With almost everything stacked against it, from multiple rewrites and a troubled production, to being yet another comic book movie in a market oversaturated with them, to being weirdly outside of the main Marvel Canon, it feels like Venom was almost destined to be a failure before it started. And, indeed, it may yet be a financial failure (which cynically speaking is all that matters), but I personally don’t believe that it has failed at actually being an entertaining Venom movie. Personally, I quite enjoyed it – and this was after a week of hearing every possible opinion tell me that it was going to be a train-wreck in every way.
Let’s get the plot outline out of the way: Tom Hardy plays Eddie Brock, an investigative reporter who develops a slight obsession with multimillionaire CEO Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), who Brock suspects are up to no good. Eddie is right, but his obsessive behaviour leads him to lose everything in his personal life, including his fiancé, Anne (Williams). Meanwhile, Drake has brought back four examples of alien life from a mission of his to space. These lifeforms are Symbiotes: beings who bond with another living creature to super-powered individual. Eddie, acting on a tip, breaks into Drake’s labs and is accidentally exposed to a parasite. Soon, he begins hearing the creature speak to him, calling itself Venom, and he finds himself with dangerous new powers.
The plot is serviceable for an origin story movie, although it does fall into the very common trope of having an incredibly forgettable and weak villain. This is a crime not unique to this film: even within the MCU the same occurs (cough cough Malakith cough cough). The other main weakness is probably that the transitions from the second act to the third act and the finale feel incredibly brisk, and altogether it does seem like a few extending scenes were cut from this film to tie all the bits together. The fact that Tom Hardy himself has explained that some of his favourite scenes were cut do seem to favour this view.
The main draw of the film is the relationship between Eddie and Venom, as they have a constant back and forth dialogue going on between them, which develops as the film goes on. There is a mixture of genuinely funny dialogue, and some that are a little cringey, but I did like how it worked as an element of the film. I do also find Tom Hardy to be a pretty good actor, and I think he brought across Eddie Brock to feel very believable in what he was going through and experiencing during the events of the film.
The visual effects were pretty good, and I enjoyed seeing how the symbiotes flowed and moved around in action. It is a rather dark film though (I’m speaking literally now) and I found that in 3D some bits were almost impossible to actually see, especially when you are trying to distinguish between two symbiotes in the finale. Seeing as the 3D adds nothing to the film, you should go watch it on a normal screen. Part of this may also have been that Venom and the villain, Riot, look far too similar in design. The comics always handled this by making the symbiotes different colours, but this wasn’t as obvious or boldly done here.
Basically, my overall feeling was that I wanted more of this movie: when it was done I wished that I had seen more Eddie/Venom interactions, more weird action set pieces, and more about the other symbiotes coming to light. For me, the worst possible crime a film can make is to be boring: at the very least you can be interesting in some way, and Venom is interesting and engaging in many of its aspects. It is by no means perfect, but I found it to be greater than the sum of its parts, and I only wish now that it makes enough money to have a more expansive sequel that focuses on the parts in this movie that were actually good. There was an obvious sequel bait hook at the end, but I also know that that is not indicative always of a return if the box office doesn’t perform enough.
At the end of the day, the bad parts of this movie feel like they happen almost because of the conventions it has to fall into: it’s almost a bad thing that they couldn’t just skip the origin story altogether, and start with Eddie and Venom having been together for some time. It wouldn’t have been impossible, but it goes against all franchise wisdom at this point to make such a choice. Similarly, for the weirder and more violent elements – Deadpool has proven that you can have a high age rating on these films, but I still feel like they dialled things back a bit more here because it has less comedy in it and more horror, and that this is to the movie’s disservice. There’s also a lot of nods to the expanded Venom universe that you can only hope will get built on to in any further sequel, if they were to happen, but which here can only be small potential plot lines because they have so much stuff already to work through for the origin.
In conclusion, I have to disagree with everyone that says this is the worst superhero movie since Catwoman – I have seen worse movies within the untouchable Marvel Cinematic Universe itself, and those films really have no excuse, with the kind of time and money that goes into them. Venom is not one of cinema’s greatest films of all times; it is not a golden classic for the ages – what it is, is a comic book adaptation, a flick, with some decent set pieces and a fun gimmick that kept me entertained throughout, and which also has above average franchise potential into the future.
I couldn’t really ask for more at this stage from this kind of movie.
A special word of thanks to be given to Ster Kinekor cinema group, for sponsoring the viewing of this film ahead of release for the Fortress of Solitude team.
A special Venom comic book will be available at IMAX cinemas (Mall of Africa, Capegate & Gateway) to the first 300 customers (100 per site) who come through the doors to see the film this weekend. The movie will also release at these D-BOX theatres at the Zone in Rosebank and Cavendish in Cape Town from the 5th of October.
Venom is not one of cinema’s greatest films of all times; it is not a golden classic for the ages - what it is, is a comic book adaptation.