Remember back in the early 2000s when superhero movies were just regaining their legitimacy? After a series of flops the genre was in need of some major fine tuning and the likes of “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” helped revive the genre for a new generation with a combination of campy mind-numbing action, fun villains and humor. Over the years the genre has evolved with filmmakers taking the stories and characters more seriously with more sophisticated and timeless humor. While I love what superhero films have become I do find myself longing for the old days of careless action now and then which is why my take on one of 2018’s most divisive wide released films, “Venom”, may not be on par with the rest of the critics out there. To say this movie has problems would be a small understatement but to say it’s unwatchable would be a gross exaggeration. With so many people weighing in on Sony’s first entry in its proposed “Spider-Verse” I gladly gave “Venom” a watch. Does it stand out as a fun, less serious comic book adaptation or does its dependence on an old formula hold it back? Let’s find out. This is my review of “Venom”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“Venom” is based on the Spider-Man villain-turned-anti-hero of the same name and stars Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock, an investigative reporter in San Francisco who is engaged to a beautiful district attorney named Anne Weying (Michelle Williams). Brock is charged with reporting on the exploits of Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) an inventor who has been performing dangerous experiments behind the scenes leading to several deaths. He has also been using his own rockets to explore the reaches of space leading a crew to return with several lifeforms labeled “symbiotes”. While trying to uncover Drake’s dark secrets Brock inadvertently bonds with one of the symbiotes who calls himself Venom. Brock goes on the run from Drake’s men but soon finds himself embracing the power Venom provides him and bonds with the creature on a more personal level. When a second symbiote named Riot bonds with Drake, Venom and Brock must work together to stop him before he brings an army of symbiotes back to Earth to take over the planet and consume humanity.
Usually I would start with an “Acting” section here, but it’s been brought to my attention that this makes my reviews more tedious to read so for the time being I’m going to lump the acting in with it’s appropriate section starting with this review and the performance of Tom Hardy. While the script does this amazing actor little justice Tom Hardy is as awesome as ever playing both Eddie Brock and Venom. I give Hardy credit for turning quite a few jokes in this film. It’s not often we get to see him stretch his comedic muscles but as we’ve seen before in films like “Inception” he’s usually pretty good at making quips and getting the most out of even the worst written lines. Hardy both Venom and Brock personality. The symbiote describes himself as a “loser” in his race and I found there to be a bit of social awkwardness mixed in with his badass attitude which for me allowed Venom’s personality to shine. On the flip side Eddie Brock is a damaged person we can relate to. He’s not a perfect poster boy like other heroes. He’s a normal person who fits the ante-hero theme this film tries to embrace. “Venom” is truly at its best when we see both Venom and Brock banter back and forth and work off each other, which is kind of neat when you realize it’s Tom Hardy working off Tom Hardy. Even when the two are talking to each other while in the presence of others Hardy showcases the frustration and chaos going on in Brock’s head perfectly which results in some fun misunderstandings. While it’s not the Venom a lot of people probably wanted Tom Hardy’s take on the character is the best part of the film. If nothing else he’s a HUGE step up from Topher Grace’s version from “Spider-Man 3”.
I also enjoyed a lot of the visuals. Most of “Venom” takes place at night, fitting in with the darker aspects of the “Venom” property even if it avoids the R-rating. I loved the design of Venom and the visual effects used to bring him to life were not as bad as I expected. While clearly not as polished as other modern superhero movies they were still pretty cool to look at and made for some awesome shots of Venom forming over Eddie Brock and even some neat moments in the final battle, one of which was featured in the trailers as Venom and Riot are ripping each other off of their hosts. Considering this was all done without a body suit with Venom being computer generated over Hardy’s body through the use of more traditional special effects I was impressed. I enjoyed the design of the Venom character and felt that he was satisfyingly imposing. His facial design is unique but also in keeping with the Venom we known and love from the comics and his body design has creative touches without looking bland. Overall, I liked what they did with the character.
