It’s safe to say that after the negative reviews started rolling in for Venom last week, I didn’t expect much when I took my annual Marvel pilgrimage to the cinema yesterday.
I consider myself a semi-casual comic book reader, but having grown up in the 90’s and early 2000’s I watched a lot of Spider-Man and eventually started reading the comics. For anyone not up to speed, Venom is an alien known as a Symbiote that finds it ways onto Spider-Man and causes him to behave increasingly more violent and less heroic (and in the case of Spider-Man 3, go a little bit emo). Spider-Man rids himself of the slimy puddle of goo and it crawls onto Eddie Brock, creating the Villain/Anti-Hero Venom.
That’s pretty much all the backstory you need to know going into Venom, and maybe even too much, as the film leaves Spider-Man’s involvement out entirely, a move which most die-hard fans were understandably upset about. If you’ve seen Marvel’s Infinity War, however, which was released previously this year, you can perhaps understand how it might be difficult to involve the lovable Wall-Crawler.
I went into Venom with low expectations. Sony’s track record with anything Spider-Man related since Spider-Man 3 has been spotty at best. Fortunately, I can say that I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the movie. Venom treads the line between buddy comedy and thriller. I was tempted to add horror into the mix but the PG-13 rating puts a stop to that, not to say that there isn’t any violence, because there is. Tom Hardy himself has admitted that they pushed up against the boundaries of what was allowed. There is violence and dismemberment in the film, albeit most of the more gruesome scenes are implied rather than shown.
The stand out action scene for the film is undoubtedly when Venom runs up against a SWAT Team while breaking into his old workplace. The scene combines the stealth and tactics we’ve come to expect from top-tier Spiderman portrayals, with the raw imposing strength that Spiderman 3’s Venom sorely lacked. The relationship between Eddie Brock and the Symbiote differs from the older versions of the comic, but given how most Marvel movies tend to be a mix of comedy and action it wasn’t surprising to see a bit of humor injected into the film.
The Symbiote itself (also played by Tom Hardy) is almost a perfect interpretation of the design in the comics. The film isn’t afraid to showcase the fluidity of the Symbiotes form as it creates shields, whips, and tendrils to eliminate the various nameless henchmen sent to retrieve the Symbiote by chief bad guy Carlton Drake. Michelle Williams shines as Anne Weyling, Eddie Brock’s ex-girlfriend, and confidant.
If there’s one flaw Venom has: it’s restricted by its ties to Sony. Venom as a character has always worked best when put up against other superheroes/villains, and most Venom comics have him facing off against the big names in the Marvel roster. Riot, unfortunately, is not one of those names. Indeed, Venom suffers from the curse that plagues almost every Marvel movie villain: he is the mirror image of the hero (or in this case, anti-hero).
Riz Ahmed’s Carlton Drake is equal parts forgettable and confusing as he switches between philanthropist and psychopath throughout the movie’s two hour runtime. The final confrontation between the two Symbiotes is a muddled mash of black and grey goo against a night sky. Even in a darkened cinema, it was hard to make out the details of some of the more ambitious fights, and the similar color schemes of Venom and Riot did not help.
The film’s final act is its weakest moment and I can’t help but think that the movie would have benefited from a bigger cast with more varied Symbiotes. Die-hard comic book fans will no doubt be disappointed by how Venom is ultimately portrayed in the movie, and how all of Marvels MCU properties (into which Venom falls into a grey area somewhere between Sony and Disney) seem to pull from the older comic stories. Perhaps it’s because these are the stories that the writers have grown up with and want to make, but with Disney and Marvel wanting to pull in new and younger audiences, it wouldn’t hurt to include more recent storylines that are more accessible to new comic book readers.
If there’s one thing to be said for Venom, it’s that its the best superhero movie Sony has produced in years. With the failure of Amazing Spider-Man 2, Sony has needed a starting point for their slate of films based around Spider-Man’s rogue gallery, and given Venom’s success, with it having earned back double its budget so far it’s clear that we’ll be seeing more from Sony in the future. Overall, Venom is a mixture of good and bad moments. Some scenes are brilliant and keep you on the edge of your seat, while others seem to drag on make you wish you could fast forward through the movie.
Any time Venom is on screen the movie shines. But, the final confrontation between Venom and Riot leaves a lot to be desired. With Venom 2 already planned and Woody Harrelson’s Cletus Kasady, AKA Carnage confirmed to be the antagonists, I’m certainly more confident and excited for Sony’s next foray into the Marvel universe. Venom will be sticking around theaters for the next month or two and I would recommend seeing it. Whether you’re a die-hard comic book fan or just a fan of the MCU, there’s something in it for everyone to enjoy.