We Are Venom
'Venom 2' redefines Eddie and Venom’s relationship in one revolutionary way
“I am out of the Eddie closet!”
Venom: Let There Be Carnage’s trailer was the first hint that this sequel would not only be different but also better.
In the Venom 2 teaser trailer, the infamous Symbiote makes an over-the-top, messy breakfast for a forlorn Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy). To some, it’s merely a funny, “bromantic” scene. But for the Symbrock fandom, which ships Eddie and Venom as a romantic couple, it was fan art brought to life.
While the 2018 big-screen adaptation of Venom was a critical flop, it was also a fan favorite that eventually pulled in $850 million at the box office worldwide. Critics cited the movie’s silly nature as its strongest attribute (or its weakest), but there was another aspect to Venom that fans gravitated toward: its queer subtext.
During Venom’s theatrical run, the studio leaned into this burgeoning fandom, releasing a recut rom-com themed trailer. Years later, the first trailer for Venom: Let There Be Carnage fueled fan hopes that Venom’s queer subtext would be more evident in its sequel.
What could have remained as queerbaiting became the impetus for the second film, said director Andy Serkis, who described the film as a “love affair.” Tom Hardy (who plays the dual roles of Venom and Eddie and has producing and story credits) attributes the sequel’s trajectory to listening to what fans loved about the first film. Although Hardy’s comments are vaguer than Serkis’, screenwriter Kelly Marcel’s interview with Vulture implies precisely which fans the filmmakers listened to.
By further exploring the dynamics of their symbiotic relationship, the filmmakers take what was merely subtext in the first film and make it text. Through Venom and Eddie’s domestic situation, they form a deeper partnership beyond the vigilante roots of the first film. In leaning into this aspect of their relationship, Venom: Let There Be Carnage not only vindicates the Symbrock fandom but also lays the groundwork for greater queer representation in mainstream genre cinema.
Major spoilers for Venom: Let There Be Carnage ahead.
Venom and Eddie’s relationship
As Venom: Let There Be Carnage begins, Venom acts as a balm, nursing Eddie’s broken heart. After losing Anne (Michelle Williams) in the first film and learning of her engagement to Dan (Reid Scott), Venom comforts Eddie lamenting, “I’m sorry I can't mend a broken heart. Emotional pain lasts longer.”
This tender moment is followed by a manic Venom making a heartfelt breakfast for their domestic partner. Venom has embraced the nature of their relationship, while Eddie remains distant, unwilling to accept their relationship as a partnership, not just a parasitic one.
Early in the film, Venom uses their super-alien intellect to help Eddie crack a mystery in Cletus’ (Woody Harrelson) case, expediting the serial murder’s fatal sentence. Feeling sympathy for causing the man’s ultimate demise, Eddie agrees to visit him. When Cletus turns violent, Venom’s overprotective nature causes an altercation during which Cletus bites them. Cletus consumes Eddie and Venom’s combined blood, in turn, birthing Carnage.
However, Carnage’s conception remains unknown to the couple, who argue over the incident when they return home to their apartment. As the spat turns to a straight-up fight, Venom reminds Eddie, “I made you special.” Venom demands Eddie get out of the apartment in a huff, throwing his stuff out the window and eventually destroying his Ducati like a scorned lover.
It’s time to take the subtext and make it text.
Serkis and Hardy fuse the energy of an action set piece with the comic timing of romantic comedy, leaning heavily into the cinematic imagery of defenestration generally reserved for heterosexual domestic squabbles. On the one hand, many could consider this sequence too on the nose. On the other hand, it directly recalls the imagery seen in Symbrock fan art.
Similarly reliant on fan art, when Venom leaves Eddie to search for a new host — and some human brains — Venom finds themselves at an EDM rave. The Symbrock fandom is rife with imagery of Venom and Eddie in pride-like situations. In this sequence, Venom fully embraces their freedom, declaring themselves “out of the Eddie closet” while implying Eddie kept them hidden because he was ashamed of them.
Again, many could read this as too obvious. But when viewed as a commentary on the current situation of queer representation in genre films, it exudes a deeper meaning. Its queer fans embraced the first film’s subtext. By making their relationship text in Venom: Let There Be Carnage, have the filmmakers laid the groundwork for even fuller representation?
Science fiction and queer subtext
Let’s look at why Venom: Let There Be Carnage feels so revolutionary within the parameters of the mainstream genre space.
