Warning: There are mild spoilers ahead for “Venom.”
“Venom” may not be a great superhero movie, but it’s definitely going to make you laugh.
Sometimes you’re laughing with the movie. More than often, you’re laughing at it for some truly awful dialogue that is spread pretty evenly among the cast.
The “Spider-Man” spin-off follows several alien symbiotes who come to Earth. One of them, named Venom, winds up attached to journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy).
Brock is supposedly an amazing investigative reporter but he’s a bit socially awkward, often talks to himself, and he gets referred to as a loser in the film. But I guess that’s OK because Venom calls himself a loser, too. They’re two peas in a pod just trying to save the world from an Elon Musk-type (played by Riz Ahmed) who wants to fuse humans with aliens.
Through a clunky movie that feels like it stepped out of Tobey Maguire’s era of “Spider-Man” movies, Hardy is actually the one thing that makes the movie truly worth watching.
What you should know going in: You don’t need to watch previous “Spider-Man” movies to understand “Venom” and stay until the credits are over.
If you’re worried that you may not understand “Venom” because you’re not caught up with all of the Marvel movies, don’t be. This film stands on its own without knowledge of Tom Holland’s Spidey. Although, it may be helpful to know he’s a Spider-Man antihero who has abilities like shape-shifting and climbing tall skyscrapers.
This movie exists within Sony’s Marvel universe which is separate from Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe (i.e. think “Avengers: Infinity War”).
But because this is a superhero movie, there are a few bonus scenes during the credits. One is a teaser for any potential future “Venom” movies that you definitely won’t want to miss. The second is just a teaser for Sony’s upcoming animated “Spider-Man” movie in December that looks well done.
What’s bad: The movie doesn’t know what it wants to be sometimes and the dialogue is laughably bad
“Venom” feels like a bunch of Sony executives watched “Deadpool” and then asked what off-the-wall Marvel character of their own they could do something similar with on film. However, instead of going all-in as Fox did with Ryan Reynolds’ fourth-wall-breaking character, “Venom” is constrained by never going fully off-the-wall bonkers.
And that’s a shame because Hardy, who is the best thing in this movie, clearly went all-in on being over-the-top for his role as a journalist invaded by a parasite.
Instead, Hardy is surrounded by a movie that isn’t quite sure what it is. Sometimes “Venom” feels like a superhero movie, other times it’s a comedy between Venom and Brock, and near the film’s end it unexpectedly feels like a romance between a trio of characters. (There’s a scene where Brock makes out with Venom. It’s weird.)
Others have noted this, but “Venom” doesn’t feel like a superhero or antihero movie made in this decade. The symbiotes – which look like living, breathing goo – feel cartoonish. Ahmed is a great actor, but he comes across as a generic supervillain obsessed with evolving mankind for reasons that only seem to fulfil the needs of the movie’s plot.
The film carries some of the clunkiness and cheesiness that ruined the original “Spider-Man” franchise at Sony with Maguire. That movie also tried introducing Venom into the fray. It’s done much better here.
All of that isn’t even the worst of the movie. As the trailers suggest, there is some truly awful dialogue in “Venom.” It’s not “The Predator” bad, but it’s up there.
Some examples of actual dialogue in this film:
“Aches and pains. Aches and pains.” – Eddie Brock “You know what they say, science never sleeps.” – Dr. Dora Skirth (a forgettable Jenny Slate) “I know everything, Eddie. You are a loser, Eddie.” – Venom “I’m gonna rip your tongue out of your face.” – Treece
And yet it’s this dialogue that is also a standout of the movie and that will keep you glued to see what a character will say next. It’s one of those cases where it’s so bad that it’s kind of good.
Why to see it: Tom Hardy’s relationship with Venom is the only redeemable thing about this movie.
Bless Tom Hardy. There’s a scene after he fuses with the symbiote Venom where he sits in a tank full of lobsters and you just know this guy is really giving it his all. The problem? The rest of the movie doesn’t hold a candle to Hardy and his alien compadre.
Some of the movie’s most enjoyable moments come while Hardy is trying to feed his often insatiable parasite. Hardy gave an interview saying 30 to 40 minutes of him improvising dark comedic bits were cut from the final movie. I would have watched two hours of Brock consuming raw food, tater tots, and straight-up garbage to satisfy Venom’s urge to eat.
Strangely, a lot of the film also plays like a giant ad for tater tots. Hardy is seen eating – or trying to eat them – multiple times throughout the movie as they’re a favourite of Venom’s. Who knew?
It’s also worth noting that the film has some pretty good action sequences. Venom’s first appearance in Brock’s apartment along with his full reveal on camera are stand-outs. A motorcycle chase through the city of San Francisco as Brock learns the breadth of his superhuman abilities is another highlight.
Overall: Go for Tom Hardy. Stay for the audience reactions.
“Venom” has elements of a good movie and that’s part of what makes watching this standalone so frustrating. Hardy and Venom’s chemistry, for the most part, is enjoyable to watch, especially by the film’s end. Unfortunately, they’re just stuck in a bad movie that could have done better by the characters. maybe as Germain Lussier over at io9 suggests, this will be a movie like “The Room” that people will want to watch over and over again for the experience.
If you’re feeling down after bawling from “A Star Is Born,” maybe see “Venom.” You’ll definitely be cheered up. Just temper your expectations.
“Venom” is in theatres Friday. Watch a trailer below.
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