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Could Venom actually be part of the wider MCU? So far, it's difficult to say. Marvel and Sony have issued a slew of contradictory comments, and the trailer doesn't even hint at an MCU context. It's without any reference to Tony Stark, to the Chitauri or to Spider-Man. It doesn't even have more subtle nods, say to Roxxon or WHiH Newsfront.
But that doesn't mean Venom couldn't still be part of the MCU, as loosely connected as some of Marvel Television's shows. Take the example of Runaways, the teen drama series in which a group of youths learned their parents were supervillains. Although it's viewed as part of the MCU, Runaways contained only one specific nod to the shared universe in its entire first season. Venom could take a similar approach, existing in its own separate corner of the MCU, avoiding overt references.
But if the film remains silent as to whether or not its part of the MCU, what are viewers to make of it? Will it be possible to essentially retcon the film into the MCU at all?
It actually seems as though Marvel and Sony aren't sure whether or not Venom should be considered part of the wider MCU themselves. Although initial reports indicated that these spinoffs wouldn't be, Sony's Amy Pascal took a different approach. She described the spider-villain films as "adjuncts" to the MCU, seeming to imply the same kind of loose relationship enjoyed by Marvel Television. This sees the TV shows exist in the same universe, affected by big-screen events, but able to drop the PG-13 format in favor of a more experimental approach. Because events on the small screen never have any notable impact on the films, Marvel Television is essentially able to do its own thing. Pascal's comment seemed to imply a similar relationship between the spider-villain spinoffs and the MCU.
Both Marvel's Kevin Feige and Pascal herself then spent the next few weeks trying to "clarify" the issue. Instead, the result was that they muddied the waters, leaving audiences utterly confused. Pascal finally closed the issue by describing the spinoffs as "in the same reality," and Feige declared she'd given "the perfect answer."
Looking at what we know of the film itself, it's hard to say whether or not the narrative will reference the MCU at all. There are rumors that Tom Holland may make a cameo, most likely as Peter Parker rather than Spider-Man. Amusingly enough, when Venom producer Matthew Tolmach was asked about this rumor, he gave the classic politician's answer; "We are making a Venom movie," he insisted, "and I think you'll be very pleased." The non-answer raised more than a few eyebrows.
Looking to the wider spinoffs, there are rumors that Sony is planning to use both Norman Osborn and the Scorpion in Silver & Black. With Osborn, Sony are reportedly playing it safe, hiring a voice-only actor so the character can be recast by Marvel at a later date. With the Scorpion, it's unclear whether or not the studio will hire Michael Mando for the part; he played Scorpion in Spider-Man: Homecoming. It's actually possible Scorpion could serve as a bridge between the MCU and the spider-villain films.
All that's just speculation, of course. Looking at the trailers, there's no evidence to support the idea that Venom is part of the MCU. The aesthetic is different and no effort has been made to highlight any parallels or even wider universe awareness.
But that doesn't mean much. Tune in to a trailer for one of the Marvel Netflix shows, and you'll see no evidence that those series are set in the wider MCU either. In fact, going by their trailers, only two Marvel Television series have been clearly set in the MCU; Agents of S.H.I.E.L.Dtrailers usually include a glimpse of Agent Coulson, and the trailers for Cloak & Dagger have featured a sign for the Roxxon Corporation.
The Venom trailers are effectively silent as to whether or not the film is part of the MCU. But that may not actually be significant at all.
But there are actually several problems when it comes to tying Venom and the Spider-villain films into the MCU. The most surprising is a title-card that flashed up during the trailer. Rather than advertise Venom as a Marvel film - like nearly every movie prior - the trailer stressed that it had been produced "in association with Marvel." This title-card also appeared on the trailer for Sony's animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse movie, and appears to be unique to Sony films. Just days ago, Fox released their last trailer for Deadpool 2, and it had the usual Marvel title-card rather than this one.
So what does this title-card actually mean? It seems to mark out that the relationship between Sony and Marvel is different to the one Marvel have with, say, Fox. The precise nature of that relationship is uncertain because details simply aren't in the public domain. Back in 2015, the two studios entered into a unique agreement that brought Tom Holland's Spider-Man into the MCU.
Whatever this actually means in legal terms, its psychological impact on viewers is clear. It creates a sense of distance between Marvel movies and Sony's Spider-Man films, of "otherness" that implies they should be treated differently. The title-card certainly feels as though Marvel are trying to carefully delineate their relationship with Sony, marking these films as somehow distinctive from any other Marvel-inspired movie.
Of course, it's far from certain that fans actually want these films to be part of the MCU in the first place. Even if Tom Holland does make a cameo in Venom, the reality is that this will be no comic-book-accurate origin story. In the comics, Spider-Man was the first human to bond with the symbiote, and his rejection left permanent scars on the symbiote's warped psyche. That's one reason the relationship between Spider-Man and Venom is so strained; Venom burns with a deep hatred for the wall-crawler, one that operates on an almost instinctual level. In contrast, the movie seems to suggest that the symbiote has been obtained by the secretive Life Foundation, and that they bond it with an unwilling Eddie Brock. The classic origin story has been ditched completely.
Signifying this, the Venom "costume" is subtly different to the one seen in the comics: although the face is identical, the body doesn't have the traditional spider-symbol; when Eddie uses the symbiote's powers, it manifests tendrils rather than webs. All these changes make sense, as both the insignia and the webbing are a callback to Spider-Man (and are altered in the Ultimate universe). But they again serve to separate Venom from Spider-Man, to emphasize that this new antihero has nothing at all to do with the wall-crawler. Should the two ever fight it out in a later sequel, it will be a far cry from the grudge matches seen in the comics.
So would the MCU actually benefit from having this version of Venom in it? One of the most exciting things about the MCU is the principle that "it's all connected." Viewers already clamor for closer ties between the different strands of the MCU; that's why there are constant calls for the TV heroes to appear in the movies, for example. But this version of Venom isn't "connected" at all. Rather, at best, he'll simply be an "adjunct" to the MCU, with no relationship to the main characters. The film may not contradict the MCU, and may in fact be easy to retcon into it, but is this really the version of Venom we want to see in this shared universe of heroes and villains?
The marketing campaign for Venom is only just beginning. Questions about the film's relationship with the MCU are sure to come up again; nearer to release date, the cast and crew will probably do a number of promotional interviews, and they're sure to be asked about this particular issue. For now, though, the film looks as though it could potentially be viewed as part of the wider MCU - or at least could be retconned to be. What's uncertain, though, is whether or not audiences will want it to be.