Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Okay, so in Venom a parasite takes partial control of reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) and turns him into a cannibalistic Spiderman type of thing, but don’t be fooled (!), this movie is just like every other passable studio superhero movie out there.
Sure, there are some interesting choices, Hardy has fun with the role, and the Venom-CGI is pretty good, but yeah, Venom just hits all the pre-ordained storytelling beats, and it struggles to turn Venom, himself not exactly a “good guy,” into just that, a good guy. This is a man-eating predator with no conscience who suddenly develops a conscience and becomes the Scooby Doo to Tom Hardy’s Shaggy.
While watching this film on an airplane I was struck by just how predictable every set up was. We see Eddie have a little playful banter one time with a homeless woman? Sure enough next time he’s on that street corner she’s gone, and you better be sure her disappearance is suspicious.
Eddie stays quiet in a liquor store as it’s robbed in front of him? Hell yeah he’ll be in that same store at the exact time that burglar comes right back and audaciously does the same thing. And you know he’ll do something this time.
There’s also stuff about how ‘perfect’ Eddie’s life is supposed to be at the start, only so he can lose most of it and bottom out. He’s a hip, successful reporter with a wonderful fiancee, Anne (Michelle Williams) and a nice apartment in what I can only assume is a gentrified area of San Francisco. Well ten minutes later wouldn’t you know it he’s lost his job, Anne and his apartment, all because he stood by his ideals as a reporter. Or something like that.
Look, the point is that these aren’t characters. Eddie is barely a character, just because he has some agency and character goal. Everyone else is there to be cannibalized by the plot. This is the case in many such movies, but it crystallized in Venom, that plot is a parasite, infecting every actor and stripping of them of all humanity in service of characteristics and behavior that only move the story forward.
The worst example is Anne. Think of Michelle Williams in Manchester By the Sea (2016). She’s wonderful and devastating, and then think of her here. All she gets to do is be the object of Eddie’s desires, to be lost and then won again. Where Eddie gets to have desire, she is only there to be desired.
After Eddie tries to ask pointed questions to an Elon Musk-esque CEO, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) using information he lifted from Anne’s computer, she breaks off their engagement. We cut to months later, and his life is in the dumps so he goes to see how she’s doing. The point of the subsequent scene is to show that no matter how much he misses her, Anne doesn’t want him back. Simple enough.
The movie could just have Anne stand her ground and say such a thing, which she does, but we also see her with another man, Dan (Reid Scott), just to drive the point home, that she’s taken. I hate it. Maybe it’s not so bad, but I think the subliminal point is that were it not for this successful, handsome surgeon, then Eddie could swoop in and get her back, but because she’s not single, she’s just not available.
I don’t know, it’s one of those things that happens all the time in movies like these, but this time it just wore on me more. It really bothers me because it’s such a thankless role.
Other characters are in much the same position, playing characters who are reduced to pawns on a chess board. They are introduced and then discarded in very cold, mathematical fashion.
The other complaint, which I’ve touched on, is that Venom isn’t a hero. He’s more of an anti-hero but even then probably not anything close to that. He’s a monster, and like Upgrade or body horror films like The Fly, the idea here would seem to be that he’s turning into the villain, to be fought against and defeated by someone like Anne and Dr. Dan.
But this is a big budget summer blockbuster, so that can’t happen, and Venom becomes the good guy when Carlton himself turns into a bigger, badder Venom-like monster with malicious intentions. At that point Venom, whose voice we hear in Eddie’s head, just decides that he likes it here on Earth.
Why? I don’t know.
Okay, again, look Venom is fine, but fine’s not good enough. There’s so much talent involved here, including not just the actors but director Ruben Fleischer who directed Zombieland… [reads that Fleischer was an Executive Producer on Clint Eastwood’s The Mule] …alright never mind. I mean he’s fine.
Venom‘s shortcomings (subjective, I know) aren’t its fault. They are the fault of such movies as a whole, that cater to the widest possible audience and seek to make loads of money off of pre-existing content. They take the thing many people already know about and try to preserve it to the screen, into something even more people will like. What often seems to happen is that die hard fans are offended, some casual observers with low expectations are entertained, and self-righteous movie-goers (myself very much included) are annoyed. But I did choose to watch it knowing this is probably how I’d feel.
Final observation: You’re not legally allowed to stand on that side of the Golden Gate Bridge at night.
Up Next: City Heat (1984), Detroit (2017), Cold War (2018)