Oscar nominee Tom Hardy will portray the comic book anti-hero Venom in Sony's first-ever feature-length "Spider-Man" spin-off, the studio announced on Friday.
The casting comes at a critical time for the studio's franchise based on the Marvel Comics' flagship wall-crawler. After its first reboot of the series foundered, Sony Pictures cut a deal in 2015 to merge Spider-Man with Marvel Studios' massively popular cinematic universe that features the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy.
In casting Hardy as the long-time Spider-Man rival, Sony has secured a critically acclaimed actor to play a dark, multi-layered fan-favorite. The character derives his powers — and his villainous streak — from a living, symbiotic alien that takes the form of a black costume, imbuing its host with abilities similar to Spider-Man's.
"I don't think there's anybody out there who can play this character so perfectly and so brilliantly," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore.
While Hardy often plays intense characters, he has remarkable range, he said.
This will not be Hardy's first turn as a comic book villain. He played the terrorist Bane in "The Dark Knight Rises," the 2012 finale to Christopher Nolan's acclaimed Batman trilogy.
Venom first showed up on the silver screen in 2007 in "Spider-Man 3." The portrayal by "That 70s Show" star Topher Grace is widely regarded as one of the weakest parts of the original Spidey trilogy.
News that Hardy would portray Venom quickly became a trending topic on Twitter, adding to the social media wind at Sony's back. In April, the latest trailer for its upcoming "Spider-Man: Homecoming" generated massive buzz.
"With several moves they can turn this around," Dergarabedian said. "If the Sony-based Marvel universe starts casting actors and actresses of this caliber and on this level and with this kind of reputation, you are literally building on the backs of these actors and actresses a really strong foundation."
Production for "Venom" begins this fall. The film is slated to premiere in October 2018. The studio is in final negotiations with "Zombieland" director Ruben Fleischer to helm the film, according to The Hollywood Reporter.