The Living Vampire

Morbius was dead on arrival. After the unfortunate success of Venom, Sony was convinced they could make a shared universe of their own. Without Spider-Man, the studio settled for obscure villains like Morbius, the Living Vampire. I think I speak for everyone when I say, nobody asked for a Morbius movie! Morbius was created by Roy Thomas & Gil Kane in 1971 when the Comics Code Authority lifted the ban on vampires and other supernatural monsters. The horror themed villain first fought Spider-Man during his mutation saga in The Amazing Spider-Man #101. I only knew about the Living Vampire beforehand thanks to several appearances on Spider-Man: The Animated Series.

I guess I have that show to thank for a lot of character introductions. Though that version of Morbius was more kid friendly and drained plasma through his hands rather than drink blood. Morbius is technically a Spider-Man villain, but he arguably has more in common with Blade. In the comics, Morbius was responsible for turning the otherwise human vampire hunter into a dhampir. Morbius was actually supposed to cameo in 1998’s Blade, but his scene got cut. Several years later and the movie Morbius feels like it was made in the 90’s. Similar to The New Mutants, Morbius was delayed many times. Although Morbius was supposed to come out between Venom and Venom: Let There Be Carnage, its place in Marvel movie history was questionable to say the least…

16. Morbius

Morbius the living vampire

Morbius sounded like a bad idea when it was first announced, but the teaser trailer confirmed my suspicion. Morbius has a muted low budget color palette that makes it feel like an R rated movie. Yet just like the Venom films, Morbius is a bloodless PG-13 vampire flick. I’m really not sure how Mahershala Ali’s Blade is gonna work in the MCU. Director Daniel Espinosa hasn’t made too many noteworthy films aside from Life. So there wasn’t a lot of reason to get excited. Morbius was supposed to be released on July 10, 2020 before it was pushed to July 31. Then the Pandemic moved it to March 19, 2021 before it was once again pushed to October 8. January 21 or January 28, 2022 felt like its final resting place, but Spider-Man: No Way Home was too much of a success for them to risk a critical and financial dud. April 1 was the best possible release date, because the whole movie feels like a joke.

Morbius is surprisingly faithful to the comics, but who cares when nobody knows who the character is. In the comics, Dr. Michael Morbius is a medical doctor with a rare blood disease who turns himself into a Living Vampire through scientific means. The movie is an almost word for word retelling since Spider-Man doesn’t specifically affect his origin. Like Venom, Morbius is more known as a villain before growing into an anti-hero overtime. Jared Leto seemed like perfect casting since he was trying to distance himself from his awful Joker portrayal. Leto has the long black hair, beard, and malnourished look from the comics, but there’s only so much he can do with the material he’s given. Morbius starts with the “horde of bats” scene from the trailer, but it feels disconnected when it’s followed by Michael’s childhood as a sick kid in Greece.

Though the bat scene looked like his origin, that actually takes place on a shipping boat when he’s injected with vampire bat DNA. Morbius’ monstrous face is also ripped straight from the comics. His vampiric attack on the crew is the only thing that feels unique in a Marvel movie. Everything else is painfully generic and boring. Morbius has to drink artificial blood to curb his craving, he possesses super-strength, bat sonar, enhanced reflexes, and flight accompanied by CGI smoke. He either wears a hoodie or dresses in a black trench coat. They obviously weren’t gonna adapt his flamboyant Dracula ensemble from the 70’s. Morbius is constantly reminded he’s a vampire with cringy attempts at humor. Aside from his name being Michael, The Lost Boys is only referenced in the trailer with the song “People are Strange” by The Doors.

Speaking of references, the trailer is horribly misleading. Daily Bugle newspapers are present, but the Oscorp building and Spider-Man graffiti are nowhere to be seen. Any reference to Venom is painfully on the nose. Most of the supporting cast is from the comics, but who’s gonna know if they are. Adria Arjona plays Michael’s love interest Martine Bancroft who works with him at Horizon Labs. She doesn’t leave an impression outside of being the vampire’s girlfriend. Acclaimed actor Jared Harris doesn’t leave an impression either as Michael’s childhood Dr. Emil Nicholas. His role seems to have been trimmed down just like Tyrese Gibson. Simon Stroud has a robotic arm and what seemed like a personal connection to Morbius that’s completely ditched in the film. Now Stroud and his partner Al are bumbling FBI agents trying to catch the good doctor.

In case you’re wondering who the villain is, they make the mistake of creating an original villain since they couldn’t use Spider-Man. Although Matt Smith was announced to play Hunger from the comics, Milo Morbius is the surrogate brother of Michael with the same disease who becomes yet another evil version of the hero. Smith has been playing a lot of villains lately, but he really hams it up as the evil Living Vampire. Morbius gives into his hunger in a final fight that’s every bit the CGI mess you expect it to be. The movie also leaves out what looked like an action scene in the forest. Morbius feels passionless and disposable with a 1 hour & 44 minute runtime that feels like it was leading to the dumbest post credit scenes I’ve ever seen. In case you were wondering about the Michael Keaton Vulture scene from the trailers, let’s just say I don’t look forward to Sony’s plans for this MCU adjacent franchise. All you need to know is that Morbius sucks. ‘Nuff said!

17. Morbius

Michael Morbius runs away

Maximum Carnage

Venom: Let There Be Carnage embraces the stupidity of the franchise. Somehow that makes it even better than the first movie. Still only 59% on Rotten Tomatoes, but Venom wasn’t a very high bar to clear. The best decision was making Let There Be Carnage a breezy 1 hour & 37 minutes. It’s kind of refreshing to see a short superhero movie after so many of them have been pushing 3 hours. Venom went an entire hour without the titular symbiote. A decision they thankfully don’t make again. Though the runtime does make the Marvel sequel feel quick and pointless. At least Let There Be Carnage delivers the Carnage that was promised at the end of the first movie.

I’m still not a fan of Sony’s forced shared universe, but seeing Venom fight Carnage in live action was a dream come true. Much like Venom, my familiarity with Carnage mostly came from a toned down version of the villain in Spider-Man: The Animated Series. The villain was created in 1992 for The Amazing Spider-Man #361. He was made in response to the growing popularity of Venom and reluctance to kill off his host Eddie Brock. So sadistic serial killer Cletus Kasady ended up the host of an even more evil red symbiote called Carnage. Although Spider-Man teamed up with Venom to defeat Carnage, the hero’s presence isn’t necessary for the character. Let There Be Carnage puts more emphasis on a symbiotic relationship…

14. Venom Let There Be Carnage

Carnage prepares to attack

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a dumb title that matches the tone of the movie. Maximum Carnage would’ve been a better title since that’s what most of the story is based on. After Woody Harrelson appeared at the end of Venom, I hoped a sequel would get made just to see Carnage in action. Even if that meant Venom made nearly a billion dollars at the box-office. Sony bounced back critically with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, but the quality of Let There Be Carnage was difficult to determine. Ruben Fleischer seemed to leave the project in favor of Zombieland: Double Tap. I never expected Gollum himself Andy Serkis to replace him as director. His experience with motion capture character’s made him Sony’s top choice. I only grew nervous after seeing the first trailer. This time the problem felt like too much comedy.

The second half of the trailer matched the dark tone of a character like Carnage, but the first half revealed the new voice for Venom. Tom Hardy reprises his role as both Eddie Brock and Venom. His Eddie performance is less awkward, but just as bizarre with him barely maintaining his American accent. His Venom voice is even more exaggerated and kind of goofy. Though not as distracting as it should be. Since Eddie and Venom’s odd couple dynamic was the most entertaining part of the first movie, they give it extra attention in the sequel. They just lean a little too heavily into the gay subtext. It’s difficult to read their relationship as anything else. Especially with lines like “I’m coming out of the Eddie closet.” Venom helps Eddie with his journalism, but Eddie won’t return the favor by becoming the Lethal Protector. They survive by eating chocolate and chicken heads. With the exception of their pet chickens Sonny & Cher.

Eddie’s career gets a major boost when he gets an exclusive from Cletus Kasady in San Quentin Prison. Harrelson looks a lot better with more natural red hair instead of the stupid wig he had before. Kasady feels like he leapt off the page with a practically word for word origin story. Like most serial killers, Cletus harmed his family, animals, and ended up in an orphanage. Harrelson is the perfect serial killer despite the sequel’s PG-13 rating. He was made for the role since his primary relationship is very similar to Natural Born Killers. Kasady’s one bright light is his equally crazy true love Frances Barrison aka Shriek. Shriek is pale in the comics, but casting Naomie Harris made her an exact copy of Black Canary from Birds of Prey. Her mutant ability to emit sonic screams is never explained. Her eye scar is explained when police officer Patrick Mulligan shoots her on her way to the Ravencroft Institute.

Aside from Daily Bugle newspapers, Spider-Man easter eggs are few and far between. Stephen Graham has a big role as Mulligan since he distrusts Brock and suspects him as Venom. Most of Eddie’s supporting cast returns including Michelle Williams as Anne Weying. She’s still in it for a paycheck, but at least she matches the ridiculousness of the story. When Anne reveals her engagement, Venom tries to cheer Eddie up with a messy cooking session. Their bond takes a hit when he visits Cletus after the serial killer gets the death penalty. Since Cletus only wants to see Eddie, he gets close enough to bite him when Venom reveals himself. In the comics, Carnage is the offspring of Venom born while they were in prison. Tasting Brock’s symbiote infected blood makes a little more sense in the movie.

Eddie and Venom “break up” after fighting each other in their apartment. Eddie giving up his power is no different than Spider-Man 2. The only difference is Venom managing to attach his symbiote to other less stable hosts. There’s a lot of Venom in full alien form, but I never expected to see his tendrils giving the finger. Not to mention seeing him attend an underground rave wearing neon bracelets and dropping a mic. Meanwhile, Cletus faces lethal injection for his recently uncovered murders. When Carnage is unleashed, they go on a PG-13 killing spree. The CGI design is larger than the source material and Carnage could be a little redder, but their razor sharp tendrils are just as terrifying as they should be. Harrelson’s Carnage voice maintains his accent, but not a lot of their biting personality.

Kasady’s primary goal is breaking Shriek out of her high security prison. They’re a killer, but ultimately mismatched couple. Since Shriek’s sonic scream is harmful to Carnage. They still plan a red wedding with their respective enemies on the guest list. When Eddie is arrested by an increasingly suspicious Mulligan, Anne is the only person he can call. Convenience store owner Mrs. Chen is given a bigger role when Anne finds her temporarily hosting Venom. Anne’s doctor fiancée Dan is also given a bigger role when he’s made the butt of most of Venom’s insults. She-Venom returns when they break Eddie out of jail and hug the symbiote back onto him. Cletus kidnaps Mulligan for Shriek and Shriek kidnaps Anne in order to get Eddie to their wedding.

The church climax is a lot better than the rocket climax. You can actually tell the difference between Venom and Carnage as they clash in a big CGI fight. It’s the kind of destructive monster duel I’ve only seen in The Incredible Hulk. While Dan tries to help with fire, Shriek provides too much sound for Carnage. Eddie and Venom only get the upper hand when Cletus loses his symbiotic link with Carnage. Kasady makes a tearful plea for Brock’s friendship, but Venom drops an F bomb before biting his head off. Before I have time to process that, Venom goes on the run with Eddie. Mulligan survived his encounter with Carnage, but I didn’t know that meant the possible introduction of Toxin. Eddie accepts the role of Lethal Protector and professes his love for Venom on a beach. It’s not how I expected the movie to end, but the mid credits scene is even more unexpected.