In 2016, Star Trek Beyond earned a GLAAD nomination for the approximately 15 seconds it allocated for Sulu and his partner. Ryan Reynolds promises he’s pushing to explore Deadpool’s supposed bisexuality. Still, so far, the most we’ve seen in two films is some heavy flirting while the character remains in a mainly straight-presenting relationship. Tessa Thompson plays Valkyrie as bisexual, but Marvel cut a scene where a female lover exits her bedroom from the film.
To quote one of my favorite memes: Why not both?
When Venom debuted in 2018, there was a hunger for more obvious queer representation in genre cinema. Despite many breakdowns of the film’s queerness and queer reads of the comics’ version of Venom, a quick scroll of the property’s Wikipedia pages shows a reticence to label their pairing as queer representation.
Many critics still refer to the relationship at Venom’s center as a “bromance.” Some even go so far as to refer to the display of their domesticity as “desperate,” Venom’s coming-out scene as a toothless “joke,” or that Venom’s speech is there for fanboys to make fun of. Is it still a joke if the Symbrock fandom isn’t laughing?
Curiously, this bizarre reception to the Venom: Let There Be Carnage embracing its queerness comes off the heels of Anthony Mackie’s unfortunate comments about the shipping of his character and Bucky in Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Shipping straight-presenting characters is nothing new, but as we move towards a more open society, it’s time to take the subtext and make it text.
For example, Oscar Isaac was more than willing to play his Star Wars character, Poe Dameron, as queer. Yet, this natural progression was dismissed by director J.J. Abrams, stating Poe’s relationship with Finn (John Boyega) was a “far deeper one than a romantic one.” To quote one of my favorite memes: Why not both?
One solution, it seems, is more queer people at the helm of projects. When fans of NBC’s Hannibal picked up queer vibes between Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) and Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), creator Brian Fuller, who is openly gay, embraced what the fans wanted and then some. Fuller’s deliberate choice to show a deep connection between the two men on both intellectual and sexual levels still feels revolutionary more than six years after the network unceremoniously pulled the plug halfway through its third season.
In 2018’s Venom, the closest textual manifestation of its queerness is the pansexual kiss between Anne (whose body Venom has commandeered) and Eddie. The fluidity of this relationship is explored further in Let There Be Carnage’s climactic finale as Anne, Dan, Eddie, and Venom fight the film’s antagonists Carnage and Cletus.
They both use the word l-o-v-e. That’s text, baby.
Through their misalignment, Carnage and Cletus prove not to be a perfect match as the symbiote attempts to hurt Cletus’ true love Shriek (Naomie Harris). The group combines their skills to defeat them. Venom slides from Dan to Anne to Eddie in one memorable sequence, taking the first film’s throuple into a full-blown foursome.
Eddie and Venom must flee San Francisco as the film ends, now fully embracing their vigilante persona, the Lethal Protector. Next, we see them watching an idyllic rosy-colored sunset on a tropical beach, where Eddie finally admits that Venom brings the best out of him. The subtext becomes full text as Venom declares to a blushing Eddie, “when you love someone, you accept them as a whole person. Nobody’s perfect.” They both use the word l-o-v-e. That’s text, baby.
Venom 2 revolutionizes superhero movies
So, what does this mean for genre films going forward? Well, Brian Tyree Henry’s character Phastos in Chloé Zhao’s Eternals, due in theaters this November, has been hyped as Marvel’s first openly gay character in a film. It took nearly ten years for Marvel Studios to confirm the bisexuality of Tom Hiddleston's Loki, and then only once the character was on a streaming show.
The studio also has another bite at the apple with Thompson’s Valkyrie in Thor: Love and Thunder, slated to be released in May 2022. Thompson and Captain Marvel’s Brie Larson have continued to engage with queer fan art shipping the two characters. So, fingers crossed, director Taika Waititi leans into Valkyrie’s bisexuality this time around.
As for Venom: Let There Be Carnage, the mid-credits scene continues the honeymoon vibes. Like many a piece of fan art, they’re seen in bed together watching a telenovela, prompting Venom to share that they love the drama of deeply hidden secrets and saying, “We all have a past.”
Intrigued, Eddie asks what Venom’s been hiding from him. In letting Eddie into Venom’s symbiote hive mind, the couple is accidentally transported directly into the Spider-verse and Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the MCU’s reluctance to tell queer stories, despite a dearth of supposedly queer characters, it’s not easy to have faith there won’t be any backsliding.
If Tom Holland is ready for a bisexual Spider-Man, then the studio ought to be prepared as well. When Eddie and Venom’s story picks back up in the next film, let’s hope Marvel doesn’t try to put the queer genie back in the bottle.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is now playing in theaters.