Venom isn’t near the hot mess you’ve been hearing, but let’s not be too complimentary
When the first trailer for the movie begrudgingly shrugged its way across our screens I wasn’t quite sure what iteration of the Venom character we were going to get; sure, we knew we were getting Eddie Brock, but it’s not uncommon for film versions of popular characters to have back-stories retconned. Tim Burton’s Joker instantly springs to mind. Rick Remender’s modernized version of Venom features the mantle being held by a disabled war veteran called Flash Thompson, with the Venom symbiote all but taking a back seat via Thompson’s ability to ‘tame’ the alien entity and harness its power as a kind of battle armor.
Thankfully, Sony’s Venom doesn’t suck the fun out of the character; you see for all he’s worth, Venom represents chaos and unpredictability. Much like the internal mechanisms that drive popular characters like Deadpool, Venom’s desire to engage in ‘the good fight’ is based on circumstance. If you had to pin him down to a recognizable Dungeons and Dragons alignment, he sits somewhere just beyond Chaotic Neutral – a character that recognizes our need to be free comes first before all things, but deep down will always attempt personal freedom instead of “the greater good”. Venom just kind of, well, does what he wants and in a nutshell that’s what drives a really good Venom story. It’s the relationship between the needs of the symbiote and the desire for the host to maintain their normal life.
However that’s kind of where things begin to fall apart for the 2018 movie, you see, I never found myself giving much thought to Eddie Brock’s personal life at all. In fact I spent most of the movie wishing he’d just take a damn shower, with the vast majority of Tom Hardy’s time on screen spent dabbing pools of sweat and bodily waste away from his overly sheened skin. It felt like I was watching someone that had just taken a few dodgy pingers and was busy chewing their jaw off while dancing at an underground rave. I could smell him through the screen.
Anytime the symbiote made an appearance I immediately perked up and started paying attention again. With no comedy per se to keep us interested during moments of supposed brevity, I found myself just counting down the minutes until Venom started going buckwild and tearing the place apart. This is a theme I’ve found running through a lot of Marvel’s film and TV content lately, particularly their Netflix television shows, where the producers and writers have deluded themselves into thinking that we’re deeply entrenched into the private lives of our heroes. Jessica Jones season 2 is horribly guilty of this. Of course most of the time we’re just waiting for main characters to solve a mystery or to punch someone through a wall. Almost in homage to this 2018’s Venom begins with a fairly intriguing cold open, but the action quickly makes itself scarce when we’re introduced to Brock and his fiancé. Here we’re treated to both a pillow fight and some sickeningly unrealistic dialogue between the two lovers that doesn’t convince me at all that they’re actually a committed couple. It’s actually the kind of thing that I can imagine an alien from another planet writing when being asked to describe what a normal human relationship looks like. Come on. Get to the symbiote bits.
Needless to say if you’re waiting for Venom to show up be prepared to wait a while; our titular character doesn’t make an appearance for around 40 minutes. That’s a pretty decent percentage of a movie to tease us with.
Don’t let my sandbagging fool you however, there are actually plenty of great things about this movie. If the title of this review is anything to go by, I can tell you that I walked out of the cinema feeling pretty great about the whole experience. Action sequences were incredibly well done, I genuinely adored the interaction between Brock and his alien parasite and although the motivations of the ‘villain’ characters were pretty tame, the movie did a great job of making us re-evaluate the morality of our main characters. For instance, I spent a sizable portion of this movie under the impression that Venom, the title character, was in fact the ‘bad guy’. To be fair, I can’t be sure in any future iterations of the character on the big screen that he still won’t be.
If anything it’s a perfect way to spend a few hours of your free time. Sure, it doesn’t move the needle much when it comes to giving you something “you’ve been waiting years to see”, but it does build a pretty solid origin story for a character that with the right creative team could be an amazing inclusion into the MCU.
Plus Tom Hardy is pretty great as Eddie Brock. Even without a shower.
- Andrew Archer