Venom Review: 5 Ways It Rocks And 5 Ways It Doesn’t
Ever since the first trailer was released without a glimpse of the title character, Tom Hardy’s Venom movie has received some pretty mixed reactions from both comic book fans and moviegoers. It’s not a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the word “symbiote” is pronounced incorrectly, and it didn’t seem like the Venom character was even going to be in it. The response has warmed slightly as more Venom-heavy trailers have come out, but the climate is still pretty sour. So, how did the actual movie itself turn out? It, too, is a mixed bag. Here are 5 things that are great about the movie and 5 things that aren’t so great.
10. There’s not enough Venom action
Well, first off, here’s the good news: the Venom in this movie is worlds more interesting and faithful to the comics than the Topher Grace travesty from 2007’s franchise killer Spider-Man 3. Here’s the bad news: it’s not perfect. It’s not the shocking, gory, ultraviolent affair that a truly faithful Venom movie would be, but it’s also not the softcore, half assed, schlocky family movie that it could’ve been, being a $100 million studio blockbuster. Director Ruben Fleischer has claimed that he was inspired to depict the Venom character in the way that he did in the movie by this quote from the comic books: “You’re Eddie Brock. I’m the symbiote. Together, we are Venom.” That’s essentially how the character comes off in the movie. This adaptation nails the Eddie Brock/Venom relationship from the comics. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see an awful lot of Venom. We hear a lot of his voice in Eddie’s head, but there is a serious lack of Venom action. We’ll see him jump around the streets for two seconds and then he’ll turn right back into Eddie. The look of Venom is realized perfectly by the CGI. It’s just a shame that we don’t get to see an awful lot of him.
9. It works as a standalone movie
A lot of the worst superhero movies of the past few years – like Iron Man 2, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, to name a few – have failed because they have gone out of their way to set up a big, shared universe of movies and characters. The worst scenes in those movies had nothing to do with the movies themselves. They brought in characters that had nothing to do with the plot, but were going to lead their own movies in the coming years. While those scenes do help to set up future installments, they’re no good for the movies they’re actually in. They stop them dead and they spoil their rewatchability. While the producers have stated that Venom has been made in an attempt to kick off a new cinematic universe for Sony to fill with all of the little known Marvel Comics characters that they have the rights to, the movie works wonderfully as a standalone piece. It does have that new franchise smell and there is a post credits scene that teases the plot of a potential future sequel, there is nothing in this movie that does not serve its own story and characters. It’s not trying to set up anything in the future, and because of that, nothing slows it down and it will stand rewatches in the years to come.
8. The comedy moments are a mixed bag
Eddie Brock clearly learned some lessons from his comic book friends – namely the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Merc with a Mouth, and Thor – and filled his movie with moments of humor. And don’t forget that humor doesn’t have to be a substitute for darkness. Christopher Nolan’s darkly themed Batman movies are without laughs, but that doesn’t mean that he couldn’t have made the movies just as dark and gritty with some moments of humor in them. That’s what Venom does. It utilizes a lot of dark humor, particularly when director Ruben Fleischer juxtaposes something sinister like a moment of violence or body horror with something funny. He was the right guy for the job – his comedies Zombieland and 30 Minutes or Less both have their fair share of gallows humor – but some of the comedy doesn’t land. The comedy that doesn’t land is the lighter stuff. The moments of dark comedy work brilliantly, but the moments of lighter comedy don’t work so well. It comes off as kind of corny and easy. So, it’s not a consistently funny movie – not that it’s a comedy or anything – and some of the humor doesn’t land, but there are plenty of amusing moments to enjoy.
7. It has some important messages
Ever since the current President took office, every movie has been trying to slip in some backhanded political subtext and it often makes you roll your eyes, because it is too preachy or on the nose or heavy handed. In Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, for example, there was a bad guy with a silly hairpiece flapping around and a henchman who used the term “nasty woman.” Very subtle, guys. Venom does have messages in it, but they are important messages and they are handled pretty well. Eddie Brock’s quest for the truth as a journalist and his firing for it says a lot about this current administration’s threat to the freedom of the press. Plus, Carlton Drake and the Life Foundation’s use of poor people as test subjects carries an important message about class and how the economically disadvantaged can be exploited by rich and powerful people. The fact that one of these test subjects is black is also very telling, and makes a subtle comment about race without making it explicit. The only part of the subtext that seems a little on the nose is one comment that Drake makes about “fake news,” but other than that, for a studio blockbuster, this movie has a lot to say.
6. The movie has its share of WTF moments
Every movie should have moments that surprise you. It’s actually one of its duties. There should be a few moments in every movie that subvert your expectations and genuinely catch you by surprise. But there’s a limit. There is a fine line between a surprising, subversive, engaging moment and a resoundingly batshit WTF moment. Venom has a lot of moments that defy your expectations, but some of those moments take it too far. And then it can have the adverse effect – it’s so far from what you were expecting to find in the movie that it takes you out of it and you start to wonder what the hell’s going on and it reminds you that you’re watching a movie, which is the worst thing a movie can do. For example, an oddly sexy female Venom is not what you expect to find in this movie, and so it comes as a surprise (and an interesting one at that) when it happens. But to then have the bodacious girl Venom start passionately kissing Eddie Brock is a step too far. That’s when a surprising moment turns into a WTF moment. There’s a few moments like that and it dampens the experience.
