Venom Review – 6.8/10

I went to see Venom because I watch every Marvel and DC movie in theaters. The only one I’ve missed to date since seeing the original Blade (1998) is Fantastic Four (2015) and that was only because I was in the process of moving and literally did not have time to see the movie in theaters before it was removed. So I was always going to see Venom in theaters even though I had low expectations from the very first trailer. The things I’d heard about the movie since it released just a few days prior to me seeing it did not raise my hopes for the movie either. Now that I’ve seen it myself, I can say honestly that Venom is a bad movie. But it might be the best bad comic book movie I’ve ever seen.

There are two types of bad movies. There are those that are bad and shouldn’t have been made the way they were if at all. Suicide Squad (2016), The Spirit (2003), and Superman Returns (2006) are examples of this. They are not only bad movies in terms of plot and often film making conventions, but they also don’t even really entertain past surface level visuals. They simply aren’t even good enough for hate watching. But there’s another type of bad movie. Some movies are bad, but good. Maybe you’d even say they’re so bad that they’re good. R.I.P.D. (2013), Spider-Man 3 (2007), and Batman & Robin (1997) are all great examples of this type of movie. They aren’t good by any conventional stretch of the word. They’re riddled with questionable film making decisions, lackluster writing, often terrible acting, and sometimes dialog so bad that it becomes iconic. This is where I put Venom.

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Let’s first remember the reasons why Venom was made and the space it exists in within the larger Marvel and comic book film landscape. Venom, the character, was originally created in 1988. It came to be after a stint as just “the Symbiote” merged with Peter Parker/Spider-Man. When Parker finally separated from it, the Symbiote found Eddie Brock and became Venom. Venom started out as an arch nemesis of Spider-Man and was only that for many years. Down the road he eventually became an anti-hero similar to Frank Castle/The Punisher but that was way later. Even today, most people still think of Venom, and his host Eddie Brock, as a Spider-Man villain. Many would even say the best Spider-Man villain. That’s the character in the world of comic books but that’s only kind of relevant in the real world of business. Venom was made because of an annoying longstanding contract agreement between Sony and Marvel (now owned by Disney). Sony has to make a new Spider-Man universe film every few years or the Spider-Man IP rights will automatically revert back to Marvel. This pretty much guarantees that Spider-Man themed films from Sony will keep being made rather frequently as long as they make money. And since the original Spider-Man (2002) they have. This is also the reason they rebooted the franchise and did The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) so soon after finishing the Tobey Maquire run. Sony literally had to churn out another Spider-Man movie of they would have lost the IP rights. And those rights matter. Not just for that film money but for everything. Toys based on the movies, cartoons, merchandising. Even the recently released Spider-Man game exclusive to PS4 from Insomniac Games falls under the purview of Sony’s contract with Marvel.

symbiote fight

The main problem for Sony now is that they lost the Spider-Man in Spider-Man films. Because Disney really wanted Peter Parker to appear in the MCU, they paid a king’s ransom to get those film rights back “temporally”. But that didn’t actually change the terms of the original contract. This leaves Sony in a very peculiar place. They need to make Spider-Man movies without actually using Spider-Man. And let’s be clear that by without Spider-Man I mean specifically Peter Parker. They could easily put out movies about Miles Morales, Spider-Gwen, or any other Spider-Totem characters. But that’s easier said than done. Making a movie isn’t as simple as writing a script, hiring some actors, and buying a camera. It’s quite expensive and has to be deemed potentially profitable or it could destroy the IP and even the brand. And in the current climate it might not sound like such a great idea to Sony stockholders to put out a movie with a Black or female Spider-Man/Person. Especially when also having to compete with the MCU and the much loved Tom Holland as Peter Parker. And that’s just the stuff we know about. For all we know Disney contracted for control of Miles Morales and Gwen Stacey as well. There are references to Miles Morales in the MCU such as Donald Glover playing a character who is most likely his uncle in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017).

