I wasn’t planning on writing tonight. But I saw Venom and, after being pretty open about how awkward I thought the movie would be in presenting a Spider-Man-less Venom, I felt I had to write something. Why? Because I was wrong. I thought this film was going to be a rushed, convoluted mess and it wasn’t. Now, it didn’t redefine the genre like Wonder Woman nor did it fully embrace the idea of the antihero in the way Deadpool did. But it was an enjoyable night at the movies and with it currently sitting at a 29% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I wanted to take a few moments to write a short, spoiler-free reflection on why Venom was better than I thought it’d be.
If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, set in San Francisco, Venom is the story of journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) who, after an aggressive interview with the Life Foundation’s morally questionable C.E.O. Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), finds himself out of a job. His reckless actions lead to his fiancée, Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) leaving him as well. As Eddie’s life falls apart, Drake’s search for resources in space yields unexpected results, bringing several alien symbiotes to Earth. Worried by the potential ramifications of Drake’s experiments to create a human/symbiote hybrid, Dr. Dora Skirth reaches out to Eddie Brock to help expose the truth – an action that will lead to his bonding with the alien other, Venom. As Eddie and Anne try to figure out what exactly he’s become, Drake’s pursuit of the perfect hybrid threatens to unleash catastrophic consequences on San Francisco – consequences that will take a new sort of hero to face.
I’ve written before that Venom is all my all-time favorite Spider-Man villain. I picked up Venom’s first appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man #300 from the spinny rack at a local grocery store when I was just five years old. I had no idea what I was in for but I was hooked (and a little freaked out). As a kid I’d come to live for seeing one of those ghastly symbiote grins staring back at me from the cover of a Spider-Man comic. There was nothing cooler than knowing Spidey was going to go toe-to-toe with Venom or Carnage that month! I followed Venom’s antihero exploits in their never ending series of miniseries too. So I’ve got a history with the character.
That being said, the Venom we meet in this film is not the Venom I know from the comics – not by a long shot. Obviously, Spider-Man is not involved in their origin at all. In the comics, Spider-Man brings the symbiote back from Battle World and, upon learning it’s alive, attempts to kill it. Its hatred of Spider-Man leads it to bond with Eddie Brock, a man contemplating suicide after Spider-Man ruined his career. Together, they become Venom and dedicate their life to destroying Spider-Man before the broker a truce and go off to do their own antihero thing. Even as an antihero, Venom are unbalanced – both Brock and the Other feed each other’s darkest traits and flirt with falling further into madness and monstrosity.
However, in the film Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock is a good guy, if a little cynical after losing his job and he finds the Other as a result of his explorations of the Life Foundation. There’s nothing unhinged about Eddie nor does Venom seem as maniacal. (It’s worth noting in the comics “Venom” was who they became together. In the film, “Venom” is the symbiote’s own name – something it’s called by other symbiotes too.) Their relationship in the film isn’t the intimate-yet-toxically-codependent relationship we see in the comics either. Rather, Venom is a sort of Should Devil for Eddie, tempting him to be more aggressive and to “do whatever we want” because they have the power to. Eddie, in turn, tries to teach Venom how to behave on Earth and direct the power they find when they are unified towards nobler ends than just munching on people.
While their relationship is dramatically different (even more different than I presumed it would be from the trailers), it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Venom and Eddie’s dialogue leads to some of the film’s best moments and gives us some quirky fun where the comic rendition offers something more akin to the previously mentioned toxic codependency at best and haunted fever dreams at worst. There’s a humor between them we don’t see in the comics but it adds something worthwhile to the film, a bit of unexpected levity in the place of monstrous rage. Again, it’s not what we see in the comics but I don’t think it has to be and, without Spider-Man, it really couldn’t be the same anyway.
