RTF Film Review: “VENOM Is A Ton of Flawed, Low-Brow Fun”
By Mario-Francisco Robles (@I_AM_MFR)
Venom is one of those films where it’s all about your expectations, which is why I’m going to start by suggesting where yours should be if you want to see and enjoy this movie: Low.
While I’ve had consistently high hopes for the film ever since I found out it would star Tom Hardy and be directed by Zombieland‘s Ruben Fleischer, I’ve also heard a fair enough about it to know to keep my expectations in check. While I’ve railed against some of the folks who’ve seemingly been trying to bury this movie for their own personal gain (Gotta get those clicks and retweets!), I actually owe them a debt of gratitude. I sincerely think the negative buzz some have so gleefully generated for it helped lower my expectations to the point where I ended up having a great time with Venom.
See, the film is kind of a hollow shell of a movie- wearing its corporate desires to launch another Sony/Marvel franchise on its sleeve and rushing through the character development stuff so it can set the table for future entries- but the one thing it has going for it delivers in almost every way. I’m referring to its star, and to its depiction of the titular anti-hero, Venom.
Tom Hardy turns in a spirited, crazed performance as Eddie Brock. He plays him as a manic, off-kilter man driven by his own quest for the truth, yet whose penchant for not playing well with others costs him dearly. It ends up ruining his career, his relationship, and- essentially- his life. Yet, beneath the slightly unhinged surface, lies the heart of a good man; The type of guy who knows the names of all of the neighborhood regulars; A person who is friendly and generous even when the world is caving in on him. In that way, he’s a great character to root for.
And it’s fitting that they establish him early on as kind of a dented can- someone who needs someone or some thing to help him achieve what he’s fully capable of, because he finds that in the Venom symbiote. While it takes a while for the film to finally unite him with the alien life form, once they become one, that’s when the film hits its groove. While definitely initially a dark, unstable, and unwanted presence in his life, the two form a kinship that’s very entertaining to watch. Venom speaks to Eddie often, throughout the film, from within his own head, and the results are often hilarious. Especially when he tries to offer up his own sage advice to his troubled host.
And when Venom takes on his full form, enveloping Eddie and revealing himself to the world in all his glory, that’s just magic.
The Venom we get in this film is the one I’ve always wanted to see. From his design, to his voice, to the dialogue he’s given, this is the way I’ve always dreamt of seeing the character on screen one day. He feels ripped from the comics, or- in my case- straight from the animated Spider-Man cartoon from the 90s that made me a devout fan of both him and everyone’s friendly neighborhood wall crawler.
I could honestly watch an entire movie made up of just Eddie walking around with Venom offering up really bad advice from within his head, and occasionally taking over to eat a head or two. That’s where the movie shines, and it’s the only reason to see Venom.
The rest of the film around this central dynamic? Eh. It’s pretty weak, if not as offensively bad as some would have you think.
Aside from Hardy, I was also excited about the casting of Riz Ahmed (who’s been a scene stealer since his breakout role opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in the criminally-underrated Nightcrawler) and Michelle Williams, who followed up her stint on the teen soap Dawson’s Creek by becoming one of Hollywood’s elite actresses and racking up four Academy Award nominations. Between them and Hardy, I thought the film would feature some heavy duty performances all around, with Ahmed playing the villain Carlton Drake and Williams playing love interest Anne Weying.
Unfortunately, the script gives both characters very little of note to do, and so their performances are ultimately a non-factor in the film. Ahmed isn’t given much to work with, which is a shame because the character’s motivations are sound and could almost rival what Josh Brolin’s Thanos had in mind in Avengers: Infinity War in terms of their real world relatability. So he’s ultimately just kind of a neutral, vanilla presence. And, in the case of Williams, she actually subtracts from the film. She and Hardy share little to no chemistry, she’s saddled with a wig that looks like a yellow symbiote died of boredom on her head before it could consume her, and she delivers her clunky lines…clunkily.
And that’s all a pity. Because what a movie like this demanded, in order to be actually good, is a strong villain and heartfelt romantic subplot. Instead, we’re left with a superhero movie that’s only saving grace is its central hero. Which is fine, mind you, but in this day and age, just makes the whole experience feel incomplete. I guarantee you that if this had come out in the late 90s, perhaps alongside what Wesley Snipes was doing in the Blade movies, then Venom wouldn’t feel quite as empty. But in the current pop culture landscape, it’s nothing more than an entertaining swing and a miss.
The generic plot also rushes through several key points, which results in some of the more important storyline pivots falling completely flat.
With that said, I’ll still recommend you see this movie- provided you’re a big fan of Venom, and a big fan of Tom Hardy’s. Since those two elements deliver, and the film is filled with enough laughs, cool visuals, and interesting set pieces to make its 112 minute runtime fly by, I think you should check it out. Otherwise, if you have anything else you’d rather do, then just do that.