SPOILER ALERT! Eddie and Venom watch soap operas in a hotel room before being unexpectedly transported to an alternate universe. It could only be the work of Doctor Strange’s spell when Venom sees the Daily Bugle news report revealing Peter Parker as Spider-Man. I was excited the moment I heard J. K. Simmons’ voice as J. Jonah Jameson, but seeing Tom Hardy’s Venom on the same screen as Tom Holland’s Spider-Man was something I never expected to see. The MCU was growing more all encompassing by the minute. Since my brother and I saw Let There Be Carnage by ourselves, we had to hide the reveal from our parents. Luckily they managed to see it right before Spider-Man: No Way Home came out. In the end, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a chaotic romp that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

15. Venom Let There Be Carnage

Venom drops the mic

Preceded by: Venom

A Leap of Faith

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is often considered the greatest Spider-Man movie ever made. Many call it a game changer. One of the best animated movies, if not best movie period. Into the Spider-Verse holds a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and actually managed to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. If you don’t count Big Hero 6, that makes Into the Spider-Verse the first Marvel movie to win the Oscar in that category. It was a rare instance of Sony beating Disney. An impressive feat considering Sony Animation just made The Emoji Movie one year prior. I can honestly say I never understood this level of hype surrounding Into the Spider-Verse.

Much like Black Panther released the same year, it is a little overrated. Spider-Man is my favorite superhero, but my feelings have always been complicated. I’m already against Sony’s stranglehold on the Spider-Man franchise, so I didn’t see the point in making a theatrical animated movie. Even if it was made by The LEGO Movie creators Phil Lord & Christopher Miller. Despite the admiration, Into the Spider-Verse is the lowest grossing Spider-Man movie. Similar to Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, I’m not sure audiences knew how to get excited for an animated superhero movie. Especially when MCU Spidey was already in full swing. I was prepared not to like Into the Spider-Verse, but I have warmed up to it overtime…

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man teams up with Spider-Man and Spider-Woman

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse went a vastly different route than some might’ve expected. Sony probably expected another traditional Spider-Man adventure, but Lord & Miller wanted to explore the Spider-Verse. Something only animation could accomplish. The idea of a Spider-Verse is actually a lot older than people think. The earliest alternate version of Spider-Man was Ben Reilly, the Scarlet Spider. A clone version of Spider-Man that inspired several different Spider-People in comics over the years. My earliest introduction to the concept was the Spider Wars arc in Spider-Man: The Animated Series. Where Spider-Man was joined by many unique Spider-Men from alternate dimensions. Including the Scarlet Spider, a billionaire Spider-Man with an iron suit, a half mutated Spider-Man, Spider-Man with Doc Ock’s tentacles, and an ordinary human Spider-Man from the real world.

The Spider-Verse was further explored in the video game Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. The game included the Amazing Spider-Man, the Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider-Man Noir, and Spider-Man 2099. It was enough to inspire the 2014 comic book storyline “Spider-Verse.” I only ever read the Miniseries that featured most of the characters from Into the Spider-Verse. With the exception of Miles Morales. I’ll be the first to admit I never cared for the character. The 2010’s were a low point for comic books that arguably started with the creation of Miles Morales. The half black, half Puerto Rican Spider-Man was created in 2011 after Spider-Man died in the Ultimate universe. I’m biracial myself, but Peter Parker will always be Spider-Man to me. Regardless of story quality, it always felt like Marvel was trying to be PC with their biggest icons.

Putting Miles front and center in Into the Spider-Verse was one way to increase his appeal and possibly prove me wrong. Into the Spider-Verse has a lot more effort put into it than Sony was used to. Animators were tripled just to accomplish Lord & Miller’s vision of a living comic book. Characters are still very stylized, but state of the art computer animation is blended with hand drawn comic book illustrations. The frame rate is also decreased in a mildly distracting way. Into the Spider-Verse feels like reading a comic book with the inclusion of comic book panels, thought boxes, onomatopoeia for action, and even approval from the Comics Code Authority. Every Spider-Man introduction includes their comic book and breezy narration from the character.

The first Spider-Man is Peter Parker from what can be considered the Ultimate universe. He’s basically an amalgamation of every Spider-Man ranging from the 60’s cartoon to the Sam Raimi films. Except with minor differences like having blonde hair and blue eyes. The similar looking Chris Pine voices this version of Spider-Man since most of the cast is made up of former or future superhero actors. The lead Spider-Man is Miles Morales voiced by Shameik Moore. He feels right for the part since he’s as young as Tom Holland and already played a black nerd in the movie Dope. The main difference between Miles and Peter (besides race) is their family dynamic. Miles has two living parents who love and support him. Brian Tyree Henry is likeable and complex as Miles’ police officer father Jefferson Davis. Luna Lauren Vélez doesn’t have much to do as Miles’ nurse mother Rio Morales, but she does speak Spanish.

Jefferson has the usual distrust of Spider-Man and just wants his son to stay out of trouble. Miles is smart, carefree, and listens to “Sunflower” by Post Malone & Swae Lee, but he also does graffiti and doesn’t want to attend a prep school. His biggest influence is his Uncle Aaron Davis effectively voiced by Oscar winner Mahershala Ali. He teaches him the “shoulder touch” to use on a girl he likes at school and they do graffiti in a subway. It’s there that an unstable spider bites Miles, but he barely reacts to it. His transformation is funnier than most incarnations since he can’t silence the voice in his head and sticks to everything. The girl from before introduces herself as Gwanda and an awkward encounter forces her to cut part of her hair. Since Spider-Man is real in his universe, Miles finds out about his powers from True Life Tales of Spider-Man comics that his roommate reads.

Ganke Lee is Miles’s best friend in the comics. He wasn’t given any speaking lines, since Ned from Homecoming is practically a carbon copy of the character. While investigating the spider, Miles stumbles upon a fight between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. I’m a big fan of the original Ultimate Spider-Man comics, but I never liked the giant monstrous goblin version of Green Goblin. He’s also given bat wings and a long tongue for some reason. Their battle is interrupted by the movie’s big bad the Kingpin. Probably the only time we’ll ever see Spider-Man fight Kingpin on the big screen. Speaking of big, Kingpin is seriously exaggerated with enormous proportions and a small head. Liev Schreiber gives him a thick Italian accent and sympathetic motivations to save his wife Vanessa and their son. Though he’s still ruthless and does plan to bring them back with a Collider machine that taps into the multiverse.

For the short time he’s on-screen, Spider-Man manages to encourage Miles before being viciously beaten by Kingpin. Miles is pursued by the Prowler throughout New York City. The original Prowler was the misunderstood Hobie Brown, but the Ultimate version turns out to be Miles’ Uncle Aaron. Something he doesn’t find out until later. The whole city mourns Spider-Man including his wife Mary Jane Watson. MJ is still a redhead, but she is voiced by Zoë Kravitz. Miles honors the fallen hero by purchasing a Halloween costume from another fallen hero. Stan Lee’s cameo as a store owner is poignant since it was his first cameo since passing away. His philosophy of anyone being behind the mask is a major theme in the movie. Miles tries to live up to Spider-Man’s legacy, but he has to visit Peter’s grave for guidance. The scene was actually shown as an end credits scene for Venom.

The second Spider-Man is Peter B. Parker from what might be considered Earth-616. He’s the closest to the Spider-Man we all know and love. Except this Spidey is older, fatter, more jaded, and divorced from Mary Jane. Although I felt like they were mistreating the character, it is undeniably funny. Tobey Maguire was originally considered for the role, but it would’ve been too distracting. Jake Johnson is a fair compromise since he does sound like an older Spider-Man. Peter visits Miles at the grave and they swing around in a cartoony chase scene with the police. Miles takes Peter back to his room where he reluctantly decides to mentor the young hero. Since the multiverse is slowly being ripped apart, they plan to stop the Collider with a flash drive that Peter calls a “Goober.” They infiltrate Kingpin’s research facility where Peter continues to give Miles lousy advice.

Another primary difference between Miles and Peter is the former’s ability to emit bio-electric “venom blasts” and turn invisible. I’m not sure why he has those additional powers in the comics, but it is an interesting change of pace. While at the facility, Peter is discovered by a quirky female scientist voiced by Kathryn Hahn. She turns out to be Dr. Olivia Octavius, otherwise known as Doctor Octopus. There’s never been a female Doc Ock in the comics, but I’m fine with it as long as this is an alternate reality. She has the goggles and tentacles, but they’re made of tubes instead of mechanical. Miles manages to get the kill code by disappearing. Leaving Peter to fight Doc Ock until they escape. Miles learning to swing in the forest with one of Peter’s web shooters is a nice way to strengthen their bond.

They’re rescued by the first and only Spider-Woman in the movie (and I ain’t talkin’ Jessica Drew). The mysterious girl from before reveals herself to be Gwen Stacy herself. Spider-Gwen is another recent 2014 comic creation who became popular in a short amount of time. Gwen is so defined by her death that I never had a specific problem with her superhero alter ego. Like the rest of the costumes, Gwen’s white, purple, and black hooded spider suit is exactly the same as the comics. Her origin is also practically word for word. This version of Gwen was in a band, bitten by a radioactive spider, and witnessed the death of her best friend Peter Parker. Hailee Steinfeld is just right for a teenager like Gwen. The only reason she was around longer is because she was thrown into last week. Her popularity also meant more screen time.

The three of them decide to visit Aunt May in order to find answers. Lily Tomlin is an odd, but feisty May Parker who knows all about her nephew’s identity. She takes them to what can only be described as a Spider-Cave. A headquarters with its own Spider-Computer, hall of costumes, and even the Spider-Mobile. Although Peter, Miles, and Gwen are given the most attention, there are still three Spider-People we haven’t even met yet. They’re a little last minute, but they make the best of the short time they have. Spider-Man Noir was created in 2009 as a black & white Great Depression version of the hero. Nicholas Cage is the biggest scene stealer with his old fashioned 1930’s accent. It was actually Cage’s second animated superhero role after voicing Superman in Teen Titans! Go to the Movies.

Peni Parker is the most obscure Spider-Person who appeared in the same 2014 comic as Spider-Gwen. She’s a young Asian girl with a psychic link to a spider controlling a mech suit named SP//dr. Kimiko Glenn does her best and Peni at least stands out for her Anime design. Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham is the character I most looked forward to seeing. I knew about the anthropomorphic cartoon pig for years since he’s as old as 1983. I wanted to love Spider-Ham, but I honestly think he’s the weakest link. I know comedian John Mulaney is trying to do a Looney Tunes homage, but his voice and jokes just feel off. Spider-Ham does have further appearances in cartoon shorts. With all of the longtime Spider-People slowly disintegrating, it’s decided Miles has to be the one to stop the Collider.

When their expectations overwhelm him, he disappears and learns the truth about his uncle. Miles returns to Aunt May’s house where a sinister fight breaks out. Doc Ock and Prowler are joined by Tombstone and Scorpion. Tombstone is a fairly standard version of the villain voiced by albino Black Lightning actor Krondon. Scorpion is a lot weirder with mechanical scorpion legs, a tail, and Mexican accent likely influenced by Homecoming. Their fight is messy, but it ends tragically when Miles reveals himself to Prowler. Into the Spider-Verse maintains its PG rating, but it does push the boundaries sometimes. Kingpin shoots Miles’ uncle right in front of him and they have an Uncle Ben moment in a nearby ally. I couldn’t help but tear up at the death even though I was trying not to like the movie. All Spider-People have motivational deaths, but Miles’ still needs a leap of faith.

Peter’s inspirational words and his father reaching out to him are enough to finally motivate him. Miles spray painting his own black Spider-Man costume and leaping from a building in street clothes is a pretty epic hero moment. The gravity defying web slinging can only be accomplished in animation. Meanwhile, the Spider-People infiltrate an event hosted by Kingpin. Peter runs into this universe’s MJ and it starts to give him second thoughts about staying behind. Miles makes his heroic entrance at the Collider. Heroes fight villains as the machine turns the world upside down in the most colorful abstract way possible. Miles says a tearful goodbye to his fellow Spider-People and takes care of Kingpin himself. Using his own style, Miles manages to defeat the crime lord and disable the machine.