I also really enjoyed Tom Hardy and Michelle Williams together. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t certain why an actress of Michelle Williams’ calibur was doing a film like Venom. I know Tom Hardy LOVES Venom as a character, but Michelle Williams? Was it a just a money thing? I was stumped. But I liked her as Anne! (Although I was surprised she wore a wig as Michelle Williams’ short hair is an iconic part of her look and Ann’s hair is always short in the comics. But I digress.) And there was definitely something in the scenes between her and Tom Hardy – they were given the chance to do more than many superhero/love interest setups allow. That went a long way towards making the movie as good as it was. There was a chemistry they created between their two characters and for that alone I hope we get a sequel. I’d love to see them have the chance to continue to develop this relationship. How Venom factors into their relationship is another of the movie’s more charming parts.
Look at that. A week ago I would never have guessed I’d write that but I thought it in the theatre too. I would be totally up for a Venom sequel. In fact, I really kind of want one. Again, this wasn’t the best superhero movie I’ve ever seen but I don’t think it was ever trying to be. But it was a fun night at the movies. And I think it has potential. I really do. I think if they can allow the right writers and directors to move forward with it and if Sony (and their ridiculous dreams of their own interconnected movie universe) can just back off…I think there’s something here.
I’ll just come out and say it. Venom was better than Avengers: Infinity War. For any of its flaws, Venom is a coherent story that manages to keep track of all of its characters and engage the viewer. It wasn’t riddled with ridiculously large plot holes (as long as Dr. Strange HAS CONTROL OF TIME there was NO WAY Thanos could ever be an effective threat, etc. (#NeverForget)) and it did try to make the characters the center of the story (as opposed to a three hour battle across the cosmos with all the character development left to their individual films). I’ll even say the CGI for the symbiotes looked cooler on screen than I thought they would from the trailers.
I know I said I wasn’t going to spoil anything but I have to say a few spoiler-y things. SO I’ve placed the spoiler paragraph between the four large pictures below. Two big Venom pictures, spoilers, then two more pictures, and then you’re good to read the last paragraph without ruining anything, okay? But I wanted to have this little discussion for people who read this who’ve already seen the movie. So SPOILERS TO FOLLOW AND YOU SHOULD TOTALLY JUMP AHEAD PAST THE HUGE SYMBIOTE BATTLE PICTURE TO NOT RUIN ANYTHING IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT. OKAY? OKAY.
Are you kidding me?!?!? Woody Harrelson as Cletus Kassidy?!?!?!?!?!?!? He was playing the depraved killer Micky in Natural Born Killers when Carnage was first hitting it big in the comics! And he’s only become a better and better actor. A sequel HAS TO HAPPEN just so we have the chance to see Woody Harrelson become the twisted symbiote serial killer Carnage. Also, I love, love, love, love that we got to see Anne bond with Venom too! We also need a sequel so we can see more of that. They only scratched the surface of it in the film (something they did in a very different way in the comics) but the dynamic of the relationship between Eddie and Anne; Eddie and Venom; Anne and Venom; and Eddie, Anne, and Venom is something with real potential for further exploration too. While it wasn’t a major focus, I also enjoyed the “galactic” feel Venom had. When Venom tells Eddie it’s come to like Earth and wants to protect it because of that fact, it felt more like a throwback to some ’80s sci-fi movie of a strange alien protector than one of the modern superhero films and I thought that was fun too.
So there you have it. I have been skeptical about this movie since it was announced. Venom is certainly a character who is close to my heart and I just didn’t think they could do him justice here. While this wasn’t the Venom I knew from the comics (which it never could be without the proper origin story), I enjoyed the film. I’m not saying anyone has to rush out to see it – it may not even be one you need to see on the big screen, depending on your preferences. But Venom could’ve been an enormous train wreck and it wasn’t. Thanks to the skill of the cast and some surprisingly clever moments with the writing, Venom was a worthwhile evening. While it isn’t in the class of the best of the MCU, with the obvious exception of Wonder Woman (which outshines a good bit of the MCU anyway), Venom stands miles ahead of anything the DCEU has offered us and I say it outshines Avengers: Infinity War too. Give Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, and Riz Ahmed’s Venom a shot – in an age of endless superhero movies, it still deserves it.