First things first: ‘Venom’ doesn’t suck. It’s not as terrible as you feared it would be. In fact, overall it’s a pretty enjoyable film. I want to make that very clear, okay?
However, audiences in the last decade or so have come to expect a bit of a higher level of quality from a Marvel film. Yes, ‘Venom’ doesn’t officially exist within the Marvel Cinematic Universe – the opening-credits Marvel logo features the large-font-wielding “In Association With” accompaniment, just to eliminate any potential confusion. Confusion that would be understandable, given that the main character in the Sony-centric Marvel cinematic ownership, Spider-Man, has appeared in the last few MCU films himself (courtesy of what I can only assume is an extremely stringently-written legal agreement between Sony and Marvel Entertainment).
So, ‘Venom’ – a standalone film for Spider-Man’s greatest enemy, starring Tom Hardy, a fine actor but one who has said point-blank that he took the lead role in the film mostly because Venom is his son’s favorite comic book character. Trailers that have been dropping since early this year have been very Hardy-heavy, but not a ton of visuals of the big black slimy alien itself. Not exactly inspiring confidence so far, right?
I’m happy to report that, oddly enough, all of this “negative karma” building up against the film may have actually worked in its favor. This movie likely isn’t going to win any major awards: the acting is serviceable, the plot is relatively shallow and predictable, and the CGI is often a blurry mess of goo-centric fight scenes. It’s perfectly fine as a popcorn flick, and I was entertained the entire time, never once looking at my watch to see when things might be wrapping up (run time is 2 hours and 20 minutes, so definite props to ‘Venom’ here).
If you’re at all familiar with Venom’s origin story in the Spider-Man comics, throw it out of your brain for this movie, because you’re given a completely different take here: a rocket returns to Earth from an exploratory mission (with the film’s opening sequence making me seriously wonder initially if this was going to be a pseudo-sequel to the 2017 Sony-distributed film ‘Life‘ – still not 100% sure on the answer here) carrying a handful of gooey, shapeless alien life forms in containment. Wouldn’t you know it, though, one of them escapes – those rascally aliens! The contained creatures are taken to the cool tech lab/liar of Token Evil Genuis (Riz Ahmed, doing what he can with the part) in San Francisco, where investigative reporter and “I’m a nice guy, but I really don’t care if I am or not” Eddie Brock (Hardy) lives. Yes, you’ve read that correctly, the film moves the action far, far way from New York City – Brock does make a casual reference to having lived there, though, before he moved to the West Coast to be with his love Anne Weying (Michelle Williams).
Eddie does his best to play by the rules when asked to do a “fluff piece” on Token Evil Genius, aka Carlton Drake, but he just can’t help himself and ends up asking about some of the more dubious aspects of the business. Drake gets him fired, as well as gets Weying fired, who works for a law firm that does much work for Drake, and the couple separate. After your typical “bottom of the barrel” montage sequence, Eddie pulls himself back together and infiltrates Drake’s lab – where he comes across Venom, or rather, Venom comes across him.
Thus begins the “mismatched partners from different walks of life” portion of the film – each learning more about the other, and how they are greater together than they could ever be apart. It’s very ‘The Notebook’ with a hard sci-fi edge. Haha, just kidding about that last part! Mostly.
One of the most glaring omissions that fans of the comics will no doubt lock onto (they have already started) is Venom’s physical appearance, and how it lacks the notable “spider” emblem on his chest. This, of course, is due to the vastly different origin story: in the comic books, the black symbiote first attaches to Spider-Man when the hero was on an intergalactic journey, and once Spidey rid himself of the alien when back on Earth, it then attached itself to Brock – hence the “transfer” and retaining of the spider-logo. Not a huge deal, although this films certainly does up the ante on the slimy, mucousy aspects of the creature’s physical appearance.
The film’s plot is bland and completely predictable, taking no variance from the standard sci-fi/action tropes that audiences know and “love.” The logistics in the choices that the characters make also do no favors to the “believability” of the film: in one of the most glaring examples, Venom is telling Eddie that, since they are now bonded, “I know everything you know – there are no secrets between us.” Except that Eddie still asks dumb questions about who Venom is and where the alien comes from, and just a few seconds later, Anne (the love of Eddie’s life) calls on the cell phone, and Venom numbly asks “Who’s Anne?” Face, meet palm.
The comedic aspects of the film give me pause, however – not because they are unfunny, but in looking back after the film was done showing, they felt very few and far between. My brain was still saying “this was a dark comedy,” but it’s definitely not Deadpool-esque funny; I think it might mostly be that the “serious” parts just didn’t take themselves too seriously, which was a refreshing change of pace from many of the “dark” takes on superhero films that we’ve been given lately.
Looking back on this review, I feel like I’ve been a little more mean to the film than I intended to be. The movie itself is entertaining, with lots of subtle references to the bigger Marvel comics universe (keep your eyes peeled in particular for J. Jonah Jameson’s astronaut son, John, and a few symbiote-in-other-bodies moments that I can’t even really mention without giving too much away). The action sequences are engaging, and the 2-hour-plus run time does flow fast and smooth. There are two credits scenes that you’ll want to stay in your seats for, obviously – even though it’s not MCU, this is a Marvel film, after all.
‘Venom’ certainly won’t change your life, or give you a brand-new perspective on the Marvel Universe. But it should entertain you for a few hours, which makes it a fine enough option to go and check out – if you’re into the sci-fi buddy-comedy type of thing.