Miles reconciles with his dad and gets him to trust Spider-Man at the same time. The final introduction by Miles reinforces the message that anyone can be Spider-Man. I’m still not completely behind the message, but adding a tribute to Stan Lee & Steve Ditko was a nice touch. The after credits scene includes another Spider-Man who was too iconic to be left out. Oscar Isaac voices Miguel O’Hara, aka Spider-Man 2099. A future version of the wallcrawler given a gadget that lets him hop between dimensions. His first stop is the 1967 animated series where he recreates the Spider-Man pointing meme. Into the Spider-Verse is filled with easter eggs that hardcore fans will likely appreciate. Though I’m far from calling it a masterpiece, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is an admirable celebration of the quintessential Marvel superhero.

Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse

The Spider-People hide in Miles Morales’ room

Followed by: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Part One)

Lethal Protector

Venom doesn’t need to exist, but I guess it could’ve been worse. Spider-Man has one of the most iconic rogues galleries in comic book history. Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, and Venom are his big three archenemies for different reasons. Green Goblin for his personal vendetta, Doc Ock for his scientific connection, and Venom for evil parallels to the hero. Venom is one of Spider-Man’s later villains not created by Stan Lee. A hulking black symbiote with a constant sharp toothed grin and a long tongue is the kind of edgy character only Todd McFarlane & David Michelinie could think of. Spider-Man’s black alien costume first appeared during Secret Wars.

Venom’s first fully formed appearance didn’t come until the 1988 The Amazing Spider-Man #300. My familiarity with the villain actually happened when I watched the 3 Part “Alien Costume” storyline from Spider-Man: The Animated Series. I was excited to see Venom in Spider-Man 3, but we all know how that ended up. I didn’t mind a reboot, but it never made sense to have Venom without Spider-Man. Especially when Marvel Studios already owned so many characters. Sony producer Amy Pascal tried to make Venom adjunct to the MCU, but Kevin Feige never seemed comfortable with the idea. I could still enjoy standalone Marvel movies since they existed since my childhood, but Venom felt like the start of something I never wanted…

12. Venom

Venom threatens someone

Venom is technically the first supervillain movie. Even though it turns them into the anti-hero I never wanted to see. Venom has always been defined by his hatred of Spider-Man. In most comics, Venom is an alien symbiote that attaches itself to a host and feeds off their darkest desires. When Peter Parker was infected, it led the hero down a dark path until he freed himself from its influence. Since the symbiote bonded with Spider-Man, Venom mimicked his webbing, spider symbol, and was able to block his spider-sense. Eddie Brock was a perfect second host since he hated Spider-Man as much as the symbiote did. Spider-Man 3 touched on this, but no one can take Topher Grace seriously as a scrawny Venom. Sam Raimi is mostly to blame since he never wanted to do the villain due to his “lack of humanity.” It’s actually ironic since Venom becoming an anti-hero is something that developed overtime.

The movie’s primary inspiration was the “Lethal Protector” storyline where Eddie Brock convinces Venom to fight evil in San Francisco. Although Sony wanted Tom Holland to make an appearance, Venom had to clumsily work around the heroes absence. A standalone Venom movie has actually been considered as far back as 1997. Hence why the 2018 film feels like it belongs in the 90’s. Venom is such a step back when superhero movies have progressed to the point of Avengers: Infinity War. Hardcore fans like me were disappointed, but casual audiences didn’t know any better. Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer seemed promising until Venom was revealed to have a PG-13 rating. An R rating doesn’t guarantee quality, but a monster who literally bites off heads probably should’ve been more mature. I was worried the moment I saw the horribly underwhelming teaser trailer. How could I get excited when all it showed was Eddie Brock in an MRI machine, vague narration, incomplete effects, and no sign of the titular Venom.

The first trailer made me a little more hopeful with the reveal of a Venom that practically leaps off the page. With the distracting exception of his large white spider symbol. Further trailers made me nervous again with cringy dialogue like the infamous “Turd in the wind” line. Since it had no connection to the MCU, my brother and I decided to see Venom without our parents. Unlike past Spider-Man movies, Venom is now “In Association With Marvel.” Like most iterations, the Venom symbiote arrives to Earth on a crashing space shuttle. Having J. Jonah Jameson’s son John Jameson as one of the astronauts is an interesting easter egg that doesn’t make a lot of sense in a world without Spider-Man. Unlike Topher Grace, Tom Hardy is an A list actor who actually looks like the physically imposing Eddie Brock from the comics. He went from having his face covered as DC’s Bane to having his face covered as Marvel’s Venom.

The problem is all the attention he’s given before the symbiote even takes over. Hardy’s performance is so bizarre with all his weird little ticks, whispering, growling, and an undefinable American accent. In the comics, Brock is a journalist who was discredited when Spider-Man inadvertently turned an article of his into a tabloid. Brock fell on hard times, divorced his wife, coped through bodybuilding, and contemplated suicide. The movie does none of that. Eddie is now an independent journalist with his own investigative news show called “The Eddie Brock Show.” Ron Cephas Jones is Brock’s boss who you might recognize as Bobby Fish on Luke Cage. Eddie’s successful lawyer wife Anne Weying is now his fiancée played by Michelle Williams. She’s not above franchise movies, but it does feel like she’s not taking the part too seriously.