When understanding all this background information, it becomes clearer why Sony decided to do something that literally no one asked for and made a movie with Venom as not only the main character but not a Spider-Man villain. And when I say not a Spider-Man villain I mean Spider-Man isn’t even mentioned in the movie. Given all that context, now let’s actually discuss how the movie was.

tongue reduced

Venom is not a good movie, but it sure is an entertaining one. It’s cult film good. There are numerous problems with it, but I don’t for a second regret seeing it. My girlfriend, a diehard Marvel movie fan with a less than even casual background in general comic book lore knowledge, laughed for pretty much the entire duration of the movie. And really this might be the best space for Venom, and Sony Marvel films as a whole, to fill. They can’t compete with the MCU. They don’t have the planning, time, or access to characters that the MCU does. They don’t have the available casting choices that the MCU does because of so many roles already taken by phenomenal actors. So in a lot of ways it might actually make more since for Sony to intentionally try to fill the comic relief niche of comic book filmmaking. Because there’s almost no competition for that spot. It’s pretty much just Dead-Pool at this point. And with Disney’s inevitable absorption of the FOX Marvel universe/characters, that leaves pretty much no real competition for the comedy comic book movie throne. Disney isn’t going to let the MCU collapse in tone and style for one character and the brooding DC film universe simply isn’t playing for comedy, granted Shazam seems like they might be trying to break-in to that genre. My point is that in many ways it was logical for Sony to make the film they did with Venom than the film people think they actually wanted to see.

The acting is bad. Specifically Tom Hardy, who I am generally a fan of, gave a really cheesy performance. Think Nicolas Cage in Kick-Ass (2010). That’s not to say that Tom Hardy is a bad actor. More that his depiction of the character was very different from the Eddie Brock I expected. I’d say he came off a bit too geared towards a modern millennial audience. The Eddie Brock I’m used to is brooding, hot tempered, and narcissistic. This Eddie Brock was very whiny and seemed more like a victim of his circumstances than an active player. What I find interesting is that Hardy also voiced Venom, who is a wholly different character than Eddie Brock. His voice and demeanor are considerably altered. I spent the entire movie thinking Venom was being voiced by a different actor. That being said, this Venom is super campy. He’s essentially the douchebag frat boy to Eddie Brock’s whiny loser. The pairing makes for a hilarious on screen dynamic. I will say though that this Venom’s voice was clearly inspired by the 90’s Amazing Spider-Man cartoon. Some of the other actors in the movie gave stronger performances, but nothing to write home about. Riz Ahmed as Carlton Drake was the most noteworthy for me. He was exactly the way I would have wanted that villain to be. He truly believed in his cause and delivered his lines with authenticity and controlled passion.

drake.jpg

The visual aspects of the film aren’t particularly good either. I took the time to go back and look at Venom in Spider-Man 3 and I have to say that it looks better. The symbiote forms, like the voices, come off super campy in Venom. They look like something from Spawn (1997). What I think it’s important to note is that this Venom is super authentic in how it recreates the source materials, both from the comics and 90’s cartoon, in terms of handling the transformation(s). They do it the way it was originally intended with the Symbiote taking over Brock’s body from behind and completely layering over him. That being said, it looks pretty cheesy in real life. It’s the Wolverine problem. Hugh Jackman would look odd actually running around in yellow spandex with that black blue/black mask and eye holes. Having the Venom suit engulf Brock looks odd in real life. The way they handled this in Spider-Man 3 was by going the werewolf route where Brock literally changes into a Symbiote merged form with actual fangs developing from his teeth. They also made it a point of not showing too many direct shots of his face during transformation. This is not authentic and it’s certainly not cool. But it does look better in live action. At the same time though it’s also quite limiting. Venom does some interesting scenes with Brock and Venom that could only work with them being two separate beings inhabiting the same body as opposed to one fully merged being. So I will give them that.

