being referred to as Sony’s Universe of Marvel Characters, or the SUMC.
“Spider-Man connects to a lot of the characters,” said Columbia Pictures president Sanford Panitch, who's overseeing the idea. “There are villains, heroes, and antiheroes, and a lot are female characters, many of whom are bona fide, fully dimensionalized, and utterly unique. We feel there’s no reason the Marvel characters shouldn’t be able to embrace diversity."
A few projects have already been green lit: there’s Morbius, directed by Daniel Espinosa and starring Jared Leto as the longtime Spidey nemesis. Kraven the Hunter and Nightwatch movies are also in development.
Fans will also remember that earlier this year Sony announced plans for a Silver Sable and Black Cat movie directed by Gina-Prince Bythewood. However, Variety reports those plans have been scrapped and turned into two standalone films, the first of which is likely to be Black Cat's. Sony isn’t kidding about their interest in women-led superhero movies: they're looking to develop a movie about Silk, a Korean-American superhero, and Jackpot, a masked vigilante in her mid-forties. If Blythewood doesn't stick as writer/director, she'll remain a producer and Sony is "adamant" she'll be replaced by a woman.
Sony’s version of the MCU will likely be less restrictive than Marvel’s, as the studio is receptive to its own Spider-Man appearing in Marvel movies and would allow some Avengers in its own projects. Plus, even if Venom isn’t rated R, they’re also open to heading that route in the future. “We’re focused on being faithful to the comics,” Panitch said.