Warning: Minor spoilers ahead
So, I just got home from seeing Venom and I’m sat here typing, at my computer, desperately trying to think about how to approach this. The answer should be simple: I want to do a review of the new Venom movie starring Tom Hardy. The issue is that I feel to properly explain how I feel, I need to unpack a lot of thoughts because, in all honesty, I’m still sitting here trying to make sense of my own feelings of the movie myself and complicated doesn’t begin to define it. For now, I’m going to start with a talk about Venom himself, which should hopefully give you an idea of where I’m coming from.
When I was doing research for the Spider-man Renew your Vows blogs, I made a startling discovery. According to the sales data recorded on this comicscube’s article (http://www.comicscube.com/2018/01/renew-your-vows-sales-analysis.html), Venom sold the most comics out of any other comic in the Spider family. On the one hand, this made perfect sense to me: Venom is a popular character and his comic featured a dramatic return of Eddie Brock to the moniker, complete with a dramatic renumbering to #150, counting various other previous Venom stories to construct an, admittedly, superficial milestone.
On the other hand, however, I really don’t understand the appeal of Venom as a leading character.
That might sound like a bad thing, but it’s not necessarily. I mean, I feel the same way about Harley Quinn.
Okay, I’m definitely not helping myself here and I’ve probably got a few readers glaring at their screens so let me explain what I mean.
Venom is a brilliant character: a dark reflection of everything Spider-man stands for and a fantastic villain to serve as his opposite and equal. The symbiote’s rejection by Spider-man makes it bitter and Eddie Brock is a rival to Peter in most senses of the word. Together, they make for a brilliant villain with a vendetta on our friendly neighbourhood web-slinger.
Yet, personally, that is the only way in which I find Venom interesting. Don’t get me wrong, Venom’s cool and terrifying in the hands of the right writer and artist, but Venom also only has also a surface level interest to me. There are so many ‘edgy’ Spider-man clones that Venom blends in so well with but apart from that, I don’t find much depth in the character or much interest in following his own life except for in the ways it relates to Eddie Brock and the symbiote’s deep obsession to Spider-man and their complicated relationship with him and each other. This is the same way I look at Harley Quinn: a great companion piece to the Joker, sure, but all by herself, she’s…okay at best, and incredibly annoying at worst.
Now, of course, this is only my opinion, and I know that the two characters are still quite popular and beloved regardless of my thoughts, but my view on Venom as a character definitely colours my perception of this movie walking in. Even more so because it didn’t take more from Flash Thompson’s ‘Agent Venom’ idea, because that is pure gold.
Another of my views which immediately colours this review is the fact that I am instantly against Sony’s ‘Spider-verse’. After booting Sam Raimi out of the directors chair and orchestrating their own set of appalling Amazing Spider-man Movies, Sony may have loaned out Spider-man to their opponents at Marvel Studios, but the effort has clearly been tactless one, the studio leeching off of the Universe’s success and movie making skill with Homecoming, whilst simultaneously milking the franchise for all its worth with their own single film ideas. Whilst, in theory, I have no problem with more Spider-man movies, such as the new Spider-verse movie coming out, which looks pretty interesting at least, I take a great deal of issue with Sony’s other worldbuilding efforts.
Sony’s new live-action ‘Spider-verse’ means bringing in minor members of Spider-man’s supporting cast, such as Black Cat and Silver Sable, and trying to build their own ‘rival’ universe to Marvel’s featuring these characters. If you haven’t seen the flaw with this plan, you clearly haven’t actually asked anyone if they wanted to see a Silver Sable movie and seen the lack of recognition in their eyes (like, she’s awesome, don’t get me wrong, but again, not main character material unless they literally re-made Atomic Blonde).
Venom is the first step in this that Sony call their ‘Marvel Universe’, a term that makes me shiver in revulsion. Whilst I accept that all entertainment primarily exists to make money, Marvel Studios seem to do so with an effort and energy that much like their parent company, Disney, makes me at least believe they care about producing a good product rather than turning a profit. Sony have yet to win that level of trust with me in anything but their gaming software, which as spectacular as it is, does not sadly entice me to want a Spider-man universe separate from the MCU.
So with all that out of the way, it’s easy to see that I was not the intended target for Venom, nor did I go into the movie particularly wanting to enjoy it. The following review, therefore, is heavily biased so do take that with a pinch of salt as we dive in.
Venom is a mess.
But Venom is a bloody fun mess.
The story, as one might guess, starts with Eddie Brock, played by Tom Hardy, as an former investigative reporter whose life was ruined after tangling with Billionaire Carlton Drake (Riz Amhed) and his Life Foundation. Upon getting pulled into the machinations of the corrupt foundation once more, Brock finds himself infected by the alien symbiote known as Venom. Together, the pair begin to weave their way through a chaotic chase, evading Drake’s attempts to capture them whilst trying to rebuild Brock’s relationship with his ex-fiancee, Anne Weyling (Michelle Williams).
From the outset, Venom is a very conflicted film. It’s tone is muddled between being the dark and gritty horror-action film Sony sold the film as and being a comedic superhero flick, emulating the MCU. Venom is a movie that clearly wants to be a part of the MCU but is forcibly shackled to its own little corner and really struggling to carve out a unique identity for itself in the process. The blend of horror and surreal comedy doesn’t make for a chilling iconic horror so much as it does for, as the critics are saying, just another superhero movie.
