Karina Tukanova reviews the dark but entertaining Marvel anti-hero spinoff.
Warning: Mild spoilers follow.
When it comes to mainstream films, audiences and critics rarely agree. In fact, critics and ordinary cinema goers in general are often at loggerheads: the former wants carefully-crafted stories elucidating undying themes of human experiences; the latter – just a nice piece of entertainment to enjoy and ramble about with friends. The two ultimately prioritise completely different aspects of a film, and expectedly represent two different demographics.
Venom is the newest addition to the long line of superhero movies where critics and audiences disagree. The critic consensus on Rotten Tomatoes ranks the film at an unjustly 30% compared to whooping 88% from the audiences. This significant divide ultimately comes down to expectations: one wanted “a stronger attachment to Spider-Man”, but frankly Venom offers its audience a decent standalone film that doesn’t need to depend on MCU or Spidey for its storytelling.
In a special space mission, a bioengineering corporation Life Foundation discovers a comet filled with symbiotic life forms. Its CEO Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmad) discovers that the symbiotes could not survive in Earth’s environment without attaching themselves to an oxygen-breathing host. Obsessed with the idea of “higher life-form”, Drake begins human trials. Meanwhile, journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) investigates a little bit too much into said foundation and its cynical Head. His bluntness costs him his job and respect, and much loved fiancée Anne Weying (Michelle Williams). It’s all downhill from here for Brock until he is approached by Life Foundation scientist Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate), who helps him break into the lab to find evidence, eventually getting more than he bargained for as Brock himself becomes the host of a symbiote, rendering a perfect match with Venom. He then successfully escapes the facility, and this is where the fun begins.
Mind you, by this point, we are around 40 minutes into the film. The first act lingers on irrelevant details for a tad too long, setting up way too much and deciding to focus on Eddie’s personal life instead of delving into the fascinating symbiotic or parasitic relationship with Venom. However, the lengthy exposition is not valueless. It manages to pack a lot of information and provide enough context for an average viewer who might not have a clue about Venom and its comic book origins without being too distracting. Indeed, it does blend hundreds of comic books worth of content into an enjoyable and coherent enough form. In this, I argue, it beats most MCU films.
In all fairness, the Eddie-Venom dynamic is what holds the film together. Brock’s first transformation is a gem on its own. It is crackingly funny, gross, and profoundly revealing of the future relationship between the two. Due to the nature of the symbiote that emerges within its host, transforming itself in an unprecedented way, while endowing the host with enhanced physical abilities at the cost of fatally draining them out, the transformation scene could have either made or broken this film.
At first, Eddie is troubled, even tormented physically by his new companion. He sweats profusely, downs old leftovers for lunch, and is startled at a scheming voice inside his head. But once you see Venom in his full swing, you feel like he has come straight from the comic book pages (what can’t be said about his 2007 predecessor). In stunned awe, we witness the giant, toothy, long-tongued monster go onto his raving rampaging, mercilessly beheading anyone in its way. These are one of the few moments in film when you forget that you sit in a cinema and get fully absorbed into dark and gritty world of Venom.
It is a shame there was no deeper exploration of the Eddie-Venom relationship, particularly how Venom transforms from a maniacal head-eating killer to a charming (but still head-eating) anti-hero. I would have liked that. It seems that film opted out for more action scenes – that were nonetheless impressive – than thorough character development.
It goes without saying that Tom Hardy knocked it out of the park with his terrific performance. I love the man unconditionally, he added a new dimension to the character of Eddie Brock, drawing the audience into his plight. An underdog on his way to becoming a hero, a familiar trope that takes on an original flair thanks to Hardy’s charisma and thoughtful interpretation of his character. The same unfortunately could not be said about the villain. Riz Ahmad’s Drake is mediocre at best, both as a typical “evil corporate bad guy” and as Riot. He is neither intimidating enough to be convincing nor charismatic enough to be memorable. Along with similar disposable MCU villains, he is just another obstacle for the protagonist to overcome, another tool to move the plot forward. The biggest shame, however, is that their hero-villain relationship had so much more potential. The premise nonetheless is a hapless but humble low-class reporter grappling against an invincible, corrupt millionaire controlling a powerful survivalist organisation. There is so much room for exploring questions of power, morality, and the eternal “what does it mean to be good or bad?”, but Venom leaves much to be desired in this sense.
It is fair to state that Venom misses the mark because of its messy plotlines and somewhat sloppy and formulaic script, yet it does not render the film unwatchable. Coming back to my original point, the critics’ consensus doesn’t do Venom justice. Yes, it’s imperfect, but considering the production mess that it has been in since its conception, it has done a great job. More importantly, its fans enjoyed it. It was fun. Perhaps unlike critics, loyal fans of the Venom canon are more prepared to forgive its obvious flaws in return for its generous fan service. At the very least, the mid-credit scene is worth it. “There will be Carnage.”
Venom is currently released in cinemas everywhere. Take a look at its trailer below: