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Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3 is widely viewed as one of the worst cinematic outings for the web crawler. Similar to the X-Men series that started out strong for the first two outings but failed to close properly, Spider-Man 3 proved to be a disappointing entry that eventually led to a reboot of the franchise. One of the biggest failures in a film overstuffed with villains was the portrayal of Venom. While many feel Topher Grace was woefully miscast as Eddie Brock, one of the actor's co-stars defended his performance. Actor Thomas Haden Church, who played Sandman in the film, had this to say about Topher Grace's Venom:
The studio felt like they had me, they had Franco's story continuing, and they were like, we need one more that's more of a millennial. And that's how Venom and Topher Grace came into the picture. And by the way, I thought Topher was great in the movie and Venom is a pretty scary animal. And that was the evolution of that. I was thrilled, man.
Thomas Haden Church's assessment of the studio's thinking here is interesting. The way he phrases it while speaking to JoBlo, he makes it sound very much like the studio's thinking was that it would need another villain to represent a different demographic versus adding the character because that is what the story called for. Frankly, that's sort of how Venom felt in the film. The character seemed tacked on more out of obligation than any narrative reason. Thomas Haden Church's Sandman had a real emotional arc, but it was as if they studio felt he wasn't flashy enough alone. Personally, I found Topher Grace somewhat cheesy in the role, but given the tone of the rest of the film, I have to think that this was more a directorial choice than any sort of failure on the actor's part. Topher Grace did what he could with what he was given, and he wasn't necessarily bad, he just didn't feel like Eddie Brock.
Spider-Man 3's failure was not due to any one single element, but a myriad of factors that combined to crush the film under their weight, including too many villains, a mishandled Gwen Stacy and the cringe-inducing Emo Peter Parker. I think that Topher Grace's Venom stands out in such a negative way because of the love and excitement people have about the character. Venom, while not necessarily being the most complex villain in history, looks incredibly cool, and realizing that on film was an exciting prospect. Venom is the kind of character that you're immediately sold on as a kid as soon as you see him. Sadly, Venom was something of an afterthought in Spider-Man 3, and many fans would have preferred Venom as the main or only villain.
Comic book film history is full of missteps and outright disasters, with Topher Grace's Venom and Spider-Man 3 among them. But each of these missteps provides a lesson for future comic book films. Venom will get another chance to live up to fan expectations this fall when the character returns to the big screen with Tom Hardy taking on the role of Eddie Brock. This time, the character will not be getting second billing either. Instead of squaring off with Spider-Man, Venom will be going full anti-hero as the star of the film. If nothing else, the Spider-Man 3 portrayal of Venom looked cool for the time, and hopefully the symbiote suit will look even more frightening and awesome a decade later. Venom hits theaters on October 5.