The antihero has always been a fashionable icon in pop culture, from the manipulative Underwoods in “House of Cards” (Netflix, 2013-2018) to Brad Pitt’s crazy Tyler Durden in “Fight Club,” (1999, David Fincher). There is forever a fascination with those protagonists who fight some sort of questionable “good fight” despite their potential to become cold-hearted villains. Marvel Comics’ Venom is one of those characters, starting off as a dark opposing force to Spider-Man, then growing into something more complex.
This reiteration of Venom is an interesting one because there’s no clean-cut definition of him as a character. Sony, in cooperation with Marvel, has omitted Tom Holland’s Spider-Man from this adaptation (plus, anyone who’s seen “Infinity War” knows why), focusing solely on the alien symbiote and its journey living through Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy).
The dynamic works – Eddie is a sarcastic loudmouth, and Venom considers itself a low-life on its home planet. Early experiments in the film tell us that a symbiote has to bind perfectly to its host in every way, so the bond with Eddie is ideal for Venom. This isn’t a dark or demonic tale. Dry humor and sarcasm abound in this adaptation, obviously riding the coattails of “Deadpool.” That is meant as a compliment, and not just because sarcasm is my brand of humor. The almost “buddy cop” partnership that Eddie and Venom make is a great starting point for a potential franchise based solely around the black symbiote. Marvel and Sony – take note: your sequel to “Venom” should be dark and brooding to 1) make this film stand out more, and 2) provide the most realistic transition into a full-fledged franchise. Look at Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2” (2004) as an example.
Hardy is a solid choice for any role he’s given, and he shines as Eddie Brock. Similar to his smart-talking but cautious character in 2014’s “The Drop” (Michael R. Roskam), Hardy is confident and conscious of his ability to play the innocent victim as well as the sinister antihero.
With great setup comes great downfalls though, and while “Venom” is still a pretty solid flick, it’s certainly far from perfect. First off, the humor carries too heavily into the third act – to the point where everything’s predictable, and I couldn’t care less about these characters. This is after an awesome first and second act, where Eddie realizes he’s “possessed” and begins his dialogue with Venom. It’s a steady decline from there.
Also, Carlton Drake (played by Riz Ahmed) is hardly a satisfying villain. Antagonists with extreme God complexes are always interesting to me, but Drake is a character that simplifies everything by just being reckless. Instead of being terrifying, he’s just a loon. Ahmed’s portrayal of the mad scientist mogul didn’t help things; he comes across as extremely annoying and worthy of a swift smack upside the head.
For a movie helmed by Sony and Marvel, the stylized violence and CGI were real letdowns. Venom has one of the coolest designs of any comic book character, and though the final action scene has some great imagery, his CGI-fueled black goo really needed cleaning up. It looked glossy and obviously fake – not something you’d expect from a big budget comic book film. Secondly, the editing was clunky, full of shaky cam style cinematography coupled with sloppily staged shots. A long car chase that occurs midway through is loud and unexciting because of these flaws.
It’s not “great” by any stretch of the imagination, but “Venom” manages to hold its own as a comic book film with a slightly new twist on a borrowed angle. It’s unsophisticated, but at least it’s kind of fun.
NOTE: Don’t bother sticking around for the second end credits scene. It’s a long, shameless plug for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” If I needed a reason to care even less about that film, this was it.