I don’t think many people are going to be shocked to hear that Venom isn’t a good movie. Since its announcement, people have been writing it off as a disaster destined to continue Sony’s atrocious track record of mishandling their Spider-Man properties. Marvel stepped in and gave us Spider-Man: Homecoming, and while it wasn’t really my thing, it was still a million times better than Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Back in 2014, Sony was announcing Spider-Man spinoffs left and right that was supposed to take place in the Andrew Garfield Spidey world.
They wanted to have what Marvel had with their cinematic universe, but Marvel took time and care bringing their ambitious works to life; Sony had no idea how to pull it off back then, and it looks like the same can be said about now. That Sinister Six spinoff that was heavily teased never happened. Felicity Jones never got to star in that Black Cat film. Four years later, Sony is trying to launch a new Spider-Man connected universe, but this time without Spider-Man. It’s a stupid idea, but if they’re going to be stupid enough to do it, the smart thing would be to use a fairly recognizable character that has the most in common with Spider-Man, both aesthetically and ability-wise. So here we are with Venom starring Tom Hardy, with no Spider-Man in sight. The action is dumb, the plot is weak, and the story is pitiful. Venom is a bad movie, yet surprisingly I still loved the hell out of it.
“…the alien specimen…gives him a serious case of split personality disorder, severe hunger pains, and pretty neat superpowers…”
Forgive me while I turn off my critical brain for a moment and fanboy out a bit, but Venom was an absolute delight. I fell in love with the character during the 90’s when he starred in the solo Lethal Protector series. That 90’s comic book run didn’t need Spider-Man in order to be entertaining, and neither did this movie. The movie nailed the relationship between Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock and the symbiote known as Venom. Brock is a character that wants to be a good guy, but he lacks the clear sense of justice and compassion that his arch-nemesis Spider-Man has. Venom is a deranged and violent alien who constantly battles Brock’s desire be a paragon of virtue. The pair struggles to maintain a delicate balance, and that struggle is often very compelling and incredibly humorous.
I feel like this take on Venom will confuse a significant portion of its casual audience. Not to sound elitist, but I feel like Venom is one of those characters that people gravitate to simply because of his design. It’s pretty iconic with the long slimy tongue, the tendrils, and the giant mouth of razor sharped teeth. There’s more to the character than its design, however. Venom is an oddball. His humor is odd and fairly sadistic. He’s dumb but powerful. He has a lot of similarities to the Hulk, another character I grew up adoring. Brock has a monster in him, and he’s constantly trying to keep that monster at bay just like Bruce Banner. Some people won’t take to the humor and they might feel that the split personality stuff is ridiculous and jarring. I’ve seen people complain about the infamous “Turd in the wind” monologue in the trailer. This is absolutely something Venom would say. When I first heard that line I felt that Venom could be something special, and in that aspect, it was.
“I was entertained and utterly fascinated by every second of it.”
Now that the fanboy part of me has been put away, the film critic in me has a lot of issues with this piece of s**t movie. The film opens up with a spacecraft crashing, and some symbiote specimens escape. Riz Ahmed plays Carlton Drake, the evil CEO of the equally evil Life Foundation. After Brock does some shady investigation into mysterious deaths and disappearances within the homeless community, his life is effectively ruined. To make matters worse, he becomes infected with one of the alien specimens, and it gives him a serious case of split personality disorder, severe hunger pains, and pretty neat superpowers including super strength and limited invulnerability. You can guess where the rest of the movie goes; it’s painfully formulaic and senseless.
Ahmed is a great actor who does his best here, but there’s just not enough to his character. There are hints and nods to his motivations, but nothing is actually fleshed out. Jenny Slate plays Dr. Skirth, a conflicted Life Foundation scientist that whistle blows the ethically questionable things happening at her place of work. Her part is minor and Slate’s enthralling personality is wasted here. I adore Michelle Williams, but she’s bland and terrible as Anne Weying, Eddie Brock’s on-and-off again love interest and an important character in the comics. Unfortunately, it seems like Williams is trying to copy Jessica Alba’s boring and monotone performance from the mid-2000’s The Fantastic Four movies. It’s a real bummer to see her struggle so much.
The rest of the characters are pretty inconsequential, there are no distractingly horrendous performances of note, but there’s nothing stellar here with the exception of Tom Hardy. Like I said before, there are some people that are going to be confused and may be turned off by Tom Hardy’s take on Eddie Brock. He has a thick New York accent that’s pretty weird, and he plays Brock with an incredibly passive personality. It’s all really silly, but it just worked for me. I was entertained and utterly fascinated by every second of it. The film has some hilarious moments (mostly from Venom’s internal monologue berating Brock for being a loser) and the audience I saw it with was roaring with laughter. It was great seeing it with people who could just shut their brains off for a bit and enjoy the ride. This was a fun movie, and it only works because Tom Hardy is so damned good. Once Brock is infected with the symbiote (Don’t call him a parasite, it’s insulting!), he plays his part like a psychotic crack head. He’s twitchy, schizophrenic, sweaty, and it looks like he hasn’t slept since…well, ever. Venom playing with Brock’s shattered mind is a joy to witness, and I can’t praise Hardy enough for successfully pulling it off.
If you’re on the fence about this one, it’s probably a good idea to skip it. Even as a huge fan of the character I’m more than willing to admit this movie is pretty crappy. Still, if you’re curious and you want to see some Nic Cage levels of batshit insanity, grab yourself a ticket and some popcorn and have a fun time. The critic in me wanted to cross his arms and huff about the absurdities and roll his eyes at the played out superhero conventions, but the nerd in me wanted to soak in every second of it. I hope there’s a sequel. I hope Sony and Marvel can make some deal where we get to see Hardy’s Venom interact with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. I’d love to see more of the character, and in that regard, Sony’s Venom is an absolute win in my book.
Venom (2018) Directed by Ruben Fleischer. Written by Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner, Kelly Marcel, and Will Beal. Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate, Scott Haze, Emilio Rivera, Reid Scott
7 out of 10