Only tangentially connected with Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and entirely missing the titular character’s usual adversary, Spider-Man, initial expectations for Ruben Fleischer’s “Venom” were low. However, despite early skepticism and being torn apart by critics, the film has managed to carve out a place in audience’s hearts.
If nothing else “Venom” is a film full of contradictions.
The feel and general look of the movie – sometimes including the quality of its CGI – look like something from the mid-2000s. However, “Venom” resonates with young audiences, and action scenes including a character who is a fluid shapeshifter are nothing if not visually interesting.
At times it has some terribly corny dialogue, such as the much lambasted “turd in the wind” line from the cinematic trailer. And yet, somehow, it manages to come off as more earnest than most films.
It is not a film trying to champion a deep message. It is not a film trying to revolutionize the industry like “Black Panther,” “Crazy Rich Asians” or “Love, Simon.” It is not a film that tells the story of a grand battle for the fate of the universe, such as Marvel’s “Infinity War.” It does not have the terror necessary to succeed as a horror movie, but it is also too dark to truly succeed as a comedy or traditional superhero action movie. It is by no means a piece of art, nor will it win any awards for its writing. And yet, “Venom” succeeds at being truly entertaining. And is that not, at the core, what we ask of a piece of entertainment? While most critics have destroyed the film, earning only a 30 percent rating on RottenTomatoes, audiences have praised it, and its audience score rests at 87 percent, or “Certified Fresh.”
The secret to this success is that, despite being a film about a scruffy ex-reporter being overtaken by a symbiotic alien goo-monster, it is a likable movie largely populated by likeable characters. And, going along with the theme of symbiosis, “Venom” puts relationships at the center of its story.
Our protagonist Eddie Brock, played by action movie veteran Tom Hardy, is a reporter who loses his job for attempting a takedown piece on charismatic, yet immoral billionaire scientist Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), who initially brings the alien Venom symbiote to earth for experimentation.
The relationship and banter between Brock and Venom produces some of the best comedy of the film and is where the film really shines. Venom’s slow morph from a source of terror in Eddie to a source of exasperation is outdone in enjoyability only by the surprisingly touching transformation of Venom himself. The character moves from a mysterious, carnivorous monster into a slightly unsettling but well-meaning buddy to Eddie. Despite Venom surviving, Venom’s willingness to lay down his life for Brock in the finale is surprisingly very touching.
The ultimate deal the two strike – “yes, you can eat people, but only bad people” – is a far cry from the righteous justice of Captain America, but it is fitting to the relationship that Venom and Brock create.
The character Anne (Michelle Williams) never falls prey to the misogynistic trope of the “mean, crazy ex-girlfriend” and her decision to break up with Brock after learning that he broke into her computer for confidential files to use as a source in his story is framed as being completely justified.
Eddie is forced to confront and apologize for the fact that it was his actions, not Drake’s evil, that ruined their relationship and that Anne was justified in distancing herself from him.
“Venom” is by no means a perfect film, nor is it a particularly deep film, but is an incredibly fun ride populated by enjoyable characters and appealing action.