Note there are spoilers ahead
Against my better judgement, I went in to Venom hoping Sony’s new comic book adaptation was better than the trailers suggested. I left the theater with decidedly mixed feelings, thoroughly confused by the tone but also fascinated by Tom Hardy’s dueling performance, which was both captivating and endlessly peculiar. Think of it as the answer to Jim Carrey’s Charlie Baileygates in Me, Myself & Irene.
For diehard Venom fans, the prospect of seeing a proper interpretation of the symbiote on the big screen is very tantalizing. Finally, the character is getting top billing rather than being a footnote in the dreadful Spider-Man 3.
But the character you’ve grown up loving isn’t the same one that Tom Hardy portrays. This version isn’t a diabolical villain with nefarious intentions, or even an anti-hero reluctant to do good. Instead, Venom is a self-professed loser who just wants to form a bond (both mental and physical) with a host. Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock is essentially a human facsimile, down on his luck and searching for a companion.
Venom starts off by trying to convince audiences that Hardy’s Brock is a hard-hitting investigative journalist who reports on the things other won’t. So, when Eddie’s boss instructs him to do a puff piece on Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), a tech tycoon who does rockets and pharmaceuticals, he spurns the idea. For some inexplicable reason, his boss forces him to do it anyway.
At this point you already know what happens. Eddie finds incriminating information about Drake’s nefarious organization and blindsides him during the interview. Afterward, Eddie is immediately fired. Six months later, and Eddie is out of work and alone—his fiancé, Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) immediately called off their engagement after he was fired.
Just when things couldn’t get any worse, Eddie is approached by Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate) with information about Drake’s secret experiments, which find him attempting to force symbiotes to accept humans as hosts. The reason? So humans can go live in space, of course. Eddie is having none of that, so he sneaks into Drake’s lab and manages to infect himself with the symbiote known as Venom.
Once Eddie is infected, he turns into a fidgety, paranoid caricature who scarfs tater tots and eats lobsters straight from the tank. He becomes a ravenous creature devoid of social norms—there’s a particularly funny scene that sees Brock and Venom in a high-end restaurant trying to find food. It’s an odd but wholly riveting transition that I can only describe as insane. But I loved it—not because it was good, but because it was a disaster.
Venom as a whole is a tonal mess, because it never settles on one thing, shifting suddenly and clumsily. It starts off deeply serious but soon devolves into an episode of The Three Stooges, before becoming a disaster movie that ends exactly how you think it would. It lacks the subtlety and quirk of Thor: Ragnarok and emotional nuance of Logan.
Speaking of which, Sony’s decision to limit Venom to a PG-13 rating creates unneeded boundaries for director Ruben Fleischer. When Venom takes over Eddie’s body, he becomes a gruesome, terrifying monster capable of biting a human’s head off in one bite. And while this does happen on more than one occasion—I think Venom even consumes an entire person in one go—it’s more farcical than violent. Seeing Venom obliterate people is the source of plenty of unintentional laughs.
Sony had the opportunity to create a truly disturbing portrayal of the deadly symbiote, but opted to turn the character into a wise-cracking frat boy, a la Deadpool. In one scene, Venom dares Eddie to jump out of a high-rise building. When Eddie demurs, Venom calls him a certain name beginning with a “p.” That interchange best encapsulates the movie.
Yet, against all odds, the movie actually ends on a high note. Once the logistics of getting Venom and Eddie to work together are out of the way, they come to a compromise, in turn making the prospect of future Venom projects enthralling. Rather than dealing with a maniacal tycoon, the two together can make a real difference in the community, which they promptly do during a liquor store robbery. (This is where Venom eats a robber in one bite.)
Then Venom hits audiences with a post-credits scene that’s infinitely better than the movie’s entire runtime. In it, Eddie is summoned to San Quinton Prison to interview Cletus Kasady, where Kasady gleefully warns Eddie that when he breaks out of prison, there will be “carnage.”
I desperately want to see that movie happen.
Venom hits theaters on October 5.
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