Superhero films have come a long way in the past few years: starting with the reboot of Iron Man, the Marvel cinematic universe has experiences a tremendous growth and prosper after it’s move to reboot the entire world as well as its purchase by Disney. Following the tremendous impact of Infinity War, the industry is still alive and well, buzzing about the newest Marvel films and how they can stack up to the huge footprint left by the Avengers franchise. And following the recent success of Spider-Man’s reinvention and subsequent appearances in other films, as well as the smash hit of anti-hero Deadpool from Fox, why not make another film about an anti-hero- this time from Spidey’s world?
Venom is a character known by many as one of Spider-Man’s most dangerous and twisted opponents- an alien parasite latched on to a vengeful human who uses his extreme durability and strength to terrify and devour his opponents. The recent love for villains such as Thanos and Loki has ignited the idea of making villain and anti-hero films into the Marvel universe once again… but what happens when you take away any reference to Spider-Man, and try to give the character legs to stand on by himself when he technically hasn’t had any appearance in this new universe yet? You get a relatively subpar film named after the titular villain. This film is Venom, one that tries to reboot a character who needs no introduction, and tries to replicate the successes of these villains in the past- but fails miserably due to a confused tone.
Our lead character, Eddie Brock, has not had a good run in the past few years: following an incident from the comic books (in which Eddie accused Spider-Man of murder, which resulted in him being fired from his job and divorced by his wife), he seems to have moved to San Francisco, is experiencing success in his new reporting gig and even has a new girlfriend. However, as a journalist looking to make it big again, Eddie can’t help but have his doubts about his latest interview subject- the CEO of the Life Foundation, a company devoted to the evolution of humankind, who believe that fusing humans with recently discovered symbiotic aliens (that sort of resemble metallic piles of spaghetti) may be the key to survival. When Eddie discovers a chilling secret about the company testing on human subjects, he attempts to get the word out which results in the poor man losing everything…. again.
But things are about to change for Eddie- a failed snooping attempt at the Life Foundation results in our hero coming into contact with an alien symbiote named Venom, who quickly bonds with Eddie. Armed with evidence and a new powerful ally, he can now try to bring down the evil practices of the CEO- but there’s more than meets to the eye in this situation. After all, Venom isn’t the only symbiote the group brought back from space…
While most of the film is typical for a Marvel film- Eddie and Venom learn to develop their relationship and powers while tearing up the goons sent to take them down- it suffers from quite a few problems. The most major of these is the film’s genre.
Venom is a curious film in that it is not entirely sure what kind of film it wants to be. While the movie was advertised as a mix of action and horror, ‘but in typical modern Marvel fashion the film is littered with bits of comedy that can at times derail the scene. Take, for instance, a tense scene where Eddie finds himself on top of a building. Venom suggests he jump down, because his powers would allow a safe landing, but Eddie opts to take an elevator instead, prompting Venom to bluntly call his host a term for coward that I’m not sure I am permitted to use here. While the jarring contrast did get a laugh out of me and others in the audience, it does seem a bit awkward to shoehorn the snarky comedy in- especially when the film was marketed as a mix of horror and action. While there’s nothing wrong with a little comic relief, this does bring to light some of the major issues with the plot and film.
(on a side note, there’s one line in the film that confuses me to no end: when Venom and Eddie reveal their weaknesses (sound and fire), love interest Anne states that these elements are “like his Kryptonite”. As we all know, that’s a reference to Superman’s weakness- a superhero from the DC universe. Does this mean that DC is canon in the Marvel universe? Do DC comics exist in that universe, and does that go the same way with Marvel comics in the DC universe? Am I thinking too much about this?)
The problem with the genre mixing here is that Venom wants to be all three- to have its human heads and eat them too. It attempts to juggle each genre of film and have parts from each- the opening of the film plays out as a scientific horror flick about a dangerous symbiote, and spends the first half of its running time building up the aliens before devolving into an action flick as Venom tears into the Life Foundation.
Venom attempts to come off as the dark story of an anti-hero, but fails in this regard because of one major flaw- it doesn’t actually show Venom doing much villainy. He’s a dark and imposing figure, sure, but pretty much everything he does is seen as positive in terms of the scene- he fights an evil company for the sake of the truth and protecting human lives, and when he does kill, it’s because the victims are generally doing villainous deeds. When a film has a tagline like “The World Has Enough Superheroes”, you’d think they would want to have him perform more villainy.
With a misleading story arc that jumps between genres, somewhat messy CGI animation, and a relatively uninteresting villain, there isn’t a ton to draw you in aside from the initial surprise of the villain getting his own film. However, despite all the flaws, Venom is not without some good moments: Tom Hardy is good as a lead, the Venom voice is appropriate, the relationship between Venom and Eddie is interesting to look at, and the occasional good line comes out in the mess of cliches. I personally believe that Venom works better as a supporting character than a lead character- something Marvel normally does well (this is why The Hulk mostly appears as a supporting character nowadays- his character isn’t much depth other than “HULK SMASH”). If the company wants to build up a fandom for Venom, they might want to reinvent him as a side character in another Spider-Man film first- better to put one foot into the pool of black sludge before jumping in completely.
As a relatively lackluster film compared to the rest of the recent Marvel universe (especially the cataclysmic ending to Infinity War), Venom still has a long way to go before it has a symbiotic relationship with the big screen.
Overall Rating: 5/10 Spaghetti Aliens
by Brendan Rodenberg
for MOVEMENT Magazine