Runtime: 112 minutes
Director: Ruben Fleischer
When audiences were first introduced to Venom in a live-action film, it was in 2007’s Spider-Man 3. Not only was this portrayal poorly executed through scripting, but it also turned the unique nature of Venom’s character into an emo haircut and added dancing pizzazz down the streets of New York. Topher Grace’s portrayal of Venom was slightly better in the film than Toby McGuire’s, explaining how the creature can join forces with the host and create a decent villain, but unfortunately, the film itself had far too many villains to make it work.
When I heard Venom was getting his own film, I was surprised. In the Spider-Man cartoon, Venom was portrayed predominately as an evil nemesis for Spider-Man, and I wasn’t aware of his background as being an anti-hero. Furthermore, knowing that Venom would not be interacting with our hero Spider-Man was also concerning as their dynamic was one of the best parts about the character. However, Tom Hardy seemed rather protective of the character in interviews and seemed to genuinely care about him.
Tom Hardy as an actor (I’ve decided) is a weird dude. I have loved him in previous roles such as Mad Max: Fury Road and The Dark Knight Rises, but he definitely has bizarre mannerisms and character traits that I hadn’t noticed before. His character, Eddie Brock, was always meant to be a loser, but when I heard that Tom Hardy was in this role, I found it hard to believe he could be portrayed as a loser at all. Tom Hardy is just too damn cool! However, the film does a good job of portraying a certain type of loser. He isn’t a bumbling buffoon who is an unsuccessful nerd, he is a loser who has lost his job, his apartment and his fiancée all because he gets in his own way. This is far more believable in an actor like Tom Hardy, and I was on board for this type of portrayal.
Another strong point of the film was Venom and Eddie’s interactions. The inner dialogue of Venom talking with Eddie was great, and you really got to see a humorous side to this ‘villain’ that I hadn’t experienced before. Venom frequently comments on how much of a loser Eddie is, but protects him because they are bound together. This necessary bond quickly turns into a legitimate one as they seem to both agree on terms where they can both be happy (Venom doesn’t bite random people’s heads off, but he can feast on bad people). While I did find Venom’s change of heart very sudden, I thoroughly enjoyed it when they teamed up together to defeat a greater evil.
The weaknesses in the film was by far the scripting. Personally, I felt the film took far too long to actually “Venom” and there were several lines that were too cheesy, even for a superhero film. You spend quite a decent amount of time with Eddie before his career breaks down, and even the discovery of Venom as a sentient creature took a while to surface. The pacing of the film seems awkward—his fiancée seems to dump him rather suddenly, and is then seriously dating someone else six months later. While I do understand her motivations, this does seem like a lot of time passing for no reason. The characters then interact in bizarre ways as the new boyfriend seems to be more than happy to help, while Anne remains far too involved in Eddie’s well-being (something she didn’t seem too concerned about before).
The relationship (or lack thereof) between Eddie and Anne (Michelle Williams) has zero chemistry. Her character was just there without any useful traits, constantly changing her feelings towards Eddie and Venom without any explicable reason. The primary villain, Carlton Drake, was also extremely frustrating. I could see that the actor was going for some “god-complex A-hole”, but he just felt contrived and over-the-top. Venom’s villainous counterpart Riot was also highly underdeveloped, and the fight scenes between them were confusing, lacking any really stakes when I didn’t know how they could be killed. I was hoping superhero films were finally beginning to understand that we like villains who we can sympathise with, and neither of these villains had any redeemable traits.
I did miss Spider-Man during this film, loving the connection (of hatred) these two characters have for one another, but I could also understand why someone as cute and lovely as Tom Holland would not have worked beside Tom Hardy. There are two post-credit scenes. The first is worth staying for, hinting at the next film (assuming it received one) and the second felt like a very odd choice and could easily be searched on YouTube (promotion for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse).
Overall, I actually didn’t mind watching Venom. I heard a lot of criticism about it, but I think some Marvel fans need to take a step back and remember they are just superhero films and don’t need to be cinematic masterpieces to still entertain an audience. This film had an interesting main protagonist in Eddie and you could understand why he was happy to bond with Venom (an incredibly important detail if fans are to get on board with the character). Venom himself was mostly understandable as he clearly could see the benefits of remaining on Earth, rather than returning to his own home planet where he was a bit of a loser. I would have liked to see Venom interacting with Eddie’s mind/personality to show why he had such a change of heart in relation to remaining on Earth, but for the most part, his character made sense to the plot. The lore behind the symbiote could have been fleshed out a little further, but you could understand why they used the hosts to further their own plans. At the end of the day, it had all of the ingredients to be an enjoyable superhero film but with minor details and character moments missing. Spending more time on the relationship between Venom and Eddie would have improved the film exponentially as these scenes were by far the best.
Comparatively, this film does a far superior job at setting up a likeable protagonist, believable antagonist and somewhat relatable plot than films like Suicide Squad or Justice League. We see Eddie multiple times interacting with regular people and being a likeable guy despite his rough life. However, it isn’t without its flaws. The beats in the film sometimes feel awkward or slow, but this doesn’t damage the characters. Nothing was more satisfying than seeing Venom calling Eddie a “pussy” as they demonstrate their love/hate relationship. This film felt like a reincarnation of an earlier film before Marvel figured out the secret recipe to a perfect film. But there were fight scenes, car chases, explosions, science and loveable unlikely heroes, the recipe for a perfectly enjoyable average superhero film.