Venom feels like it was made in the mid-’00s. Back in those days, superhero movies were a little goofier, shorter and unironic. They had directors like Rob Bowman, Mark Steven Johnson and some guy by the name of Pitof. And shout out to Tim Story who managed to get two Fantastic Four movies released.
This was a time period when studios were desperate to buy up superhero properties and get them into theaters regardless of quality. Sure, we had Spider-Man and X-Men, but they were made by capable filmmakers (Sam Raimi, Bryan Singer) who put an emphasis on character and story above set pieces. But even they had their moments of over-the-top scenes to remind audiences that they were still watching a comic book movie. Go back and watch Raimi’s Spider-Man movies and they will almost feel dated when compared to today’s crop of superhero IP.
That’s because superhero movies have become far more sophisticated. They’re deeper, longer and meta. They’re made by filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, James Gunn and Taika Waititi. Ryan Coogler is another name to mention as his film, Black Panther, has a legitimate shot of not only being nominated for Best Picture at next year’s Academy Awards, but actually winning it.
Venom is something else entirely. It’s an outlier in today’s superhero landscape and it’s because of this that I don’t really know how to react to it. It’s not nearly as bad as the critics are making it out to be, but it’s also not particularly good. It might be the definition of a “so bad it’s good” movie.
Tom Hardy stars as Eddie Brock, a Vice-like reporter exposing corruption in San Francisco. He’s an on-camera reporter too which doesn’t really make much sense considering it’s…you know, Tom Hardy.
But The Eddie Brock Show is successful. Which is why he can land a beautiful lawyer girlfriend like Anne (Michelle Williams). They’re engaged and share not only an expensive-looking apartment, but a cat named Mister Belvedere.
Everything in Brock’s life is going great until he sticks his nose in Carlton Drake’s (Riz Ahmed) business. Drake is the founder of the Life Foundation. Rather than preserving life however, Drake concerns himself with perfecting it by sacrificing human life with an alien parasite known as a symbiote. Brock breaks into Drake’s lab and exposes himself to the symbiote which latches onto him. This bond leads Brock to possess superhuman strength and power in the form of a creature known as Venom.
It takes what feels like an hour before Brock becomes Venom and this is when the film embraces the silliness. Hardy, who’s not known for comedy, goes all in on the physical gags of something commandeering his body. Brock tears his apartment apart munching on frozen tater tots and half-eaten chicken wings from the trash. He even goes so far as to jump in a tank full of lobsters and begins eating them in front of an entire restaurant full of customers. Hardy is having a blast in these scenes and they are reminiscent of Jim Carrey in The Mask or Upgrade from earlier this year.
But we haven’t bought a ticket to see Hardy be Robin Williams. We want Venom and when he finally arrives, the movie is a whole lot of fun. A Keystone Cops apartment fight scene followed by a terrific motorcycle chase through the streets of San Francisco (Obvious Bullitt homage) act as Venom’s introduction. But what makes these scenes memorable isn’t so much the action, but Venom and Brock’s back-and-forth.
Brock is obviously reluctant to have his body turned into a wrecking ball, but the bromance going on between Brock and Venom is fun and their dynamic lifts the film from being an ordinary anti-hero origin story.
It’s certainly better than whatever is going on between Brock and Anne. Hardy and Williams have zero chemistry. Williams doesn’t seem to know how to navigate her way through a popcorn movie. She’s here for the paycheck.
Drake is your standard moustache-twirling villain. He’s just a guy in a suit who has power and wants more of it. The villains are always the weakest element in superhero movies, but this is one of the worst.
The inevitable third-act CGI-fight scene (Deadpool 2 called it) is unmemorable for the most part and director Ruben Fleischer commits a common superhero sin by having the villain inherit the same powers as the hero in a matter of minutes without the same difficulty as the hero (See: Iron Man, Ant-Man and Black Panther).
But despite Fleischer’s unremarkable direction and an awkward first act, Venom kind of grew on me. It’s so different from the superhero movies of today and that makes it kind of charming in a weird way. Hardy fully embraces both Brock and Venom and that’s what puts it over the top. For better or worse.