Sony’s Venom can best be described as an exemplification of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The superhero genre is simultaneously at the peak of its powers with a whopping 10 films set to be released in 2019, yet for many, the genre has become hackneyed and contrite, offering predictable and contrived storylines that do not take risks. Everything about Venom, from its comic-accurate presentation of its titular character, the Lovecraft-ian horror influences, to its mocking tagline (“The world has enough superheroes”) demonstrated to viewers that it wanted to be more Logan than Guardians of the Galaxy: a thought-provoking genre film that set out to do more than merely entertain. And while the world may have enough superheroes, Venom only augments that argument by its existence rather than subverting it with what it could offer. To its credit, this debut film of Spider-Man’s cannibalistic and violent arch nemesis (note: the wall-crawler himself is nowhere to be found in this flick) lives up to its name: it is not the “cure” that it so clearly poised itself as to the banality of current superhero films but instead the very poison that made readers want to settle for the present state of the genre. Sadly, despite the richness of the character’s backstory in the comics, the film tries so hard to convince its viewers and itself that it is not a superhero movie that it ends up not really being much of a movie at all.
This is most egregiously exemplified in its world-building. From the get-go, audiences see that Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is an honest reporter, looking out for those at the mercy of large business corporations. This is only really shown through a few interactions and by the time he gets fired for trying to expose Life Foundation CEO Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) for cruelly recruiting homeless individuals for science experiments, you do not know whether to feel sorry for him or to criticize him for poor decision-making. Much of the film moves at this pace, often setting up a character or plotline and focusing on it for a small amount of time before moving on with the story. I had barely gotten to know Eddie’s character before he had bonded with the Venom symbiote and was fighting against the other symbiote, Riot, toward the film’s end.
Indeed, for a character who is defined by Spider-Man, director Ruben Fleischer admittedly had an uphill battle when creating an origin story without the wall-crawler in it. What he and the screenwriters came up with, however, still feels uninspired. They at first cleverly mirror Peter Parker’s story by making Eddie a reporter, but too quickly, Eddie’s story falls prey to tropes. By removing Spider-Man (who was a key to Venom’s origin) and failing to add anything better to replace it, nothing makes Eddie Brock compelling as a character. Even the film’s action sequences devolve into a smorgasbord of CGI craziness and while it is exciting to see the raw power of the symbiote clash against SWAT soldiers, the climactic fight where Venom fights with another symbiote is so choppily edited and chaotically filmed that it looks like someone throwing black and silver paint at a wall.
Despite the horrid pacing, Tom Hardy’s performance, as well as those of the rest of the cast, save the film from being Fantastic Four levels of awful. Brock’s interactions with the symbiote are the highlights, with the symbiote’s dark humor pairing nicely with Brock’s nervous but committed character. Riz Ahmed lacks the scope of emotion Hardy employs, although he plays the “evil businessman trope” to the best of his ability. Michelle Williams is thankfully given more to do than simply be the main character’s girlfriend and remains headstrong and independent, with she and Brock being portrayed as equals. Additionally, Ludwig Göransson, fresh off of scoring Black Panther, returns with a superb soundtrack for the film, swapping out brighter tones for darker and more menacing ones.
Right before Venom is about to fight with Riot, one of the most powerful symbiotes, Eddie debates with his symbiote about whether or not a head-on attack is a wise idea. Brock’s symbiote admits that the duo is “way out of their league” when it comes to fighting Riot, but the two eventually decide to sacrifice themselves, uttering a triumphant “screw it…let’s save the world.” While this made for a cool scene, it did not make sense in the narrative. It feels as though the same strategy was applied to this very film, where rather than carefully considering how to organically introduce Venom’s character, it was rushed. It was previously reported that Venom potentially could have had an R-rating and many believed that it would have done justice to the character and made the film better, but it would have only made the film’s poor pacing, lack of development and abundance of cliches more apparent. Thus, while Venom is an entertaining action flick, it never meets the potential of the sources off of which it is based and shows that, without the presence of its “host” Spider-Man, it is merely a gelatinous array of interconnected plot lines that barely form a plot.
Zach Lee is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org