5. It pushes the boundaries of the PG-13 rating
A lot of fans were disappointed when it was announced that Venom would be arriving in theaters with a PG-13 rating. Since it’s a movie about an antihero who likes to eat people and is motivated more by a thirst for blood than a desire for justice, a lot of comic book devotees had been hoping that the movie would go the route of its cousins Deadpool and Logan and strive for that hard R rating. But while the producers went for a family friendly PG-13 rating, they certainly didn’t go for family friendly visuals. Although it will upset some parents, comic book fans will be pleased by the movie’s pushing of the boundaries of its PG-13 rating. There are some genuine scares in there that won’t just frighten the kids, but will frighten the adults, too. Venom calls Eddie a pussy and Eddie spends a lot of the action sequences yelling out, “Holy shit!” There is also the one F word allowed by the PG-13 rating in there at a pivotal moment, and one scene in which Venom makes out with Eddie definitely challenges the MPAA’s guidelines on sexuality. It’s not rated R, but it is right on the verge – and that’s a good thing.
4. The supporting actors are wasted
Tom Hardy leads the movie a little too relentlessly. Director Ruben Fleischer puts the focus squarely on him and it means that a lot of the supporting actors and their talents are wasted. Michelle Williams, coming off a revelatory turn in Manchester by the Sea, has a similar role here as the ex-girlfriend who the lead regrets losing, but she is given less opportunities to flex her dramatic muscles. Riz Ahmed is given a pretty two dimensional villain role when he’s proven that he can do so much more than that. Jenny Slate, whose sharp comic wit is seen in her standup and in her comedic appearances in other films and TV shows, is not given a single funny line in this movie. And it’s not a movie lacking in humor – it just underutilizes a comically gifted actor. By the way, a lot of fans will be pleased to discover that the word “symbiote” is pronounced correctly in the finished film. In the trailer, the characters were all saying “sym-BYE-ote,” when it’s actually supposed to be pronounced “sym-BEE-ote.” Don’t worry, comic book nerds, whether it was a response to your online outrage or simply a sound mixing issue, in the movie, they all say “sym-BEE-ote.” But thankfully, as far as lead actors go, Hardy is incredible, so it’s not the worst thing in the world that he steals the spotlight from his co-stars.
3. Tom Hardy’s lead performance is compelling
It’s hard to define Tom Hardy’s performance in this movie. He plays Eddie and Venom’s relationship more like Ren and Stimpy than Jekyll and Hyde. Whether that is your cup of tea or not, there is one thing that no one can say it is and that is boring. Hardy owns the movie with a compelling lead performance. There isn’t a lot of pathos or nuance in Hardy’s performance, but it is absolutely riveting. Let’s not forget that Tom Hardy is known for his tough guy image, so it’s pretty bold that he has abandoned and subverted that persona to play more a bumbling loser. Hardy plays Eddie Brock in a truly unique way. No one is playing superheroes like this, like someone who is terrified of danger and would avoid confrontation at any cost, and yet that is what so many of us are like in real life. There aren’t many people who jump into action at the first sign of danger, but there are plenty of people who would hide or run away when they see danger, and that’s exactly what Eddie Brock would do if Venom wasn’t dragging him towards it. Hardy sells that and he uses it to carry the whole movie.
2. There’s hardly any conflict
Every movie needs to have conflict in order to make it interesting. For example, the hero’s girlfriend will be kidnapped by the villain or the hero will lose his powers at the most inconvenient time, stuff like that. In this movie, there isn’t much conflict, because Venom is big, strong, and bulletproof, and any time Eddie gets into any kind of trouble, Venom comes out to save him from it. And for all their banter and bickering, Eddie and Venom become pals pretty quickly, so there isn’t even an internal Jekyll/Hyde conflict going on for a lot of the film. If Eddie is caught without the Venom symbiotes inside him, then something comes along to save him pretty conveniently. You remember Peter Griffin’s pitch for “Bigger Jaws,” his sequel idea where the shark and the crew of the Orca team up to tackle a common enemy when an even bigger shark shows up? Well, the main villain in this movie is another symbiotic creature named Riot, and he is essentially “Bigger Venom.” Venom warns Eddie that their chances of winning as they go up against Riot are “basically zero,” but we all know how these climactic battles in superhero movies go. There’s really not much danger there. The movie’s still a fun ride, but it feels like it’s missing something.
1. It’s great fun
The best thing about Venom, which actually cancels out everything that’s wrong with it and makes it definitely worth watching, is that it is a heck of a lot of fun. Out of all the blockbuster movies that have come along this year, a lot of them have disappointed. No one’s making movies that are just fun anymore. They’re focusing too much on trying to cram in ham fisted political subtext and not enough to making an entertaining movie. The story is briskly paced, moving from set piece to set piece. If you don’t like a particular scene or setup, then don’t worry about it. Another one will be along soon enough. Since Venom is opening against A Star is Born and the two movies will be competing for the number one spot at the weekend box office, Lady Gaga fans have been posting fake negative reviews online in an attempt to sway audiences. So, ignore all those fake reviews. A Star is Born looks like it’s going to be a great movie, but don’t ignore Venom. It’s an exhilarating moviegoing experience. The action sequences are spectacular, the actors are terrific in their roles (even if some of them are sidelined), and the plot moves along quickly. It’s a lot of fun.