Anne & Eddie’s relationship is given way too much attention. To the point it almost feels like a rom-com that happens to feature alien symbiotes. They break up when Eddie goes through her private files for the sake of a story. Like the “Lethal Protector” comic, Carlton Drake and the Life Foundation are the villains of the story. Brock is now discredited by Drake when the former attempts to uncover the latter’s unethical business practices. Riz Ahmed is another really good actor who lowers himself to the movie’s level. Drake has the same high and mighty motivation as other 2018 villains who want to save the planet from itself. Even if that means testing symbiotes on lower class individuals. An already tricky special effect looks even more cartoony when symbiote colors include black, grey, blue, and yellow. Most of the symbiotes have names and hosts in the comics, but the movie focuses on Venom and Riot.

Riot keeps jumping from host to host with barely any time to get to know the villain. Riot inhabits the body of Jameson, a Malaysian medic, an elderly Malaysian woman, and a little girl before they catch up to Drake. Meanwhile, Brock becomes a loser after 6 months of losing everything. Though he’s still a good guy who gives money to homeless women and has a friendship with convenience store owner Mrs. Chen. Comedian Jenny Slate plays a scientist who contacts Brock when Drake starts to go too far. Her presence is also a little distracting, but I wasn’t really thinking about her pronunciation of “Symbiote.” It’s only at the Life Foundation that Eddie finally comes into contact with Venom, but we have to wait even longer to see them in action. The first action scene is just Eddie being chased by security through a forest. The symbiote turns him into a crackhead who sweats profusely, eats chicken out of the garbage, and hears voices in his head.

The transformation is a little too similar to Catwoman. Not only does Brock act weird, but he even yells at a neighbor for playing loud music just like a scene in Catwoman. Though the “Lobster scene” doesn’t quite match the infamous “Basketball scene.” Anne is back in Eddie’s life when she grows concerned over his behavior. Her doctor boyfriend Dan helps him by scanning him with an MRI machine. Just like the comics, Venom is vulnerable to high pitched sounds and fire. Venom only makes their presence known when Eddie is in danger. Unlike Grace, Hardy’s Venom voice is as deep as it should be. I didn’t want to laugh at most of the movie’s attempts at humor, but Eddie & Venom’s Ren & Stimpy relationship is amusing. Venom unleashes his deadly tendrils from Eddie’s body in a second action scene where Drake’s mercenaries chase him through the San Francisco streets. It’s a sloppy scene with the same Rialto Theater in the background of several shots.

By this point I just wanted to see Venom, but his first appearance is pretty lame. Eddie first sees Venom in a car reflection before finally showing himself an entire freaking hour into the movie. Some fans try to defend his line about eating someone’s eyes, lungs, and pancreas, because it’s taken word-for-word from the comics, but bad writing is bad writing. Venom proceeds to bite the guy’s head off, but you can barely make out what happens. When Venom talks to Eddie face-to-face, they make a deal to work together. Eddie uses Venom to take the evidence he has on Drake to his old job. When they get caught by the police, it leads to a mostly badass action scene where Venom lets loose in a smoke filled room. Venom is horror adjacent, but it’s still far from scary. When Anne finds Eddie as Venom, she once again tries to help him. Venom in return tries to help Eddie with his love life.

Their bond doesn’t last when it’s revealed Venom is slowly killing him from the inside. Anne separates them with a high frequency and the symbiote ends up in a dog. Eddie gets captured by Drake who ended up bonding with Riot. The goofy looking grey Riot is such a lame villain considering what we could’ve gotten. His only unique trait are a variety of bladed weapons. Taking inspiration from “Planet of the Symbiotes,” Riot plans to start an invasion of symbiotes from planet Klyntar. She-Venom makes a surprise appearance when Anne temporarily hosts the symbiote. It’s a strangely erotic moment when they share a kiss that transfers Venom back to Eddie. Though Venom was originally part of the invasion, they randomly decide not to after calling himself a loser and bonding with Eddie. It’s a rushed relationship to say the least. The climax takes place at night on Drake’s launch site where Riot plans to contact their race. After Eddie drops a pointless F bomb, Venom tries to stop Riot. The CGI is so bad that you can barely make out who’s fighting who. Symbiotes merge together and Brock ends up fighting Drake hand to hand.

Eddie gets stabbed, but he obviously doesn’t die. Venom burns up when he destroys the rocket, but they also obviously don’t die. Eddie mends his relationship with Anne, but they’re still broken up by the end. Venom holds out hope and Stan Lee agrees in a surprise cameo that sadly ended up being the last one released in his lifetime. Venom only accepts the role of Lethal Protector when a thug holds up Mrs. Chen. The closing credits feature an equally edgy “Venom” song performed by Eminem himself. Even though I didn’t want to accept a Sony cinematic universe, I had to admit I was excited during the mid-credits scene. Eddie & Venom go to San Quentin prison where they visit serial killer Cletus Kasady played by busy former Ruben Fleischer collaborator Woody Harrelson. His awkward red wig wasn’t enough to distract from his chilling promise of Carnage in the sequel. Critics hated Venom, but an $8 million box-office gross was sadly enough to encourage Sony to make more movies without Spidey’s involvement. Maybe audiences were trying to fill the void left by Spider-Man’s fate in Infinity War. Of course the after credits scene is more promising (more on that one later). While I can accept the movie as dumb fun, Venom is still a turd in the wind.

13. Venom

Venom meets Eddie Brock face to face

Followed by: Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Just for One Day

We Can Be Heroes is the sequel to Sharkboy and Lavagirl I never knew I wanted. I was seriously taken off guard when it was announced. Although I grew up with the movie, I never thought Robert Rodriguez would return to it. Making a sequel after the kids grew up didn’t work for Spy Kids 4-D, but I enjoyed We Can Be Heroes a lot more than I thought I would. Though it technically isn’t a Sharkboy and Lavagirl sequel. Rodriguez clearly wanted to make his own kid friendly superhero universe and it only made sense to include them.

Taylor Dooley reprises her role, but Taylor Lautner doesn’t, despite his recent Twilight fame. So Lavagirl does all the talking while Sharkboy remains silent and wears a mask. Since he’s in everything now, Pedro Pascal plays the Heroics leader Marcus Moreno who can hold swords magnetically. There’s also Boyd Holbrook as the prototypical Miracle Guy, Christian Slater as the technological Tech-No, and many more colorful superheroes. When they’re all captured by aliens, their children step up to bring them back. Priyanka Chopra plays the head of Heroics who keeps all the kids in one place. Missy Moreno is Marcus’ ordinary daughter who proves herself as a leader.