My bigger complaint about the way Venom looks is that he’s way too big. All the Symbiote human merged forms are too tall and too buff. Riz Ahmed goes from Edward Norton’s Bruce Banner to nearly the Hulk in seconds. That’s not authentic to the source material. The Symbiote makes people stronger, not buffer. Part of Eddie Brock’s development as a character is that he goes from being an average sized dude to a bulky muscle head because he wants to improve his physical prowess to be a more effective Venom. In this, Tom Hardy is a normal looking guy and Venom is huge. It might look more epic but if they’re trying to build a franchise, which they absolutely are according to the credits sequence, that aspect removed a key developmental plot point of Eddie Brock as a character. It also doesn’t help that the one time another character becomes Venom they don’t also get super bulky and muscular, so there’s a real lack of consistency there.

Shop scene

The effects are also noticeably low quality at times. I’ve seen a lot of action movies and I have to say that I rarely spot stunt doubles. In one particular motorcycle scene, I very clearly saw Tom Hardy’s stunt double. It was like that scene in Space Balls. Well maybe not that ridiculous but still quite noticeable. The CGI effects for the unmerged Symbiotes were quite good. They did a fine job of portraying them as living beings even though they were just undulating puddles of goo. Overall the visual quality of the film lands somewhere between Green Lantern (2011) and X2: X-Men United (2003), with the latter of course being the better looking film.

The sound quality, though less noteworthy, outside of voice acting, than in many other comic book films I’ve seen, was quite good. There wasn’t much noticeable in the way of music though. In fact, I can’t recall a single song from the movie other than in a specific scene that was specifically about the song and the end credits song by Eminem, which I’m sorry to say isn’t great. I do think the general lack of external sound was intentional though because sound plays an important role in the film plot wise as well as making sure you can hear the symbiotes talking to their hosts.

half face

The writing is probably the most notable part of the movie as well as the hardest to judge. I spent the whole movie teetering back and forth between cringing and being generally impressed. I will say that I laughed pretty much the whole time though. But my laughter was mostly because the dialog is in your face and often terrible. It’s not authentically funny the way Tony Stark is in the MCU. It’s more like Seth Rogan in The Green Hornet (2011) where it’s bad dialog but it makes you laugh in the way Family Guy does. The dynamic between Eddie Brock and Venom is funny. It reminded me of Star Kid (1997) if the kid and the suit had both grown up to be depressed comedians. Even though the dialog wasn’t written particularly well, the relationship and how it develops between Brock and Venom is quite good. I liked the way they actually became friends and grew to understand each other. At first they’re at odds and both seem to be fighting for control but by the end they’re working together with a genuine desire to help each other. I also really liked that the dialog took the time to explain the symbiotic relationship between host and symbiote casually over time as opposed to just spelling it out in one explanatory conversation. At the same time, there are a lot of inconsistencies about what Venom actually knows from the start. Sometimes he asks questions as if he genuinely wants to learn about something he doesn’t know and other times it seems like he automatically has access to Brock’s knowledge because of their merger. A good example of this is how he magically knows how to drive a motorcycle like a badass presumably the first time he rides one.

motorcycle sceneTo say the film is well written would be a gross misrepresentation of what it actually is. But I also wouldn’t say the writing is absolute trash like I would for The Spirit, which I genuinely hope you’ve never seen because it truly is that bad. What isn’t up for debate though is that the writing is entertaining. You laugh for the bulk of the movie. You care enough about the plot not to check out. Even though Venom is a selfish, immature monster that spends most of the movie complaining that he can’t eat people, you still sympathize with him by the end. Even though Eddie Brock, like Venom, puts his own desires and beliefs before those of everyone else, even to the detriment of both his job and his relationship, you still want to see him win in the end. Venom isn’t written to be a high minded quality film that’s going to change the way we view comic book movies. It’s simply a movie to watch and enjoy and it accomplishes that just fine.

Overall I’d say I enjoyed Venom. But I enjoyed it in the way I enjoy bad films like Zombeavers (2014) and The Pink Panther (2006). It’s not a film you watch to be impressed. It’s a film you watch when you just want to be entertained. And if Sony can maintain that tone through an entire franchise of sans Peter Parker Spider-Man films without them becoming stale and unfunny, then I think that’s OK.

 

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