Anybody who knows anything about comic books perhaps knows that Venom is the name of one of Spider-Man’s famous and most popular villains. Sony Pictures owns the rights to Spider-Man, but two years ago, Sony gave the character of Spider-Man himself to Disney, so it could use him in Captain America: Civil War (2016) and the subsequent Avengers: Infinity War. Sony still has ownership of all the related characters in the Spider-Man comics and has wanted to do a Venom movie for more than a decade, but box office flops within that time period derailed Sony’s plans. However, Spider-Man was always central to those plans, but Disney’s use of that character leaves Sony’s rogues’ gallery adrift. Yet, Sony decided to move forward with this film anyway.
It’s not without some precedent. Doing a movie about a villain to a super-hero whom isn’t seen at all was essentially the surprise premise of M. Night Shyamalan’s Split (2016). It was also the premise somewhat of Suicide Squad (2016), but other than that, this is the first villain film whose solo in that film under the Marvel Comics banner. It’s certainly better than Suicide Squad but it’s not as interesting or compelling as Split.
It’s not technically a part of the so-called MCU, but it oddly feels like a film that could fit into the MCU rather smoothly. Director Ruben Fleischer could just as well be the Russo brothers or Peyton Reed who directed Ant-Man (2015), or Louis Leterrier who did The Incredible Hulk (2008). As a matter of fact, I couldn’t help but conjure those films in my mind, as this one passed before my eyes. The comedic sensibilities and even visuals all seemed ripped from the some cloth.
Oddly though, the biggest rip-off seems to be from Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017). In that film, Peter Parker is given a suit that talks to him as a voice in his head and also provides him special abilities. That’s essentially the case here. The difference is that Peter Parker’s suit is electronic. The suit here is instead biological and in fact alive. Additionally, the suit is attached to a grown man and not a teenage boy. And the stakes here are world-ending, instead of one or two boroughs of New York.
Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises and Mad Max: Fury Road) stars as Eddie Brock, a brash and cocky TV journalist who exposes corruption and scandals in San Francisco. His fiancee works for a corporation that is running illegal experiments and is responsible for human deaths. Eddie tries to expose the head of that corporation but only ends up losing everything. He sneaks back into the corporation’s laboratory where he’s exposed to their experiments.
Whereas Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, Eddie is touched and absorbed by an alien that calls itself Venom. It’s reminiscent of the black oil in The X-Files. Yet, the idea for Venom came in the late 1980’s before The X-Files, but Venom does look like a moving ink blob with thousands of tentacles that are imbued with super-strength. It can have a face with big eyes and tons of big teeth. It can absorb itself into the body so that it can’t be seen, except in the eyes. It can also cover the body like a protective exoskeleton or as it’s simply described a polymorphic suit.
Venom comes from outer space and is mocked as being a type of parasite. It needs to be absorbed in a terrestrial being in order to survive on Earth. Apparently, it’s parasitic nature can be deadly like alien creatures in a lot of horror films. But then all of a sudden, that deadly nature goes away and we see Venom and other symbiotes, as the alien is called, jump from person to person like Azazel in Fallen (1998) without any deadly consequences, so that aspect isn’t exactly consistent.
Riz Ahmed (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Jason Bourne) co-stars as Carlton Drake, the head of the corporation that is doing the illegal experiments. Going back to the aforementioned Ant-Man, Carlton Drake might as well as be called Darren Cross. Carlton is written almost exactly the same as that villain in Ant-Man. He’s a ruthless scientist and businessman. Again, like with Spider-Man: Homecoming, the difference is Carlton is after biological technology and not electronic.
There are a couple of intense fight scenes that are akin to the Hulk fulfilling his role as a rage monster and going buck wild on some faceless cops and soldiers, as he pummels them to the ground and even at certain points cannibalizes them. Venom proves itself a killing machine and a vicious one. His arc here is the same as the arc from The Terminator (1984) to Terminator 2 (1991) in which a killing machine becomes a beloved friend by the end of the film.
That arc could have been better developed. The movie crams a lot in here, and Fleischer’s pace is pretty quick, so there’s hardly any time to slow down and get to know Venom and his friendship or dependence on Eddie. The fun mostly comes from watching Hardy bounce from scene to scene, giving one of the most comedic performances of his career with pratfall after pratfall.
Rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi action and violence and for language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 52 mins.