Cinematic Releases: A Boy and His Symbiote: Venom (2018) - Reviewed

Chances are you clicked on a review of Venom, Sony's latest attempt to keep clinging for dear life to a piece of Marvel IP that they lucked into before the whole thing blew up, for one of two reasons:

1) You want to know if it is faithful at all to the Venom you know from the comic books.

2) You want to know if it really is that bad.

Both of these will be addressed at some point during this review, though perhaps not in ways you might expect. In fact, this reviewer is going to step out of objective voice for just a brief moment to immediately address those of you who came for the former and let you know that, simply put, I don't know.  Because I've never read the comic. I have nothing in particular against comic books; I consider them as high a form of literature as any book, and I've even read a few graphic novels and such in my day, though not the deep dive into material many of you readers are certainly familiar with. The majority of my familiarity with the characters comes from various other media, just not the books themselves. As such, I can provide no perspective as to how true to acknowledged comics canon Venom is.  But I could probably guess not very.

As for the latter issue... well, "bad" as we all know is subjective, and can mean any number of different things. Is everyone going to like it?  Probably not, but how often does everyone like anything, besides Tom Hanks, Mr. Rogers and The Shawshank Redemption? Like most things, what you get out of Venom is going to depend a lot on what you bring into it. If you want your Venom to be the dark, scary, brutal blood opera you've imagined since your childhood, then to put it simply, you're going to have a bad time. Venom is not that movie. But you might be surprised at just how entertaining it actually is.

So how does one make a Spider-Man movie without Spider-Man? This is the unenviable task facing director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland). The answer to this question is "figure out what you do have, and find ways to make it work." What makes Venom work primarily is Tom Hardy. It takes a bit for the symbiote to find its host in Hardy's downtrodden Eddie Brock, but as soon as it does the movie really kicks into gear. Hardy is having the time of his life in this absolute balls-to-the-wall performance, bringing just the right fun touch of borderline Nicolas Cage-level crazy to the role. Hardy's interactions with his symbiote (don't dare call Venom a parasite) actually steer Venom quite a bit into buddy action flick territory, which works out to either its benefit or detriment, depending on how you choose to look at it.  But the film definitely loses a bit of steam when Brock and Venom are separated.

The rest of the cast is talented, though they all seem a bit out of place. Michelle Williams is a fine actress, but doesn't bring a whole lot to her relatively simple role besides being reasonably likable. Also miscast is Riz Ahmed (Rogue One), playing billionaire scientist "villain" such-as-he-is Carlton Drake as more of a moderately irritated Elon Musk than the kind of scenery chewing Bond-villain type that the role, and film, deserved. The final battle is cool and all, but a little more character depth could have only enhanced it.

The special effects may be below the well-established MCU standard, but they're also not as bad as you might believe. This manages to suit Venom surprisingly well. Venom is a B-movie, but it wears the distinction as a badge of honor, going to sometimes painstaking lengths to not take itself too seriously. This will likely rub a lot of hardcore fans the wrong way. "Venom isn't a buddy comedy!", they'll say, "Venom is horror!" Does it have to be, though? When you can get an actor like Tom Hardy and turn him loose and get the kind of performance out of him that he gives in Venom, you're better off to let him run with it. And run with it he does, to the point that you wish the rest of what you were watching measured up quite the same way. A B-movie though it may be, Venom is made up of a lot of A-parts, from its talented cast to frequent Darren Aronofsky collaborator Matthew Libatique's impressive cinematography to the busy but cool score by Ludwig Göransson (Black Panther). It's just a shame that the pieces don't always fit together quite the way they should.

Is Venom faithful? Probably not. But is Venom bad? Surprisingly, no. It's messy and weird and has tonal issues it doesn't always settle the right way, but when it is on, particularly when Brock and the symbiote are together, it's way more entertaining and fun than it has any right to be. Venom is never ashamed to be a B-movie, not should it be. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, nor as dark and scary as you might hope it will be, but if you accept it for what it is--and most importantly, embrace the crazy--you might find that Venom has more bite than you expected.

--Mike Stec