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Kraven the Hunter has nose-biting, blood-spitting, first hard R-rating for a Sony superhero flick

Is that so Kraven?

Kraven the Hunter stands on a rooftop, smiling slightly, holding a large bullet in his hand, in his open vest crowned with a lion’s mane. His muscles and chest hair are lovingly rendered, in Might Valkyries #2, Marvel Comics (2021). Image: Jaon Aaron, Torunn Grønbekk, Mattia De Iulis/Marvel Comics
Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

Reports from the Sony Pictures panel at Cinemacon are in: Kraven the Hunter will be the company’s first R-rated superhero film. Sony revealed the first footage for the movie, set for release on Oct. 6, to attendees, featuring blood, guts, and the titular supervillain and protagonist biting a poacher’s nose off.

The movie stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass, Avengers: Age of Ultron) in the lead with Russel Crowe as his father, Ariana DeBose as his love interest Calypso (based on the Spider-Man villain), Fred Hechinger as his half-brother Chameleon (based on the Spider-Man villain), and Alessandro Nivola as Rhino (based on the Spider-Man villain).

Taylor-Johnson has described the film’s take on Kraven as being an environmentalist and animal lover — which I guess explains the nose biting thing. As Discussing Film describes it:

“Things kick off with Kraven stopping a group of poachers in the wild who are trying to escape with their bounties of wild animal carcasses. Kraven the Hunter is confirmed to be Sony’s first rated R Marvel film and the footage really shows it, with Kraven killing everyone quite literally like an animal.

“Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Kraven the Hunter uses weapons, his hands, and even his own teeth as he bites a piece of a poacher’s face off and spits out the blood. He also jumps off walls and pounces on foes like an animal. The main conflict of the film is between his father, played by Russell Crowe, who was the one who actually raised him in the extreme ways of hunter vs prey.”

With the actual name of Sergei Kravinoff, Kraven’s traditional comic book raison detre is that it’s his life-long goal to hunt the most dangerous people and best them in honorable single combat whether they like it or not. Created by OG Spider-Man creative team, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, he’s a pure lift of the bloodthirsty Russian aristocrat General Zaroff from Richard Connell’s famous 1924 short story, the title of which is now simply a euphemism for hunting humans for sport: “The Most Dangerous Game,” kitted out in comic book style for the ravenous teen reader of the 1960s.

It’s this motivation that is also the secret of his comic book utility, and therefore his longevity. Although he began his existence by claiming Spider-Man as the most dangerous human quarry in the Marvel Universe (a frankly wild assertion), he’s a villain who can be dropped into nearly any superhero’s story for a breath of fresh air. One month, Kraven can set his sights on Captain America, the peak of human physical potential — in another it’s the Black Panther, who’s basically the same thing but cat-themed — it’s even been Squirrel Girl, queen of the wiliest prey animals in New York City.

Seen from behind, Kraven crouches, laughing, a bloody bowie knife in his left hand. Between his legs, we can see the Black Panther. Kraven is wearing a fur vest, animal stripe gauntlets, and very, very tight leopard print pants. His butt looks like two shrinkwrapped basketballs. From Black Panther #6 (1999).
His appearance in 1999’s Black Panther #6 is, uh, memorable.
Image: Christopher Priest, Joe Jusko/Marvel Comics

And we’re not limited to Marvel here. Batman Beyond rubbed the serial numbers off the idea of Kraven and dropped their own “shirtless guy, bored of killing animals, gotta move up to the coolest humans” villain, calling him Stalker. Underneath his porn stache, leopard print leggings, and open vest made out of a lion’s actual head, Kraven is a bombastic and versatile antagonist.

But it does make one wonder: If we’re changing the character’s core motivation, keeping him siloed away from superheroes, and, as the CinemaCon footage seemed to indicate, not even putting him in a superhero costume — why not just make an original action flick, nose biting and all?