The year has already been outstanding for the comic book film genre with hits like Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. Naturally, not every single entry produced from here on out needs to be as monumental as these two. Ant-Man and The Wasp found success with its isolated narrative of a smaller scale. This is all Sony’s Venom needed to be: small-scale yet free to roam within its own merits. Even though some may disagree, making a Venom movie without Spider-Man is totally possible. Sony has just proved this by creating a solo Venom film that conceptually works. Unfortunately, the film falters in identifying its own merits. This combined with a series of other odd choices leave Venom as one of the most bizarre comic book movies to date.
The film follows top-notch reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) as he investigates the inhumane practices of the prestigious Life Foundation in San Francisco. When his investigation uncovers the company’s discovery and experimentation on aliens referred to as symbiotes, his life turns for the worst. Things take an even more drastic change when he crosses paths with one of the symbiotes known as Venom. The two come together to form the iconic Marvel anti-hero and set out to put an end to their common foe. This short synopsis, even though not inherently exciting, proves that a solo Venom film can work. Now, all that is left is for exciting direction and for the most part, the movie tries to deliver. This is all thanks to Hardy taking the lead. The Oscar-nominated actor takes a looser and more amusing approach to Brock that will definitely stand out in his filmography. One can tell that he is always enjoying himself to the fullest which makes his charm all the more entertaining to watch. However, almost no one else in the cast seems to be approaching the film the same way – thus making it feel like Hardy is leading in a different movie.
This is where the oddities of Venom begin to take shape. Opposite of Brock is the CEO of the Life Foundation, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). He is essentially the Elon Musk of San Francisco, trying to hide the problematic practices of his company while also promoting new technology. His arc is that of a mad scientist who endlessly seeks results. This may be cliche, but Ahmed also gives the role his all. One cannot help but think how well suited he is to face off against Ethan Hunt or James Bond throughout his screentime. Everyone included in Drake’s horrors acts appropriately to the subject matter. Simultaneously, characters in Brock’s zany buddy alien journey acts appropriately to that. It is almost like there are two different movies at odds here. When combined into the hybrid that is the final cut, a plethora of unintentional comedy is born.
This is not meant to be a jab at director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, 30 Minutes or Less). It is possible to pull off a thorough combination of horror and zaniness. Considering the director’s previous work, it is obvious that most of the comedic beats within Brock’s scenes are meant to be laughed with. These beats also mostly work thanks again to Hardy’s performance. The rest of the film is full of moments that are laughed at -not with. There is an essential difference between laughing with a film and laughing at it. Venom loves to dance this fine line, which if successfully pulled off could have been worth the price of admission alone. However, the film has three other villains that ultimately blur this fine line: dated dialogue, editing, and unthorough plot points.
Many are already drawing comparisons to comic book films of the previous decade such as Ghost Rider. Even though these comparisons are probably too harsh, they are based on fairground because Venom is assembled in methods that bring back memories of the past. Edits leave little breathing room and create moments that leave heads scratching. Dialogue often feels outdated or unnatural in the context of the moment. There are many plot threads that do not feel very thought out. Not necessarily to be deemed as “plot holes”, but characters make odd choices when simpler methods are clearly present. These are the reasons why the combination of horror and zaniness does not work when travelling from Brock to Drake. After getting a good load of achieved comedy through Brock, it is hard to take Drake seriously through many dramatic beats that turn comedic. Vice versa, it is hard to take Brock seriously again when one cannot help but laugh.
If these results were all directorial choices, then this criticism would be less subjective. Nevertheless, it is really hard to determine what is meant to be taken seriously and what is not. Many will find this aspect entertaining enough for a watch, but a revisit is unlikely. The current amount of comic book films produced is high. Even though new entries in the genre do not necessarily have to be monumental, they do need to proudly own some innovation if they are not to be forgotten in a sea of films. Venom does not really succeed in this field either for it repeats familiar tropes. It features the third SUV car chase in a comic book film this year (the second to take place in the Bay Area). The final battle already revealed in the trailers is between two look-alike characters with similar powers; the list goes on. Ultimately, those who remember Venom will remember it in fragments. Those pieces in between the two-hour runtime that actually managed to leave an impression.
Sony could have perhaps unintentionally created a cult hit with Venom. Hardy never shows regret in his character decisions which leaves the audience wondering what could have been if everyone else saw what he did. This is the closest thing to Tommy Wiseau’s The Room that comic book films have. This is not meant to be negative at all for many people love that movie for what it is. This leaves Venom a difficult film to recommend. One should see it if they cannot wait for the unconventional viewing. On the other hand, if one was dying for an innovative, thrilling, and surprising take on the character – this can wait. What can be said for sure is that this is not the ideal start to Sony’s cinematic universe of Marvel characters. Creating a cult following is always fun and worth something, but it will not warrant the legs for a series that can keep up with the majority of people left wanting more.
Venom hits theaters on October 5.