I don’t think it’d be an understatement to say I set my bar of expectations very low for Venom. The 2018 superhero film is based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name, but is from a production company that is still very much estranged from the Marvel Cinematic Universe that has thus far built a reputation for entertaining, well-produced superhero adventures. They aren’t all classics, with some very so-so films on their resume, but, for the most part, I’d say I’ve enjoyed what the MCU has brought to the table, accomplishing the unprecedented feat of creating story-arches that have unfolded across around twenty films now. I think it’s appropriate to say Sony might not be learning the best lesson from all of this in-terms of what will make the best films, however.
Before Sony, at last, bit the bullet and worked out a deal for Spider-Man to appear in the MCU, it’s easy to forget what came before it and what was considered. While the first two Sam Raimi films for Spider-Man were fantastic, Marc Webb’s Spider-Man series was a little too disheveled and uneven to really breakout. While The Amazing Spider-Man 2 made the promise of The Sinister Six, rumblings about a Black Cat film, a Kraven the Hunter film, and even, at one point, an Aunt May film, circulated. Although many of them fell by the wayside, Venom is one of the films from Sony‘s own Spider-Man cinematic universe that has come to fruition. As interesting of an idea as I think a Venom film could make, I was uneasy about the Ruben Fleischer directed flick, especially when I heard about studio interference and that it had been wedged into a PG-13 rating as a way to perform better financially.
With a screenplay by Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner, and Kelly Marcel, the film brings Tom Hardy into the fray, alongside others like Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, and Reid Scott. On it ways to 600 million (as of this writing) from a production budget around 100 million, Sony can be at ease knowing their Marvel adjunct Cinematic Universe is able to tread water. The film follows journalist Eddie Brock as he finds himself latched onto by an alien parasite or symbiote, giving him superhuman abilities as a result. The kicker being that the parasite and its species as a whole have the intent to invade Earth.
Tom Hardy is a very accomplished actor, and one I believe is able to elevate a lot of what he’s involved in. For instance, although I’ve reviewed well-over 200 films, and of them, only two have received a “Perfect” 10 out of 10 score, one of them being the Tom Hardy fronted Mad Max: Fury Road. It isn’t necessarily Hardy’s performance itself in that film, but the way he is presented as an everyman, making it easy to put yourself in his shoes, no matter how chaotic what’s happening on the screen actually is. In this, Eddie Brock has a lot more visible personality than, say, Mad Max, but I wouldn’t single it out as anything that moves the needle in the positive or negative column.
In the film, Tom Hardy plays Eddie Brock competently and gets the job done, whereas the high-concept and the novelty of his relationship with the symbiote are what make the film. Something I feel has plagued a lot of the superhero-genre involves messily strewn together subplots or character-developments. While I definitely liked Venom more than Suicide Squad, it does occasionally feel workman-like in a similar fashion. In Suicide Squad, one of the biggest problems I had was how it felt like the relationships between the characters weren’t developed organically, so when one of the characters tried to claim his teammates had become family, it felt cheap and unearned. Like that, I feel like the relationship between the symbiote and Eddie Brock felt like it didn’t have enough time to properly develop. Likewise, while I wouldn’t necessarily say it was messily strewn together, the antagonist in this film is very much reminiscent of the type of generic bad-guy we’d seen in a superhero film from fifteen-years ago. Riz Ahmed says nothing new as Carlton Drake that we haven’t heard before from other villains, and although the actor brings natural charisma and personality to the role, it doesn’t make him any less generic.
Something benefiting Venom is that, in the sum of its parts, it’s an entertaining film. The action-scenes are entertaining, even if they’re nothing we haven’t seen before and even if it feels like the subject-matter called for sharper fangs. Once again, this is most likely based on financial interest with Sony not wanting to detriment crossovers with Spider-Man later on, but even if it makes sense for them, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take away from the film. Even the edgiest scenes in the film feel neutered and tame when it’s understood the production doesn’t even have the gumption to spill a drop of blood. Obviously, a film doesn’t need gratuitous violence or gore in-order to succeed, but when symbiote’s are shown already chomping off people’s heads, its absence feels difficult to overlook. As said, Tom Hardy does his part, but, more-than-that, it’s entertaining to see the Venom character on the big-screen in a brighter light than his presence in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. It isn’t ideal, it’s more of a straightforward, conventional superhero film from a different era than what I think myself and most fans of the character wanted, which was more of a monster movie about an antihero, but it still has its moments.
The humor mostly falls flat in my opinion, but it wasn’t as cringe-worthy as it could very well have been. Although it might contradict what I said earlier, I don’t actual have an issue with Venom in a PG-13 film or, even, a Venom film with comedic elements. Growing up with the Spider-Man video-game on the PlayStation, I always associated Venom as having comedic traits and I didn’t need to see him destroy everyone in-sight. But it feels like this film wants both worlds and that adds up to a tonally inconsistent execution, self-sabotaging and undermining itself at every turn.
I remember when I left the theater, I remember telling everyone it wasn’t nearly as bad as what I feared. It wasn’t the most enthusiastic of compliments, mind you (and maybe I’ve become jaded or cynical), but I still left it pleasantly surprised. Venom has capable actors delivering competent performances of a flawed, uneven script with a generic antagonist and under-cooked development and story resolution. The action-scenes and special-effects help with a lot of the heavy-lifting, as does the spectacle itself. Is it a film that can tussle with Black Panther or Avengers: Infinity War? Absolutely not, but it at least avoids the Mendoza line, a step above Fantastic Four, Suicide Squad, or the Ninja Turtles. I didn’t mind it.