Fun with solo symbiotes…
Although the philosophy behind its creation is troubling, Venom makes for a surprisingly fun – if simplistic – comic book movie.
Starring Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, and Riz Ahmed
Released by Sony Pictures Releasing
Written by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, and Kelly Marcel
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Venom is a movie that really shouldn’t work, nor would most Spider-Man fans think it’s a thing that should even exist. After all, Eddie Brock is a character who got his start first as an antagonist and later as a supporting character for the Webhead himself; his solo outings in the comics – depending on who you ask, of course – have a somewhat spotty reputation. Having Venom exist in a cinematic world unto himself without Spider-Man just seems kind of … wrong in a lot of ways, and most people who like Venom because they love Spider-Man would be completely justified in feeling that way.
Still, against all odds and even despite a myriad of structural problems and the fact that the work seems to be drowning in clichés, something remarkable tends to break through for anyone open to the idea of seeing Eddie Brock in a solo adventure on the big screen, sans Spidey: fun.
Directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) and starring Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed, Venom has a sense of fun that is infectious (no pun intended), most easily communicated by the magnetic performance of Tom Hardy as lead character Eddie Brock. Whether you’re watching him lambaste a scientist for doing a bad job shadowing him or dive into a lobster tank in a high-class restaurant and start eating one of the crustaceans raw and alive, Hardy’s performance as the visible human-half of the equation that is Venom himself really makes the whole experience well worth a superhero fan’s time.
Loosely based on the comic book stories Lethal Protector and Planet of the Symbiotes, Venom begins by establishing Eddie Brock as an independent journalist working for a network in San Francisco. Things seem to be going pretty well for Eddie: he’s good at his job, which affords him a small amount of celebrity; he’s got a loving fiancée in the form of lawyer Anne Weying (Williams); and his life is generally on track. That goes off the rails when one of Anne’s clients, the powerful Life Foundation led by billionaire Carlton Drake (Ahmed), has to fend off a lawsuit over wrongful deaths stemming from experiments they’re conducting with … unique biological parasites.
When Eddie breaks into Anne’s computer for information on the case and confronts Drake with his knowledge of the pending litigation, Drake gets him fired. Anne dumps him for violating her trust and also getting her fired, and Eddie’s life sits in ruin. That is, until a scientist at Drake’s company comes to Eddie in an attempt to expose her boss, which eventually puts him in contact with one of the unique "symbiotes." After that, Eddie’s life goes sideways in ways he never could have imagined.
While it’s apparent early on that the plot will likely be predictable, the movie unexpectedly swerves a couple of times. It’s not really the specifics of the plot that make it generally engaging, though. It’s all Tom Hardy, and his somewhat off-the-wall antics that get dialed up to 11 as soon as the symbiote enters Eddie’s body. It’s strange that as a movie, Venom is almost like that first flying scene in Man of Steel was dragged out for two hours: even in the midst of somewhat chaotic predictability, there’s a surprising amount of joy on display when Eddie figures out exactly what he and his new friend are capable of, even if it may not be the deepest thing you’ll see at the movies this month (or even this week).
That’s not to say that Venom always overcomes its very visible problems. In fact, it actually draws more attention to them in places. While it doesn’t quite overcome the more questionable aspects of its own existence in trying to carve a niche for itself separate from Spider-Man, it doesn’t take too much imagination to see Peter Parker (or the wider aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe) interacting, at some point, with this film’s vision of Eddie. It doesn’t step on any toes, and in some spots actually does a better job as a solo Venom story than many of the same kinds of stories from the comics.
Still, you won’t see anyone credible calling Venom a stroke of comic book cinematic genius anytime soon. But one great lead performance and some surprising callbacks to aspects of comics canon can go a long way in pushing forward the massive amounts of fun to be had when watching what the movie has in store, along with some solid visual inventiveness to be found, particularly in the final showdown.
Venom is no The Dark Knight, Logan, Captain America: The Winter Soldier orSpider-Man 2. Not even close. Just because it doesn’t hit that high benchmark, though, doesn't mean that it’s without value, especially if you find yourself enjoying a healthy dose of comics-based movies on a regular basis. I’ll be the first to admit that I was going into this fully expecting to hate it, and for what it’s worth, Venomwon me over with a great lead performance and a lot of unexpected fun.
Who knows? Maybe it’ll win you over, too.
This review originally appeared at Movies.com.