There’s no denying that Venom is one of the most popular Marvel characters out there. He’s consistently held his own solo title. His design is iconic. He is universally regarded as one of Spider-Man’s greatest foes. Naturally, it would make sense for him to eventually headline his own movie. What fans were NOT expecting was for this movie to not feature his wall-crawling nemesis, or serve as the springboard to a universe featuring every Spider-Man character that wasn’t Peter Parker. Putting that aside, there was hope for the movie to be good.
I say “hope” because as both a film experience and as an adaptation, Venom is a disappointment on nearly every level.
(NOTE: In viewing this film, I made the choice to approach it as a film fan/critic first, and a comic book fan second. I felt that this was the only way I could give it a fair shake.)
Venom opens like your traditional sci-fi horror movie: The Life Foundation, an organization led by philanthropist Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) returns from an interstellar expedition carrying symbiotic life forms. The shuttle crash lands in Malaysia, and one of the Symbiotes infects an EMT…
Cut to San Francisco, where maverick journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is sent to do a puff piece on Drake and the Foundation. Brock is convinced that Drake is up to no good, and uses his interview as a chance to interrogate Drake about his less-than-legal experiments. Consequently, Brock ends up losing his job and his fiance, and his life spirals out of control until a Life Foundation scientist (Jenny Slate) comes to him with disturbing news: Drake is trying to merge both human and Symbiote together for nefarious means. When Brock breaks into the Foundation to investigate, one of the Symbiotes, named Venom, latches onto him. The pair must learn to work together to stop Drake.
First things first, I do have to give credit to Hardy for what is an insanely engaging performance. He takes a page out of Nic Cage’s book and swings for the fences, and the result is never boring to watch. His rapport with the Symbiote (Hardy also voices Venom) is the highlight of the film; it’s the darkly humorous buddy comedy I never knew I needed, and I wished the movie was more like that. There’s a scene in a restaurant that had me howling with laughter; it has to be seen to be believed.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film is not up to par. Hardy’s fellow castmates – Ahmed, Slate, Michelle Williams – are all talented people. But the film does next to nothing with them. Ahmed is one of the most generic villains I’ve ever seen in a superhero movie. Even his final fight with Venom is boring – I can’t tell who’s who in all that CGI soup! Not to mention it falls into the dreaded “villain is just an evil version of the hero” trope. Williams fares no better, as she’s frustratingly relegated to the task of “superhero girlfriend,” a trope that only serves to date this movie.
And good lord, is this movie dated. From the dialogue (Jeff Pinkner, who also penned The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Tower, co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Rosenberg and Kelly Marcel) to the insanely aggressive end credits song by Eminem (yes, Eminem made a song for this movie) the film feels like it was dug up from a time before the genre really took off. Some have compared it to Catwoman or Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four; I think it falls more in line with the likes of Suicide Squad (another movie that feels like a relic from the 90’s.)
And as an adaptation? Barring the fact that the most intriguing part of Venom’s story is gone, the movie fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between Brock and the Symbiote. In the comics they’ve had their ups and downs over the years but they bonded together over mutual hatred, and formed a true symbiosis. In this film, the Symbiote berates Brock, calling him a “loser” and a “pussy,” and frequently hijacks his body against his will. They only start to get along toward the end because…reasons.
Venom isn’t as horrible as I thought it would be, but it is far from a good movie. I suggest you wait until it hits Redbox, or if you’re eager to see it in theaters, bring a friend or loved one. (Or alcohol.)
VERDICT: 2 out of 5 Symbiote fangs. We…are Meh-nom.
Collier, or CJ as he’s known to his friends, is a screenwriter and blogger residing in Seattle. When he isn’t at his laptop or at work, he loves to read comics, watch movies, play card games, and hit the local arcade. Spider-Man is his favorite fictional character of all time.