It all began in 1984. During the events of the No. 252 issue of the The Amazing Spider-Man comics, our favorite web-slinging hero came into contact with a strange black, liquid sphere on an alien planet. It attached itself to his body, forming what appeared to be an all-new black Spider-Man suit with unique abilities. Sometime in 1987, former Marvel writer David Michelinie would pair up with artist Todd McFarlane to expand that story line and give birth to one of Spider-Man’s deadliest adversaries.
One of the glaring omissions from the movie Venom, hitting theaters Friday, is the presence of Spider-Man. How does one make a movie with a villain as the lead, and how do you do it without the superhero who played such a crucial role in the character’s creation? That was the daunting task Fleischer and his screenwriters faced. Not only is Spider-Man not in the film, but Marvel Studios has no involvement, which initially caused some uncertainty among the fan base. While Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios did team up and work out a deal to introduce Spider-Man into the official Marvel Cinematic Universe with films such as Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Avengers: Infinity War, Sony continued to move forward with their own standalone Spider-verse, and Marvel had no creative involvement with the Venom project whatsoever.
The film also explores the psychological torment of the Eddie Brock character as he battles the inner voices of the alien Symbiote in a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-meets-Gollum from Lord of the Rings sort of way, and its in these scenes where Hardy and the film as a whole shine its brightest. Playboy recently sat down with director Ruben Fleischer to discuss the movie, and we talk to him about why he chose to go the PG-13 route, if we’ll ever see an unrated cut of the film and whether or not Spider-Man might duke it out with Venom in the not so distant future.
We were like, “We don’t know if you can go into the lobster tank.” And Tom Hardy was like, “Well, I’m going into the lobster tank.”
The biggest challenge was his chest pattern because we couldn’t use the spider symbol. That took the most time to figure out exactly what would replace it, because it’s so iconic. So we went through a ton of different designs and patterns for his chest, but I’m really pleased with the look that we landed on—those white lightening veins. As far as the character himself, we got there pretty quickly because we had the comics to draw from. In terms of his size, scale and mass, and the eyes, the mouth, the tongue, all that—so much was referred to, and my job was to make it as true to the comics as I could.
Todd McFarlane is one of the co-creators of Venom. He put out a video on YouTube expressing that he was pleased with your design, although he did make a few tweaks of his own and displayed what his changes would be. Did you ever consider consulting with him during the design process?
No, and actually, in hindsight, I don’t know why we didn’t. We really were left to our own devices; it would’ve been a thrill to consult with Todd. I wasn’t even aware if that was a possibility, to be honest. But he and David Michelinie are the reason we made the movie. We tried to pay them tribute. Like, the law office that Anne works for in the movie was called McFarlane and Michelinie, and we tried to acknowledge that they were responsible for the whole thing. But yeah, I wish, in retrospect, that we involved Todd.
Now that you’ve dipped into the Marvel pool, can you tell us what other Marvel characters or other movie franchises you’d like to dabble with?
I’ll be honest, I think the holy grail for any filmmaker that grew up in the 1970s and 1980s is Star Wars. I have such a love and passionate for that universe, so it would be a thrill to work with them some day.
One of your most memorable films is Zombieland. It sounds like a sequel is taking shape.
Oh, we’re about to start. In about a month, we’re going back to Zombieland. That’ll be a really fun world to revisit, especially with that cast, to get to work with Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson again. It’ll be really fun.
Can you give us a little tease where the story line might go?
All I can say is that it’s 10 years later—they’re not the only people in that world, so we’re excited to expand and meet some new characters. And we want to try and rival the first one. We all made a commitment to only do a sequel if it can be as good as or better than the original. So we set the bar really high for ourselves.
Zombieland came out in 2009, and The Walking Dead emerged in 2010 and became this juggernaut of the zombie genre. Because it’s a long-running show, that’s given them many opportunities to come up with all sorts of inventive zombie kills, character-versus-zombie predicaments and makeup designs. Some might even say there’s a little bit of zombie fatigue because of that show. Does that pose a challenge to you with this Zombieland sequel?
The biggest challenge is that I’ve never seen The Walking Dead, so I want to make sure that we’re not stepping on their toes in any way. So, I almost feel like I have to hire a Walking Dead expert to make sure that we’re not doing anything they’ve already done, especially since we’re going to be shooting in Atlanta, which is where they shoot their show. I want to make sure we’re not treading on any of their turf.