Wheels is a super-smart kid in a wheelchair, Noodles stretches, Ojo has precognitive drawings, A Capella is a personal favorite with super singing, Slo-Mo moves in slow motion, Face Maker makes goofy faces, Rewind & Fast Forward affect time differently, and Wild Card has many powers that he can’t control. The adorable Guppy is the daughter of Sharkboy & Lavagirl with shark strength and water manipulation. It could have easily been cheesy and/or cringy, but I really like seeing original superheroes. The cartoonish CGI actually works and the childish action is actually pretty fun. We Can Be Heroes gave kids a chance to be super.

We Can Be Heroes

The Heroics

Preceded by: The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D

The Kato Movie

The Green Hornet deserves better. Before Batman, there was the masked vigilante known as the Green Hornet. His 1936 radio show was created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker. The show’s success led to film serials, comic books, and the more well known (and short-lived) 1966 cult TV series. I’ve known about it for years considering my parents were fans who only watched it for Bruce Lee. Like everyone else, I know the Green Hornet’s sidekick Kato is clearly the star of the show. When a movie was announced, my mom wanted to see it with my brother and I. Although the movie was bad when I saw it in theaters, I didn’t fully understand it until I watched the series 11 years later. The Green Hornet was cheaply made, formulaic, and an obvious Batman clone that even included a crossover. Yet it’s also a good ol’ fashion detective show with a classy performance from Van Williams and plenty of awesome martial arts action from Bruce Lee. The movie is more concerned with being meta, having crude jokes, tonal shifts, and surreal filmmaking from Eternal Sunshine director Michel Gondry.

I knew something was up when comedian Seth Rogen was cast as Daily Sentinel newspaper publisher Britt Reid aka the Green Hornet. George Clooney ironically turned down the role for Batman & Robin and several other a-listers were considered before he was cast. Although Rogen is technically the first comedian to slim down for a superhero role, he’s just not the charming ladies man Britt is supposed to be. This Britt is a spoiled rich kid who gets jealous of Kato’s many talents. Kato was equally hard to cast since no one can ever live up to Bruce Lee. Jason Scott Lee was also ironically considered before the role went to Taiwanese singer Jay Chou in his American film debut. The movie seriously plays up Kato’s skills by making him a near superhuman martial arts expert who builds the Black Beauty, constructs the Hornet gun, draws, and makes a mean cup of coffee. The Black Beauty is just as cool with several more weapons hidden inside. It can be funny when the movie points out certain aspects of the show like Kato’s lack of a superhero name.

We also see Britt’s stern father played by Tom Wilkinson before he dies. The Green Hornet and Kato pose as criminals like the show, but the former can barely be taken seriously. The rest of the cast feels just as out of character. Cameron Diaz is Reid’s attractive secretary Lenore Case who’s a lot more knowledgeable about journalism, but doesn’t return her bosses desperate advances. Edward James Olmos plays a much older, much less bumbling Mike Axford who ends up inheriting the company. The biggest slap in the face is making the trusted District Attorney Frank Scanlon a bad guy. David Harbour plays him in his first of many superhero related movie roles. The biggest saving grace is Oscar winner Christoph Waltz as the memorable Russian gangster Chudnofsky. His motivations are mostly not being taken seriously as a threat. James Franco cameos as a gangster just to point it out. Chudnofsky meets a brutal demise and the vigilante duo continue crime fighting after recreating the episode “Bad Bet on a 459-Silent.” None of it is enough to save the movie from mistreating its source material. 2011 just wasn’t the year for green superheroes (*cough* Green Lantern). The Green Hornet stings.

The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet and Kato

There’s No Need to Fear

Underdog is a treat for the young and the old. As long as you don’t care how many times it’s been told. It’s yet another failed attempt by Disney to adapt an old Saturday-morning cartoon. Underdog is the only animated animal superhero lucky enough to get his own movie. I guess we’ll have to wait for the Mighty Mouse, Atom Ant, or Super Chicken movie. Since my mom enjoyed the 60’s series growing up, my brother and I decided to see the movie with her. Even though Underdog is basically Superman with a dog (Krypto?), we did enjoy it when it first came out. Despite all the changes and Disneyfication of the simple superhero story.

Underdog is a little more concerned with a “boy and his dog” story. Shoeshine is just a regular Beagle given that name after licking a shoe. When he gains superpowers, Shoeshine adopts the name Underdog, learns to rhyme, and fights some crime. Since he isn’t anthropomorphic, Underdog has a whiny teenager by his side named Jack. He has a standard deceased mom and a distant dad who used to be a cop played by Jim Belushi. The same year he did Alvin and the Chipmunks, Jason Lee voiced Underdog. He feels just as miscast here as he was there. The high pitched Underdog doesn’t exactly sound right with his My Name is Earl voice.

His reporter love interest Polly Purebred is also a regular Cavalier King Charles Spaniel now belonging to a high school reporter named Molly played by Taylor Momsen. Amy Adams ironically voices Polly several years before she played Lois Lane. Wolf gangster Riff Raff is also changed to a bully Rottweiler voiced by Brad Garrett. Peter Dinklage and Patrick Warburton are really trying their hardest as the wicked scientist Dr. Simon Barsinister and his dimwitted lackey Cad respectively. Just like Superman, Underdog stops petty crime, flies with Polly, loses his powers, and saves his city from destruction. It’s derivative, but at least his theme song is still catchy. There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here!

