Venom Review: Looking Forward to the MCU Reboot
Venom Review: Sony’s return to the Marvel world is a forgettable mess held together by Tom Hardy’s force of will alone.
Normally after seeing a movie I like to wait at least a day before writing my review. Having that time helps me to think things through and decide what I want to say, and it can help to finalize my feelings about certain aspects of the film.
In the case of Venom, however, I needed to act fast. Even as I watched the movie I was forgetting parts of it. If I wait an extra day, I may not remember a thing about Sony’s imminently forgettable non-Marvel Marvel film.
There’s probably going to be some confusion about this film from fans of the Marvel Cinematic Univers that don’t necessarily follow movie news. Sony owns the rights to Spider-Man and all Spidey-related characters, not Marvel Studios. When Sony decided to relaunch Spider-Man with Tom Holland, it turned to Marvel to do all the heavy lifitng from depicting the character to outlining his longterm story to developing Spider-Man: Homecoming. Sony’s name was on that movie, but it was very much a Marvel Studios film.
Venom is a little different though, unfortunately.
Venom is Sony’s project from the ground up. The two studios deliberately left it vague on whether or not Venom is now in the MCU, and the movie doesn’t really answer that question. But the plan is to build a Venom franchise and eventually cross it over with Spider-Man. And from there, it’s a small step into the MCU, but one that Marvel seems to want to wait to see the fan reaction before considering. With good reason.
Sony’s Venom is not a good film. It’s nowhere near the level of Homecoming. It’s closer to Ben Affleck’s Daredevil or even Halle Berry’s soul-crushing Catwoman. But the pull of Tom Hardy and the popularity of the character – plus the confusion by some on whether or not it’s actually an MCU film – may be enough to help it limp past the profit line and justify a sequel. And if so, hopefully Sony will turn to Marvel to help get it right give us a compelling Venom in the MCU. As it is, what we have now is kind of a boring mess.
Venom starts off quickly and fires through plot points without much care. From a vague space mission that crashes back to Earth carrying alien samples that are later named symbiotes to journalist Eddie Brock’s (Hardy) fall from grace due to an ill-fated interview with the thinly veiled analogy for Elon Musk named Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), Venom wastes no time on things like building tension or enjoying the moment.
Soon enough, Brock is in a downward spiral. He’s lost his fiancé Anne (Michelle Williams), he’s unemployable, and living in what the audience is meant to see as a squalid apartment but who anyone that’s been to San Francisco will wonder how he could afford a one-bedroom apartment with exposed brick walls. But I digress.
When a fan asks him to investigate homeless people possibly being held and experimented on by non-Elon Musk’s company the Life Foundation, Eddie risks his life to investigate. Yada yada yada, he escapes the Foundation with a symbiote, and after a substantial freak out Eddie and the Venom symbiote begin to bond – in more ways than one.
The Life Foundation wants the symbiote back, the Eddie wants his girlfriend back, and another symbiote wants to get back to eating people.
It all leads to a handful of action scenes that are both dull and confusing. Venom only really gets to show his full power once before it becomes part of a messy fight with another symbiote that is hard to follow and ultimately kind of pointless because the bad guy is never really established. The stakes feel hollow and the resolution is silly.
The motivations and actions of the characters are also inconsistent and sometimes unclear, and a talented supporting cast is essentially wasted. Williams has a little more to do than most, but she’s firmly incidental to the story and her defining trait is that she used to date Eddie. The bad guy of the piece, played by Ahmed, is a scientist that apparently isn’t all that into science, and has some vague notions about colonizing other worlds… somehow. He is wasted as a billionaire with a view of humanity that is both nihilistic and strangely hopeful. That could have been interesting with more development, but instead, he just comes across as kind of a rich asshole.
Eddie’s character is also all over the place. One minute he’s kind of a dick, then he’s a genuinely good guy that wants to help people. Despite that inconsistency, Hardy is compelling throughout in a “what the hell is he doing?” kind of way. It almost seems like he’s acting in another movie – and to be fair, he probably is.
Director Ruben Fleischer and Hardy both claimed that the film would be dark and gritty and feature “no heroes.” The actual film dips its toes in originality, but ultimately it still follows the firmly established superhero origin story format. Guy gets powers, guy fights bad guys, guy saves the day. The details are a little different, but not by much.
In movies like that, the emphasis is on the growth of the protagonist, but Hardy seems more focused on Eddie’s disintegration – and to be fair, that would have been a more interesting story. Instead, it’s a small piece of a formula, a nod to what could have been. Plus it doesn’t help that the first act is just boring.
One area where Venom does succeed, to a degree, is the relationship between Eddie and the symbiote. There are several other ways they could have gone, many of which may have led to a more interesting and original movie, but the conversations between the two are generally amusing. They don’t really add much depth and there are a few times where the symbiote is a little oddly self-depreciating, but there are a few funny parts that come from it.
As a final note, for fans of the comic character of Venom, the depiction is closer to later incarnations where he is far removed from Spider-Man and off doing his own thing. That might help to establish him as an antihero for future films, but a little hint of Spidey might have gone a long way. It’s one of many issues though, and far from the most serious.
Venom Review Conclusion
Venom is a movie in a hurry to get past itself. Maybe it was more interested in franchise building and no one told Hardy, or maybe it was just messy from the start. It starts out slow, shows a few flashes of potential midway through, then sputters to a boring ending.
The good news is that Venom might still make enough money thanks to the popularity of Hardy and the character that Sony might turn to bring Marvel for help. If so, the sequel teased at the end of the film might have a chance of escaping the unfortunate shadow that Venom will cast.
Venom is rated PG-13 with a running time of 112 minutes.