This weekend, Sony released Venom,telling the tale of the titular gooey Spider-Man villain and his unfortunate host Eddie Brock. As with most comic book adaptations these days, the reviews have been very polarizing, but I’m here to help you through the chaos. Let’s start behind the scenes so we can better understand what Venomgot right – and wrong – on the big screen.
Venomis directed by Ruben Fleischer, best known for Zombieland and 30 Minutes or Less, as well as Gangster Squad– 2013’s Untouchables-inspired mob flick starring Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Tom Hardy takes on the role of both Eddie Brock and Venom. His casting announcement ruffled some feathers – someone said to me just last month “C’mon, do you really buy Tom Hardy as a newspaper reporter?” – but Hardy’s acting range in general is pretty fantastic. From charming characters like Handsome Bob in Guy Ritchie’s RocknRollaand Eames in Christopher Nolan’s Inception to half-crazed men of action in Mad Max: Fury Road and Taboo, Hardy definitely knows what he’s doing.
Venom’s female lead, Anne Weying, is played by three-time Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn, Blue Valentine, Brokeback Mountain) and they’re supported by rising star Jenny Slate (Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets, Parks and Rec) and Riz Ahmed (Rogue One). The film is produced by Marvel veteran Avi Arad, who also produced Spider-Man films for the last three castings of that role, Iron Manand the Edward Norton-starring The Incredible Hulk. Whew.
The movie begins with a partial origin story for Brock and Venom. Having moved from New York City to San Francisco, Eddie works as host and interviewer in video exposés covering subjects like homelessness in the city, corporate corruption and more. In my interest in avoiding spoilers, I’ll skip forward about 15 minutes of screen time and say he’s eventually exposed to the symbiote, which bonds with him on a genetic level and sometimes turns him into the massive, inky black creature Venom. Every adapted origin story shows the defining moments that make a hero character – every decade or two we see Uncle Ben or Thomas and Martha Wayne get shot, the lab explosions that change the fates of Bruce Banner and Barry Allen, the radioactive spider bite, etc. – and Venom handles its own pretty well, all said and done. Miles above either Fantastic Four movie but not the high-water mark of Iron Man or Batman Begins. What’s really important here is the rest of the story, as Brock and Venom seek vengeance against those who exposed them to each other.
Granted, when Venom comes out for the first time, the script has its rockiest moments. I’ve always been severely allergic to that scene in the movie where the new superhuman is accidentally discovering the destructive powers of his or her new abilities with all the cheap yuks and slapstick of an old silent film. The subway scene in The Amazing Spider-Mancomes to mind first and foremost, but it’s definitely not alone. Venom is no different, spending several minutes with Brock apologizing while beating goons senseless, a marionette in his own body. Yes, this is the scene in the previews that seems to have turned most of my friends off of seeing the movie altogether. Thankfully, it ends brilliantly – and hey, if you can get into (or get past) this scene’s Evil Dead 2-meets-Weekend at Bernie’s 2 brand of physical acting by Tom Hardy at Fleischer’s direction, the rest of the movie is all smiles.
The second half of the film gives Venom and Brock plenty of time to shine and a never-ending supply of nameless goons to dispatch in their attempts to thwart a plan by the (admittedly one-dimensional) mastermind villain Carlton Drake to bring millions of other symbiotes to Earth. It’s familiar territory but it’s delivered in a relentlessly entertaining fashion. Michelle Williams is great as Brock’s conflicted ex-fiancé, managing her feelings of lost love, resentment and compassion for Brock as well as fear and a grudging appreciation of Venom.
Speaking of how the movie’s delivered, I think it finds a unique balance in tone that’s somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Several scenes had the audience in stitches but (aside from that first Venom scene) it never felt schmaltzy or corny. It goes from Shaun of the Dead to 2002’s Spider-Man to the video game adaptation of The Darkness in a heartbeat, but somehow it works. This owes to the star of the show, which is undoubtedly the balance of Eddie Brock and Venom. Tom Hardy plays against himself as the timid Brock and the voice of the cartoonishly dark Venom, who relishes in the vilest impulses he can muster. Venom is the kind of comedic evil of the sinister AI in Red Vs. Blue Season 2, endlessly tormenting Brock with suggestions like biting the heads off unconscious villains before stacking their bodies in a pile or making a robber into a faceless quadruple amputee.
At the end of the day, Venom has the same two problems I have with plenty of other comic book movies – namely the awkward “first powers” scene and a shallow main villain – but it overcomes its setbacks with a great cast, mountains of dark humor and a unique and offbeat feel throughout. More than anything it’s fun and cool, so I’m scoring it a 7 out of 10.
by Jonny Lupsha, Owner, Author, Blogger at A Carrier of Fire