REVIEW: Venom Misses the Bite
Released on October 5, 2018, Venom (dir. Ruben Fleische) came crashing to theaters meeting unfavorable reviews from many critics. Surprisingly, however, there has been a sharp contrast between how audience members and movie critics have received the film.
Audiences seemed to have enjoyed the movie much more than critics and this contrast can be found in websites such as Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb. Coming in with the dual mentality of audience member and movie critic, I came to understand why this split exists. But more importantly, I found which side of the spectrum I landed in: That of the critic.
Venom tells the story of Eddie Brock, a successful news journalist who after losing everything in a tragic interview has his life changed when a symbiote finds him and merges with him. Eddie spends the movie trying to pick up the pieces of a failed relationship while learning how to cope with the Venom symbiote and taking down the head of an evil science company, Carlton Drake. Our first pitfall in this movie comes in the direction for Eddie Brock’s character. It was evident that Tom Hardy, who played Eddie Brock and Venom, was really working with the dialogue and character direction presented to him. Unfortunately, Eddie lacks a character arc that is interesting to watch.
The movie didn’t elevate the importance of the work Eddie was doing with his news network. If it had set up Eddie as an important figure who is respected by not only those above him but by his community at large, the fall from grace would’ve been much more impactful by making Eddie’s work to climb back up more difficult and therefore more rewarding to watch. But Eddie is singularly motivated by the fact that Carlton Drake, played by Riz Ahmed, basically took his life away from him: his job, future wife, and future. This is a simple setup that almost works but is undermined by my second point being character direction.
Eddie had the potential to be played in a much more passionate, full of life, and out of the ordinary manner. The only thing that separates him from everybody else is his slight bit of attitude. How does it define the actions he takes as a character? How does it affect his relationship with others? What if he wasn’t a “good guy” to start off with? None of these questions are answered, let alone posed. Eddie before falling is nothing short of boring. He’s a dime a dozen and has no outstanding qualities that make you want to remember him.
This unfortunate lack of character development is ultimately translated to his relationship with Venom. Eddie and Venom are supposed to be one in the same, as they are “losers” wanting to be something more. However, the movie spends no time developing the relationship in this way. While Eddie and Venom do spend a good amount of time together, that time is mostly used to explain what Venom is and to tell jokes. I don’t mind the fact that Venom has a sense of humor. I think it did work to give him more of a personality, but still, I would’ve liked to see at least a scene where Eddie and Venom were vulnerable together to give us an idea that the two were growing closer. Case and point, Venom’s original intention for being on Earth was to devour the planet alongside the other symbiotes on the planet, but he changes his mind and decides to protect the planet because of Eddie. The audience never gets a solid explanation for this sudden shift in motivation. It may have worked for the story, but the characters themselves had no depth to back it up.
Speaking of Carlton, I can’t think of the last time I saw a worse villain in a superhero film, and I watched Justice League.
The idea behind his character was that he’s a scientist working toward a goal that betters the human race, that goal being to marry symbiote and man in order to create the “perfect” species, but his methods are evil and he knows it. Carlton by far was the weakest element of the film. Character direction played a huge role in how this character read on screen. Riz Ahmed approaches this character with soft body movements and a non-threatening voice. The performance always read as though he was a scientist caught in a mess that didn’t know how to revert what he had started, which ultimately devalued the simple revenge story.
Eddie and Carlton have a contrast in ideology that would make for an interesting push and pull dynamic between good and bad. Think of the Joker in the Dark Knight. Both him and Batman have wildly different ideas of how Gotham should be run. This ideological contrast gives the two characters something to work with and makes for very memorable scenes of their thought processes colliding.
In Venom, Eddie is only really working to take down Carlton because he’s doing something evil, and this makes for very one-dimensional storytelling; it’s bland, uninteresting, and frankly boring. This translates to Carlton’s eventual symbiote, “Riot.” Riot was a symbiote that escapes the ship at the beginning of the movie and we see move from host to host throughout the entire film before making his way to Carlton and becoming fully realized. As symbiotes have fully independent personalities from their hosts, having Riot just kind of show up and become the bad guy was beyond insulting to the viewer and played into the one-dimensionality of many of the characters.
As far as the film is concerned, Riot has no relationship to Venom, doesn’t have ideological contrast, and basically has no reason to want to fight Venom other than pushing his agenda that he mentions very briefly. He has no personality other than being the bad guy that the superhero is supposed to fight at the end of the movie, like Ares in Wonder Woman and Steppenwolf in Justice League. Riot and Carlton could have discussed their plans to merge symbiote and man into the perfect species, but then it turns out that Riot is only using Carlton to terminate the human race or something like that. I would have liked this. Frankly, I would have liked anything other than the character just showing up at the end as a blunt plot device to say he’s the leader to fight and blow up.
While we’re on the topic of things blowing up, the action in the movie was actually pretty good. There were many different ideas that I found to be very visually interesting when it came to how they used the symbiote’s power. The first time Venom starts to attack people through Eddie’s body, the filmmakers used the fact that he’s a gooey substance able to take any shape it wants as a way to show some clever modes of combat. You never knew which limb would act up to fend off the hordes of soldiers that were after Eddie.
That element of surprise as to which part of Eddie would act up played a huge role in my enjoyment of this scene. There was an incredible sequence where Eddie had to move his motorcycle near the ground to go under a semi, and his body melted into the ground allowing him to pull off the maneuver. It’s moments like that which kept me interested in the movie.
These ideas carry over to the final fight with Riot. Riot was able to morph into any kind of weapon he wanted–swords, shields, you name it–and just seeing what weapon he would use next kept things interesting.
Near the end of the fight, there were these beautiful slow-motion sequences that portrayed Eddie being taken out of the Venom symbiote and almost being consumed by Riot. Not only was this sequence easy to understand and visually clear, but it was executed perfectly. The filmmakers almost made a painting on screen as we see Eddie being consumed by Riot and the tearing up of Venom and Riot into one destroyed block of goop.
While the action scenes did have many interesting ideas, I do have to say that the cinematography for these scenes left a lot to be desired and the CGI effects were quite terrible. Throughout the entire movie, the camera never took any interesting angles or approaches to scenes that gave it a distinct style over other superhero movies. There were many CGI effects that looked so out of place, particularly Venom himself when he’s fully realized. Everything looked too cartoony for the effect they were trying to achieve, and it was a huge detriment to the movie.
The color palette of the movie was also a little too sharp for my eyes to bear. It felt as though they wanted to go for a horror movie look, but then abruptly decided not to take that approach anymore and didn’t bother to edit out any of the horror aspects, ultimately making everything look out of place.
In conclusion, Venom is as shallow as superhero movies get. I left the theater feeling extremely dissatisfied. I think there were good ideas passed around and the movie had a lot of potential. But nothing was fully realized, or they were executed poorly and without any passion. I was completely uninvested in Eddie Brock, Venom, and the dynamic between the two. There needed to be more time spent with them and less time spent on other things. The villain was almost laughably bad and was completely non-threatening. The action scenes were very interesting but left a lot to be desired when it came to the effects and cinematography.
The whole movie has an identity problem with its tone. It couldn’t tell whether or not it wanted to be a superhero movie or a horror movie or both. It definitely tried to be both, but didn’t commit fully to the merging of the genres and it just ended up looking and feeling so wrong.