Underdog

Underdog flies

A Not So Valiant Effort

Bloodshot misses the mark. Although I’ve always been a huge superhero fan, even I never heard of Valiant Comics until maybe 5 years ago. You’d be surprised at just how many obscure comic book titles there are. Bloodshot was yet another futile attempt to launch a cinematic universe. Harbinger would’ve been the next installment, but nobody’s really asking for that. Bloodshot seemed like a badass anti-hero deserving of some media attention. Since I figured it would be bad, I only saw the movie out of obligation. I saw Bloodshot by myself, but it has the unfortunate honor of being the last movie I saw before the theater shutdown. The pandemic forced it onto streaming 2 weeks after release.

Despite fans clearly craving comic accuracy, Bloodshot is more Vin Diesel action flick than superhero movie. Although Bloodshot’s origin isn’t always consistent, he’s either mafia hitman Angelo Mortalli or covert operative Raymond Garrison. Diesel plays U.S. soldier Ray Garrison who loses his wife and his life to a mercenary. Bloodshot feels like a generic 90’s superhero movie with shady organization Rising Spirit Technologies led by Guy Pearce. KT is Ray’s sexy fellow soldier, Jimmy Dalton is a throwaway villain with a suit resembling X-O Manowar, and Wigans is an overly eccentric hacker.

RST manipulates Ray with false memories in order to eliminate enemies like one played by Toby Kebbell. In the comics, Bloodshot was infused with regenerating nanotechnology that gave him chalk white skin, red eyes, and a red spot on his chest. The movie keeps the overall ability, but the R rated story is watered down to a PG-13. Diesel doesn’t bother wearing a wig or looking like the character at all. Ray only looks like Bloodshot when he overexerts his power at the end. Bloodshot is more or less dead on arrival.

Bloodshot

Bloodshot vs. Jimmy Dalton

Born in Darkness

Spawn has the 90’s written all over it. It’s no secret that DC and Marvel are the reigning comic book companies. Comic creator Todd McFarlane got his start making edgy Spider-Man comics and bringing Venom to life. His style was so edgy that it led to the creation of the first creator-owned superhero company Image Comics. McFarlane had been developing Spawn ever since he was a teenager. Until his anti-hero became the hottest thing in the 90’s. Though I’m always wary of hell-raising superheroes, Spawn is a badass character with a prominent red cape, edgy spikes, chains, glowing green Necroplasmic eyes, and a Spider-Man inspired black costume. Spawn’s success led to toys, video games, a mature animated series, and a terrible 1997 movie that came out way too soon. I sometimes forget the film even exists, because of how unique it is.

Apart from being the only legitimate Image Comics movie, Spawn is the first movie starring an existing black superhero. I’d say that’s a big milestone, but Spawn suffers from the same problem as Steel (released 14 days later). Spawn has over-the-top performances, a dated 90’s soundtrack, horrifically bad CGI, little faithfulness to the source material, filler that distracts from the titular hero, and a baffling PG-13 rating. Only the makeup used on Spawn and his archenemy the Violator have any comic accuracy. Spawn mostly follows CIA operative Al Simmons’ origin of being betrayed by his boss and sent to Hell where a devil turns him into a Hellspawn with a variety of superpowers. Michael Jai White tries his best, but it’s difficult to get excited when his face is always horribly disfigured. Aside from his wife Wanda and daughter Cyan, fellow CIA agent Terry and his killer are both race changed to be white instead of black.

His killer is now a sexy female assassin named Jessica Priest. Martin Sheen plays his overly evil boss Jason Wynn with plans of destroying the world with a deadly bioweapon or something like that. It doesn’t stand out nearly as much as John Leguizamo mugging the camera as the overweight blue-faced clown Violator. We all know how much Michael Jai White hates clowns. This was unfortunately Nicol Williamson’s final role as Spawn’s mentor Cogliostro, but it’s not too insulting. Although they try to recapture McFarlane’s unique art style, the devil Malebolgia, Hell, Violator’s demonic form, and Spawn’s cape are all awful special effects. Until MacFarlane’s reboot escapes development hell, Spawn remains one of the worst superhero movies of the 90’s.

Spawn

Spawn broods

Tra-La-Laaa!

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is packed with action, thrills, and laffs! Although I was 22 at the time, Captain Underpants was something I had to watch in theaters. Unlike the previous DreamWorks Animation movie starring an underwear clad hero released in 2017, I already knew what to expect from Captain Underpants. I’ve been reading Dav Pilkey’s epic novels since middle school. I mostly ignored them in elementary school, but I found them hilarious and relatable when I gave them a chance. Like the main characters, I myself created my own superhero comics at a young age. Knowing they were making a movie was both unexpected and overdue. DreamWorks made The First Epic Movie cheap, but very faithful to the books.

The cartoony drawings are nicely computer animated and the potty humor is very much intact. Your enjoyment of the movie depends on how you feel about the source material. The cast of comedians is fitting, but not at all what I imagined. The adult Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch voice 4th graders George Beard and Harold Hutchins. George is the kid with the tie and the flat top and Harold is the one with the t-shirt and the bad haircut (remember that now). Like the books, they’re best friends who love pranks and making comics at Treehouse Comix Inc. Their crude comics are recreated with fun traditional animation and the “Flip-O-Rama” is even used in a graphic action scene. Ed Helms is a mean, but surprisingly sympathetic principal Mr. Krupp. A romantic subplot is added to humanize him a bit more.

Like the book, Krupp is hypnotized into thinking he’s the greatest superhero of all time! Although Captain Underpants steals the show as a dimwitted superhero, the friendship between George & Harold is the heart of the movie. They hilariously try to keep their principal out of trouble, but a classic villain gets in the way. Unlike his starring book, Professor Poopypants plots to eliminate all laughter. Nick Kroll voices a mean villain, but Jordan Peele voicing the nerdy tattletail Melvin Sneedly is more unexpected. Laughter saves the day and Captain Underpants gains powers in the process. Ending with terrible talking toilets and an appropriate song from Weird Al Yankovic. Captain Underpants will win over the young and the young at heart. “Tra-la-laaa!”

33. Captain Underpants

George and Harold laugh at Captain Underpants