Venom is certainly a flawed superhero movie, but Tom Hardy's performances as Eddie Brock and Venom make for a fun and entertaining ride.
After a false-start of kicking off a superhero movie franchise, Sony Pictures returns to launch a series of Spider-Man spinoffs starring secondary characters from the web-slinger's comic universe - but not the web-head himself. Venom is the first of these movies, though Sony has more in various stages of development. And, considering the studio's deal to share Spider-Man with Marvel Studios - so that Peter Parker can exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe - Sony has positioned Venom and their other films as "adjuncts" to the successful 10-year franchise. Still, it seems the future of Sony's spinoff Marvel movie series depends largely on the success or failure of Venom and its star. Venom is certainly a flawed superhero movie, but Tom Hardy's performances as Eddie Brock and Venom make for a fun and entertaining ride.
Venom follows investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Hardy), who enjoys a good life in San Francisco, living with his fiancé Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), leading his own show on a news network, and being generally happy. However, Eddie betrays the trust of his fiancé and ignores explicit instructions from his boss in order to go after the genius, Elon Musk-type leader of the Life Foundation, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), during an interview. As a result, Eddie is fired from his show and essentially blacklisted from working in journalism, and Anne breaks up with him. Months later, Eddie is still down and out, unable to find a job or lead a fulfilling life - that is, until he's approached by Life Foundation scientist Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate).
All while Eddie's life had been going downhill, Drake had been experimenting with alien creatures he called symbiotes. The symbiotes must bond with an Earthen host in order to survive on the planet, and Drake means to fuse symbiotes with humans as a way to survive in space - though more often than not, the symbiotes kill the human hosts. When Dr. Skirth sneaks Eddie into the Life Foundation, one of the symbiotes named Venom bonds with Eddie and the pair help to keep each other alive. But, when Venom informs Eddie of a plot by another symbiote - Riot, who bonds with Drake - that endangers Earth, Venom and Eddie must set aside their differences and work together to take down Riot.
Venom has clear intentions to be a buddy comedy set within a superhero universe and, for the most part, the relationship between Eddie and Venom is the most successful aspect of the film. The script - written by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg and Kelly Marcel from a story by Pinker and Rosenberg - works to flesh out the dynamic between Eddie and Venom, but it often sacrifices actual development for a cheap joke (jokes that, admittedly, do get a laugh). For its part, the script for Venom recognizes the outright wild premise of the comic book character and leans into the weirdness enough to really have some fun (though some viewers may be left wanting even more weirdness). Even still, Venom does have quite a few problems when it comes to the script - some of the dialogue ranges from clunky to laughably bad. Somehow, though, it all adds to Venom's charm.
Where the movie is the most confused, perhaps, is between the performances of Hardy and Ahmed. There is certainly meant to be a fundamental difference between Eddie and Drake - one is a man of the people journalist, while the other is a smooth-talking grandiose businessman/scientist. But much of Venom feels as if Hardy and Ahmed are in two different movies. While Hardy leans into the weirdness, Ahmed appears to be giving a truly earnest appearance even with all that's going on around him - and the earnestness does him no favors when he delivers lines that are meant to be serious and come off more ridiculously silly. However memorable Ahmed's Drake is, though, is all down to the actor since the character isn't well developed by any means. But that's to be expected of a superhero movie that focuses more on developing its main hero - and in this case, that means Venom.
Director Ruben Fleischer's version of Venom undoubtedly benefits from the movie being focused on the character, rather than the character being introduced in a Spider-Man film - as was the case with Sam Raimi's much-maligned Spider-Man 3. This Venom doesn't venture into the R-rated violence some fans may have been hoping for, but there is action to be had in Fleischer's movie. Unfortunately, while there are cool moments amid the various action scenes in which Fleischer experiments with showcasing Venom's abilities, especially when Venom and Eddie are first bonding, many of the sequences are overlong and could have been cut down. Since the movie was also tasked with establishing the relationship between the symbiote and Eddie, which is undoubtedly key to the success of a Venom movie, more focus and development of their relationship couldn't have hurt. Truly, the moments when Hardy-as-Eddie is interacting with Venom - and then reacting to the world around them - are unique and funny enough that they could have made for an entertaining movie even without the action set pieces.
Altogether, Venom is a fast-paced superhero movie that feels out of place in the current landscape of comic book adaptations, largely because it combines aspects that have been popular over the last two decades and attempts to modernize them. While there are elements of superhero films from the 2000s (which are undoubtedly remnants from the movie's long development process), Venom also has a sense of levity that's closer to recent releases in the genre like Deadpool and Thor: Ragnarok. To be sure, Venom is much messier than Deadpool or Thor: Ragnarok; its plodding action sequences and clunky dialogue will no doubt turn off many viewers. But there will also be those who wholly enjoy the mess that is Venom, and embrace its flaws in order to enjoy the parts of it that work - including the charming relationship between human Eddie Brock and the sharp-toothed, long-tongued symbiote at the film's center.
As a whole, then, Venom is so-bad-it's-good in a way that seems to already assure its status as a future "cult" favorite (insofar as a mainstream movie can be a cult favorite). Whether that will be good enough for Sony to continue on with their Spider-Man spinoff franchise remains to be seen, but Venom is undoubtedly good enough to be an entertaining time at the theater.
Venom is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It runs 112 minutes and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language.
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- Venom (2018) release date: Oct 05, 2018