The acting ranges from decent to hammy all the way, with Tom Hardy yo-yoing between the two points at any one time. I think Hardy is a decent actor myself, but if you don’t like him and you’re looking for a film to fall in love with him in, Venom is not that movie. The action is relatively mixed too, with creative fight scenes dropping into confusing unclear darkness or confusing CGI muddy puddle fights at any given notice. The musical score is really split down the middle too, zipping between tense horror music and the obnoxious noise of rap, though Eminem’s ending theme is a guilty pleasure.
Venom’s main sin, on the whole, seems to be how generic it is, how stereotypical ‘blockbuster’ the entire package feels. In all honesty, however, I think that the general consensus of critics are being far too hard on the film. Sure, Venom isn’t as good as an MCU movie but it’s a far-cry from most of the DCEU. It’s a stupid, loud romp that isn’t very well thought-out but every negative point I’ve pointed out above, there’s a positive somewhere.
Despite it’s less than stellar mesh of tones and the fact that it really is a dumb movie at times, Venom is also hilarious, mixing dark humour with just some plain good banter between Eddie and his symbiote. There are a few creative set-pieces in the film that really pay off, the flat fight and bike chase scene being the first that come to mind. The film also allows for some of more quiet moments, mostly little scenes between Eddie and Venom, and these are the moments where Venom’s true potential shines through and flexes its main strength: it’s amazing characters.
Eddie Brock is as true to his comic-book self as possible, meaning he’s a self-obsessed jerk with a heart of gold. Anne Weyling is a decent love interest but Hardy and Williams have chemistry enough to make their romance at least mildly interesting. The big surprise of the movie, for me, was the character of Carlton Drake. Whilst he’s exactly like every rich super-villain you’d expect from your superhero movie, Riz Amhed does a fantastic job of giving the character a lot of natural charm, charisma and depth. Despite being an evil detestable man, Amhed’s performance makes you believe that Drake is genuinely meaning for the best, only to be led astray by his pursuit of power and, also, evil alien symibotes. Another great surprise was Reid Scott as Dan Lewis, Anne’s new boyfriend during the movie. Despite the obvious fact that Brock and Anne are the end-game of the film/series, it’s really nice that Dan is actually a likeable person and genuinely tries to help Brock, instead of being like every other love triangle third wheel ever.
The true star of the movie though is the Venom symbiote itself. Venom is a highlight of his own movie, always fun, cool and even sometimes, intimidating. The symbiote creates a majority of the humour in the movie and the reason why so many of the action set-pieces work so well. He’s even one of the more well-rounded characters, fully confessing to Eddie that he was a loser too on his home planet, something that becomes more and more obvious when you look back at the film and realise that for as terrifying powerful as Venom is, he’s also an awkward eager little child.
In a way, I feel that this characterisation of Venom himself is the main crux of why this movie is so flawed.
A big problem with the idea of adapting to Venom to the big screen like this is that despite being pictured as a darker version of Spider-man, Venom is also a product of the raw teenage angst that was becoming prolific in the late 80’s/early 90’s comics, where ‘edgy’ reinterpretations of superheroes were coming into focus. Because of that, the Venom of the comics is definitely terrifying in his own right, but his constant platitudes of ‘eating brains’ and his wicked sense of humour can sometimes come off as more juvenile than anything else. If anyone doubts me on this assessment, I eagerly urge you to play or watch cutscenes from the original Spider-man PS1 game, where Venom starts the game as an antagonist kidnapping Mary Jane and slandering Spider-man but quickly devolves into the main and best comic relief in the whole game.
This varied portrayal makes Venom a hard character to do right in any media. He’s either got to be that completely terrifying spectre and beast of a villain that hunts Spider-man, or the goofball idiot and good-hearted guy that Brock and the symbiote have the potential to be. Venom tries for both and as such, is all the poorer for it.
The result we receive is a movie desperately wanting to be good, desperately wanting to be its own thing and desperately trying to be Venom, only to stumble at each hurdle. The Venom of the movie quickly turns from anti-hero to flat out hero, with both Eddie and Venom wanting to save the world and being relatively good people by the end, despite their clear dark nature. True, the brain eating is a little over the top but Anne and the other characters don’t seem to react much to it, which really lessens the ‘dark’ effect.
All in all, Venom is littered with problems and a very flawed property, but I came out having had fun and the movie was entertaining enough that I wouldn’t mind watching it again. Its mindless fluff but it’s good mindless fluff. For Sony though, I’d still consider this a failure as a start of their spider-verse. As much as I wanted a Venom movie, this film has shown that I want Venom in the Spider-man universe more.
So, simply put, Venom is dumb but fun. If you fancy a fun little romp with a ‘dark’ character, give it a look. If not, don’t be afraid to give Venom a miss.
Also, Woody Harrelson in the end scene as Cletus Kassidy is so bad, but he looks hilarious in his bright red wig, so that alone is kind of worth the price of admission.
And can we please stop re-using symbiotes? They’re in almost every Spider-man story and it’s getting kind of old. Leave them alone or at least do something new with it. Something like…