OnScreen Review: "Venom"

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Ken Jones

  • Chief Film Critic

Spider-Man is my favorite superhero of all time. Venom is a character that many consider to be the greatest villain in Spidey’s rogues gallery, but I think he is one of the most overrated (and Carnage is right up there with him; go ahead and @ me, I don’t care). He has occasionally been fun to have in Spider-Man video games (in Ultimate Spider-Man for the PS2 you could actually play as Venom). But most importantly, I blame the character for ruining Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, a character he swore he didn’t want to do and then the studio essentially strong-armed him. Everything about this Venom spinoff seemed ill-advised and, clearly, I carried a lot of baggage into it. In fact, I had my knives out and I was ready to carve this film up and throw it on the trash heap along with some of my least favorite films that I’ve reviewed, like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. And then I watched it and those plans had to go out the window.

Let me be clear, this is not a good film by most standards. What exactly attracted Tom Hardy to the role of Eddie Brock is unclear, but it’s hard to justify as talented an actor as Hardy being in a film like this. The same goes for Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed, the other notable cast members involved here. Williams is a four-time Oscar nominee, and yet she cannot seem to find the right blockbuster vehicle to get involved with. As much fun as she may be having playing Anne Weying, the former love interest of Eddie, this is not the best use of her considerable talents.

The same can certainly be said for Riz Ahmed as well; his Silicon Valley tech villain comes across as a moustache-twirling Elon Musk. He’s obsessed with space and saving humanity and is incredibly quick in deciding to use human test subjects when it comes to expanding the possibilities of symbiosis between humans and the alien lifeforms he has discovered, one of attaches itself eventually to Eddie Brock. His inevitable merging with a symbiote (thankfully, they corrected the mispronunciation of this word from the trailers) is uninspired and not all that menacing despite being an apparently formidable villain.

The plot is barely tied together by any narrative logic and there are several plot holes to drives a school bus through (Why do so many test subjects die when a symbiote attaches to them but Eddie and two other people are fine? Why does Venom like tater tots but only eats living flesh? How is Eddie found in the forest? How does the ending make any sense?). The action, particularly the final fight between Venom and Riot, is almost impossible to follow, similar to how the robots in the Transformers movies so often just look like a mass of metal parts moving around.

And yet, the movie is strangely enjoyable. As usual, Tom Hardy goes for it in the role of Eddie Brock as he does in every role. Eddie washed out of New York as a reporter and ended up in San Francisco where he is uncovering important stories, engaged to Anne, and making a pretty good life for himself. But goes too far in an interview with Ahmed’s Carlton Drake and it ends up costing him his job. Skipping ahead a few months, we see a down-on-his-luck Eddie, struggling to make ends meet, unable to find work, and broken up with Anne. He is, in the films own words, a loser.

A new chance to uncover the truth about Carlton Drake creates the opportunity for Eddie and Venom to merge and what that symbiotic relationship between host and parasite produces is a fun mismatched buddy movie hidden inside a clunky action movie. Hardy also voices the Venom symbiote. When Eddie is visible, Venom can be heard inside Eddie’s head; when Venom emerges, Eddie can be heard inside Venom’s head. Venom is a strong, menacing, and hulking figure, though not without his weaknesses, which is high frequency sound, his kryptonite (actually referenced in the movie).

The combo of Eddie and Venom actually produced a lot of genuine laughs and chuckles from me. The initial appearance of the voice in Eddie’s head occurs when Drake’s security arrives at his apartment to retrieve Mr. Drake’s property. Surrounded by guns, Eddie puts his hands up, a cowardly embarrassing move to Venom that he thinks makes them look bad. For there, the dialogue between the two is quite entertaining and they both take digs at each other while trying to work together and come to an understanding about their circumstances. Their back and forths are easily the best part of the movie.

The other, shall we say, unique aspect of the film is that Venom is a violent character and only feeds on living flesh, and in a few instances bites people’s heads off. To get a PG-13 rating, this is managed as tastefully (pun fully intended) as possible. Eddie and another character who briefly dons the Venom symbiote do not at all struggle with the reality that they just bit someone’s head off. In fact, it’s played for laughs to try and gloss over it. It’s absurd, and yet I kind of respect them deciding to go in a campy direction with it.

I was ready to outright hate Venom. While it is far from being a good movie and a lot of it does not work, but the central performance from Tom Hardy is crazy and entertaining enough to somewhat salvage what could have been and probably should have been, an outright disaster. It’s a movie that will probably earn enough money to generate a sequel, and maybe eventually lead to a Spidey film where Venom is involved. I still have my reservations, but I’m more open to the ideas than I was before.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars