By: Kevin Jordan
Where have all the villains gone?
According to IGN, Venom is the twenty-second greatest comic book villain of all-time. I have no idea what that really means because I do not read comic books. I would be very hard-pressed to name twenty-three comic book villains at all (unless we are just naming X-Men bad guys), let alone the top twenty-one, but that same IGN list is out of the top one hundred. Not total one hundred, but the top one hundred. Does that mean there are hundreds, if not thousands, of comic book villains? Does that top one hundred include henchmen? Villains’ accountants? Spiteful ex-wives? Again, I do not read comic books. I did look up a little bit about Venom to find out how bad he really is and it turns out he is also well-known as an anti-hero. Comic book fans sound confused.
(SPOILERS AHEAD – There are too many villains in this film and none are good.)
I went into Venom thinking Venom was an actual villain. I saw Spider-Man 3. Venom is an evil tar monster thingy that makes people do bad sidewalk struts. The way the move starts makes you think that Venom is going to be the villain of the film. A spaceship crashes, and the cleanup crew notes that one of the four swirly tar things they found in space is missing from the wreckage. Some mayhem regarding the missing fourth ensues and you immediately think Venom is already up to no good.
Cut to Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an in-your-face investigative journalist with his own show. He’s dating Anne (Michelle Williams), a high-brow attorney representing a shady CEO named Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). When Eddie is assigned a puff-piece to interview Drake, Eddie takes an illicit peek into Anne’s files on Drake, then ambushes Drake with the ill-gotten information during the interview. Eddie is quickly fired and discovers that Anne was fired as well. Anne dumps Eddie because love does not trump all. Cut to six months later and – wait, six months?
If this movie was going to have any flow to it, this fast forward stomped all of it. When we left the mayhem of the crash site, the fourth tar ball has possessed a person and jumped to a couple of other people as it sought a proper host. You see, the alien tar swirlies are parasites (or symbiotes) that require a human host to survive. Just don’t ask how they were able to survive for so long riding a comet in space with nary a human to be found.
The film then drags itself along as Drake starts locking homeless people in rooms with the three symbiotes, each time ending with one less hobo. One of his scientists, Dr. Skirth (Jenny Slate), wants to blow the whistle on the murders so she tracks down and contacts a nearly-homeless Eddie. She does not call the police or employed journalists. She must have Eddie, despite Eddie clearly being a terrible solution for this particular problem.
Dr. Skirth helps Eddie break into Drake’s research lab to gather evidence and proves, once again, that fictional research labs have the worst security ever (side note: why does every movie featuring a secret lab go out of its way to make it seem like its proprietor wants its secrets stolen? I am looking at you The Shape of Water). Anyway, while she is looking out for guards or something, Eddie sees a friend of his and breaks the glass of the highly-secure room with the super dangerous alien in it using only a fire extinguisher. A symbiote jumps into Eddie’s body, but Eddie manages to escape back to his apartment. After what seems like hours, the film finally gets to the Venom part when Eddie fights off a tactical assault team trying to recover the symbiote for Drake.
If you fell asleep for the first half or so of the film, you did not miss anything worth watching. The film finally becomes entertaining during the apartment fight scene as we get a first look at Venom talking to Eddie (in Eddie’s head) and using Eddie to fight off the soldiers. Hardy was clearly having fun with this concept, so I ended up having fun. While the banter and exchanges between Eddie and Venom were cringe-worthy at times, they worked more often than not. If you are not entertained by Tom Hardy arguing with himself while people looked at him like he was insane, you are not having enough fun in life. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying this movie should be regarded positively, just that it was entertaining despite itself.
I kind of want to give the film credit for changing up the formula that usually comes along with a movie like this, but they changed it like Trump changed NAFTA, which is to say they doodled in the margins and did not actually make any real improvement. The typical film would have had Eddie and Venom connected at the original spaceship crash or during Eddie and Drake’s interview and Drake later achieving a breakthrough and melding himself with another symbiote. The film ends up there anyway, but the route it takes is no better.
Drake is a boring villain constantly delivering trite motivational speeches to his employees that sound like epiphanies learned from a Snapple cap. Drake’s motivation for the homeless people experiments is that he wants to live in space because humans are destroying the planet. Instead of a breakthrough in the lab, the original missing symbiote shows up at the research lab and Drake just happens to be a good match. I hated this aspect of the film because it rendered nearly everything before that scene pointless. Then again, it was all pointless anyway because the film does not bother trying to build a sense of progress in the experiments. It just shows us puddles of goo and dead people and Drake delivering another shitty speech.
I was also disappointed that Venom ends up being kind of a hero instead of straight-up evil. He is even made to be an underdog when he inexplicably tells Eddie that their symbiotic foe has better weapons than him. This makes zero sense because the symbiotes make blade weapons from their goo. Does Venom not know who to make a scythe? Dumb things like that were almost enough to turn me completely against this film and you all know how much I enjoy turning against films.
Despite this movie being objectively bad, my friend and I enjoyed ourselves because we had seen the early Rotten Tomatoes scores landing in the mid-twenties. This allowed us to reset our expectations down to sub-basement levels and enjoy the movie the way that one enjoys a bad B-movie. Granted, the stilted performance from Michelle Williams was a bit of a surprise; Williams seemingly unaware of what kind of movie she was in. This probably had more to do with the writing and directing, but she did not look like she wanted to be there. Even then, I still had a good time at this film. Hopefully, the next villain in the franchise (don’t look so shocked) will be an actual villain or one that doesn’t suck.
Rating: Ask for half of your money back or wait until you can Red Box it. It is not that entertaining.