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Opinion | A (Mostly) Non-Partisan Review of Venom

             11/20/2018

Venom Movie Art

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Going in to see Venom—somehow a Marvel movie, but not a Marvel movie—I expected one of two things, based on what I had heard from others: an entertaining action film with Tom Hardy at the center, or a childish, dumbed-down film with Tom Hardy’s performance as its only redeeming quality. My personal opinion is more of the former, though I can see why some might walk away with more of the latter. The film is based on the titular character from Marvel Comics, an alien “symbiote” (basically a sapient blob of amorphous goo) that debuts when it crashes to earth and bonds briefly with Spider-Man (developing a special connection to him, and inheriting some of his powers) before moving on to rival journalist Eddie Brock, becoming a superhero enemy of Peter Parker before gradually evolving into an anti-hero. Venom made his cinematic debut in Spider-Man 3 (2007), with Eddie Brock played by Topher Grace; the character’s reception, despite his seemingly being shoehorned into the plot, led to exploration of a film with Venom himself as the antiheroic protagonist.

In that spirit, Venom begins by introducing Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock, an independent journalist in Los Angeles (with an allusion to an embarrassing incident at a New York newspaper, not unlike what drove Eddie Brock to become Venom in Spider-Man 3). Parallel to Brock’s story is a disaster in Thailand involving a crashed spaceship from the Life Foundation, a scientific charity run by Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed, whose character’s SpaceX/Boring Company-like endeavors, vast ambition, and eccentric behavior eerily resemble Elon Musk). The crashed ship results in three recovered alien symbiotes, one which escapes (later, we learn this character is Riot). The story progresses to put Brock and Drake in conflict as Eddie investigates the Life Foundation’s unethical secret experiments with the symbiotes, while Carlton searches for the missing symbiotes (Riot and later Venom, who bonds with Eddie when he trespasses at the laboratory).

Storyline Analysis

The film gets off to a slow start, focusing on Brock’s journalistic endeavors and his troubles with his lawyer fiancée Anne Weying, but does a good job of building the characters so we know precisely who we are dealing with, and the actors all carry out their roles believably, with Tom Hardy undeniably leading the charge. The intricacies of the symbiote-host relationship are explored in depth (leading to some rather comedic gaffes on Eddie’s part), and we are given insight into the society of the symbiotes through Venom himself—a dynamic character in his own right—rather than seeing them as meteorite-hopping alien parasites who only serve to corrupt their hosts. I also was not disappointed with the action sequences, with Venom manifesting tendrils to work superhuman feats and miraculously healing Eddie of numerous injuries (not to mention Riot’s own impressive powers when he takes the stage). The storytelling is adequate, with a concise focus on Eddie’s personal troubles and life-lesson learning curve, Carlton Drake’s scheming and descent into egomania, and the battle between Venom and the Life Foundation. Riot is given a fearsome presence, intimidating even in the body of a young girl, and the build established to introduce him is done justice when he takes his true form at the climax of the film. If I had to identify any weaknesses, I would say three things. Firstly, Venom’s dialogue could have been written better, as some of his one-liners come off as a bit banal for an alien antihero. Secondly, Venom’s shift from an Invasion of the Body Snatchers-type plan to a heroic rebellion could have been handled more artfully, rather than being a near-instantaneous transformation. Finally, Venom—as a brain-eating, limb-severing monster—really would have been done more justice as an R-rated character like Deadpool; in this case, however, I think we as fans should pick our battles.

The film gets off to a slow start, focusing on Brock’s journalistic endeavors and his troubles with his lawyer fiancée Anne Weying, but does a good job of building the characters so we know precisely who we are dealing with, and the actors all carry out their roles believably, with Tom Hardy undeniably leading the charge. The intricacies of the symbiote-host relationship are explored in depth (leading to some rather comedic gaffes on Eddie’s part), and we are given insight into the society of the symbiotes through Venom himself—a dynamic character in his own right—rather than seeing them as meteorite-hopping alien parasites who only serve to corrupt their hosts. I also was not disappointed with the action sequences, with Venom manifesting tendrils to work superhuman feats and miraculously healing Eddie of numerous injuries (not to mention Riot’s own impressive powers when he takes the stage). The storytelling is adequate, with a concise focus on Eddie’s personal troubles and life-lesson learning curve, Carlton Drake’s scheming and descent into egomania, and the battle between Venom and the Life Foundation. Riot is given a fearsome presence, intimidating even in the body of a young girl, and the build established to introduce him is done justice when he takes his true form at the climax of the film. If I had to identify any weaknesses, I would say three things. Firstly, Venom’s dialogue could have been written better, as some of his one-liners come off as a bit banal for an alien antihero. Secondly, Venom’s shift from an Invasion of the Body Snatchers-type plan to a heroic rebellion could have been handled more artfully, rather than being a near-instantaneous transformation. Finally, Venom—as a brain-eating, limb-severing monster—really would have been done more justice as an R-rated character like Deadpool; in this case, however, I think we as fans should pick our battles.

Overall Take

Despite that, taking the movie altogether, I would recommend seeing it. It’s entertaining without delving into politics, beyond commenting on our unsustainable behaviors and a reference to the vulnerability of the poor to unethical business interests (and a humorous rule that Eddie does not allow Venom to eat the brains of police officers out of respect to their public service); instead, it explores the theme of the outcast (not unlike a Spider-Man film) and the redemption of a villain into a hero without boundaries. The film departs a bit from the comics—Riot is superior to Venom, rather than one of his spawn; Venom has no involvement with Spider-Man, including a lack of his trademark white spider emblem—but an excellent setup for future films is given, including a foreshadowing of Venom’s enemy symbiote Carnage. The film also begins with a short introducing the animated Sony Spider-Verse; it should be interesting to see how the Venom series, Spider-Verse, and MCU play out in relation to each other, and if Tom Holland’s Spider-Man will ever cross paths with Tom Hardy’s Venom. To conclude, I will say enjoy the movie, and please join me in praying that the Tumblr populace does not get their wish for an “Eddie Brock x Venom” relationship pairing.

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