While a lot of people have questioned the tone of this film this to me was not a problem. While it can be hard to get a read on exactly what kind of movie “Venom” wants to be I didn’t mind that it could be dark and brooding one minute and more lighthearted the next. It kept me interested because I felt like every scene was going to be something new even if the story itself was predictable. On the other hand while “Venom” is very much a movie somehow stuck in the early 2000s and I didn’t really mind that either. We get a lot of long-lost clichés including a scene where Venom broods from the top of a building and a lot of mindless action that feels like something out of straight out of “Blade” or “Daredevil”. In an ironic twist this actually works for “Venom” because in today’s world these clichés are now unique. Yes, they’re outdated but because nobody uses this approach anymore “Venom” stands out as the one film still trying to keep these tropes alive. I love that superhero films are more well written and contain substance these days, but I also love that “Venom” takes a step back and offers us the mindless fun we enjoyed when this genre had its rebirth almost two decades ago. What’s old feels new again giving “Venom” the feel of an homage film to the formula that helped make this genre relevant for a new generation. “Venom” is meant to be mindless fun and that’s all it really has to be. Even for those who wanted a R-rating it’s not like “Venom” ditches the violence. Yeah, there’s not a lot of blood, but people get their heads bit off and body parts are broken and turned every witch way. An R-rating may have made these scenes more graphic but I’m not sure it would have improved on anything that really needed to be improved on. It just would have made the visuals more gruesome and I’m not sure this movie truly NEEDED that to work.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
One of “Venom’s” biggest flaws is that the villain is just so…dull. A lot of people were hoping that Carnage would be the villain here and, yes, there is a teaser that promises that villain is close by. However, this first “Venom” feature utilizes a different symbiote, Riot, who is something of a warlord in his race. Like Hardy, Riz Ahmed plays both Riot and its host Carlton Drake but both host and symbiote are just not that fun to watch. Carlton Drake is a horribly underdeveloped and boring human antagonist. It’s clear the writers tried to add something to his character, presenting him as a megalomaniac who believes he is ushering in the future of the human race, but there’s very little real development of who he is beyond his research. Riot isn’t any better serving as nothing more than a wholly evil version of Venom. Even the special effects take a hit when Riot comes into the picture as Venom looks much more convincing while Riot is just a forgettable, generic mess. Riot feels like a filler villain building up to something bigger in the future which isn’t enough when you have such a cool rogues gallery of much better symbiote baddies that Venom could have fought.
The editing for this movie is all over the place too. The actions scenes do have some fun qualities to them and kept me interested but in pretty much every action set piece it was near impossible to determine where anyone was in relation to each other with the final battle between Venom and Riot being the worst offender. The action really is a lot of fun, but it’s so chaotic and there’s so much going on that it really is easy to get lost in the fun. Then there’s the motorcycle chase scene which a lot of people feel is way too long I think I’d agree. It’s that moment where the hero truly gets to stretch his powers for the first time and for much of it just feels like embellishing the chaos and destruction although it does lead to a really cool debut of Venom’s physical form. Overall “Venom” is a fun movie but it’s not a smooth film and definitely could have benefited from bit more focus, polish and better direction.
As I touched on earlier the script also doesn’t do any favors either. It’s obvious that not a lot of thought went into the writing of the dialogue with most of the best lines in the film are handed to Tom Hardy and even the infamous “turd in the wind” line isn’t as bad as it seemed in the trailer because it works with Venom’s established personality by that point. Overall it’s just a bland and forgettable script filled with overused one liners and generic exchanges that come off as criminally uninspired. A lot of great side characters are wasted too including Jenny Slate whose character plays an important role in Brock infiltrating Drake’s compound. Her character for me was a breath of fresh air that ended up being nothing more than a tool to kick start the plot. Michelle Williams’ character, Brock’s love interest Anne, actually feels like she’s forced into the action and the way she works into the finale is incredibly reminiscent of how Gwen Stacy was shoehorned in the end of “The Amazing Spider-man 2” (another Sony product by the way). She is utilized in a neat bit of fan service to add some sex appeal but otherwise becomes the generic “love interest who can hold her own” architype with little else brought to the table to help her stand out.
So, I’m in the middle with “Venom”. It’s probably the one movie of 2018 that I really enjoyed, but I understand why people are hating it too. There’s a lot that could have been improved on, yes. The story is messy, the script is bland, many of the smaller characters are underutilized or poorly developed, and the villain especially is completely generic. The actions scenes are a lot of fun even if the editing needs work. Tom Hardy is great as Venom and the character is suitably violent even without an R-rating which I honestly don’t believe would have made this film any better in my humble opinion. I think with this movie it all depends on what you’re looking for. In an age where superhero films are being taken more seriously “Venom” chooses to be a little more goofy and old school which, as odd as it is to say, makes it a breath of fresh air in a crowded genre that seems to have forsaken the formulas that helped it become a relevant force in cinema in the early 2000s. “Venom” is a harmless and pleasant flashback to a bygone era where comicbook movies were all about the fun and the visuals and less about the substance. On the flip side though, filmmakers worked hard to make superhero movies more legitimate and groundbreaking and “Venom” can feel disrespectful to that cause. So, on one hand “Venom” is a fun homage to the genre’s past, and on the other it’s a step backwards in the wrong direction. It’s this fact that makes this film destined to remain divisive, but for me it’s a movie I can’t wait to enjoy again even if I can’t help but long for something much better realized from the inevitable sequels still to come.