There’s been a bit of bad press about the first solo outing for Spider-Man’s most famous frenemy, but does Venom really deserve the hate it’s getting?
When it was announced that Tom Hardy had signed on to the Venom standalone movie, there were more than a few raised eyebrows. After the first trailer came out shortly after, the grumbles started for real online and many were writing off the film months before it even released.
Fast-forward to now, and the finished product is finally with us. Suffice to say, it’s definitely not an understated effort.
The usual elements of a modern comic book origin story are all there: heavy exposition, an antagonist that is identical to but bigger than the protagonist, a female character that is screaming out to do something more than roll her eyes and huff throughout, and a needless and optimistic sequel tease.
Having said that, the whole thing feels curiously out of date. It’s like there was a draft of Venom sitting around Sony Pictures for the last 15 years that had only just been discovered and put to screen. There are moments where it genuinely felt like an add-on to the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies.
Watching Venom in a post-Avengers environment is a really weird experience. For starters, the film doesn’t get going for about half an hour and it’s a real patience-tester until the symbiote action gets going properly.
The film seems to have huge chunks taken out of it too, and Tom Hardy has said as much in interviews – up to 40 minutes is the story going around. It leads to a completely disjointed viewing experience; a lot of scenes take place with no pay-off and nowhere is that more obvious than in the big climactic showdown in the third act.
It’s an utter mess from beginning to end, and yet despite all of this I came out of the screening perversely enjoying it. The first half is still a dreary slog and the whole thing feels like a completely pointless exercise, but when it gets into its groove, Venom is a hoot. Tom Hardy seems to be having the time of his life playing both Eddie Brock and the symbiote, channeling his inner Jim Carrey at times. Whether or not this is actually intentional is hard to determine, but it’s a performance that’s just entertaining enough to keep the film from completely falling apart.
As an out-and-out comic book action movie, Venom fails completely. The action itself is incomprehensible and the CGI, while occasionally decent, is a total mess when there’s more than one symbiote on screen.
After watching this though, it never feels like it was at its core intended to be a mainstream action film. If anything, Venom is reminiscent of a classic romantic comedy – you know the one, man meets parasitic alien substance and transforms into 7 foot face-eating antihero. There’s even a brief moment between the two that will no doubt have already inspired a thousand pieces of fan art.
In fact there seems to be a direct reference to the Steve Martin film All of Me at one point, but of course a CGI symbiote would never be a match for Lily Tomlin.
Venom is so unbearable that it’s almost brilliant. I’ve no doubt that this will find a cult following in years to come, and whether any sequel manifests off of the back of this remains to be seen (though they’re definitely trying).
This film has baffled me, and in spite of every critical faculty I kind of wish that there was more of it. God help me.