Venom Review: A Movie Hijacked By Tom Hardy Having A Blast
Three years ago, Venom was released and broke the all time opening weekend record for October. This was surprising for two main reasons. First, many were dubious about how successful a spin-off of Spider-Man could be, especially when said version of the character hadn’t been introduced in the main Spidey franchise yet. Secondly, the movie got hammered by negative reviews as it currently sits at 30% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Yet it opened very well, showing there was a lot of initial excitement, and then made over 2.65 times its opening weekend ($80.25M) to close with $213.5M domestic while making $856M worldwide, which is 8.5x its $100m budget. That suggests word of mouth was actually pretty decent, and sure enough audiences gave Venom a solid B+ CinemaScore and an 81% on RT. I remember being very surprised when I saw it in IMAX three Octobers ago, as I expected to be greatly disappointed (I’m a big fan of the cast and the character of Venom).
Instead, I ended up having a really good time. While it may be a bit of a mess, and the tone shifts harshly or even clashes together, I find it to be wildly watchable. In preparation for the sequel, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, I gave the first another watch. This marked my second viewing, there will be minor plot spoilers for those of you who care.
Venom is a movie that constantly swings around from serious drama to silly bromance to romantic comedy to action thriller. If that’s sounds like a mess, that’s because it is. However, oddly, it kinda works. On one hand, Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock is a man whose life as taken a downward spiral. He lost his job when he pushed a story about Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) too far and in the process also got his fiance, Anne (Michelle Williams), fired. On the other hand, Tom Hardy insists on jumping around (and into lobster tanks) while delivering his lines in a manic frenzy. When he’s sad, his head is cocked to one side looks like he’d rather be anywhere else. Then there are times where he looks like someone who’s watched Liar Liar a few too many times and thinks that’s how people act (again, see said Lobster scene). It’s bizarre, and I love it.
Ahmed’s Drake is written to be one note, but in the hands of an actor as great as he is it’s still fun to watch him. He’s basically “mustache twirling Elon Musk” and its easy to understand the arrogance caked in every decision he makes. Jenny Slate plays one of Carlton Drake’s employees, and she does a nice job of playing it straight when onscreen with Hardy and selling her fear of the organization she works for. Michelle Williams, who of course is very talented but usually seen in dramas, doesn’t get a lot to do other than playing the “concerned ex”, but she’s pro enough to make her character feel essential. Venom ends up being a big fan of Anne, and it feels believable that this alien would take to her. Reid Scott plays her new boyfriend, Dr. Lewis, and of course, Eddie and Venom both don’t like him. Predictable, but still fun humor is pulled from this dynamic (much like a good rom-com).
What’s funny is everyone is playing this material straight except for Hardy, who also voices Venom. So he’s basically doing a buddy action comedy by himself, and I’m telling you this take is not far off from being a Jim Carrey vehicle. What makes it gel for me is that Hardy is surprisingly adept and physical comedy and has killer timing when talking to nothing (the symbiote that only he can hear in his head). The weird situations Eddie gets stuck in are sold to the audience as well as they could be and without pretension. One of the standout moments that always gets a laugh out of me is when Venom wants Eddie to jump out a window from a tall building but instead Eddie takes the stairs…
Venom takes some of the expected beats of a superhero origin story as our reluctant hero learns his powers, our villain eventually bonds with a symbiote if his own to become Riot, and at the end they must clash and only can can be left standing. The plot is simple, but refreshing. You don’t have to keep up with everything to follow what’s going on, there’s no characters from different films popping up, and this specific story stands on its own. We find out that there are millions of these symbiotes and that Riot wants to go and retrieve them to come back and take over Earth. This makes Venom far from specifical, and in fact he confesses to Brock that he’s a bit of a loser. So when Venom decides he kinda likes Earth and would like to remain the only special, it actually makes sense. Cue CGI slugfest with Hardy and Ahmed thrown in.
I still don’t quite understand how Venom is alive at the end. The movie’s climax sees him engulfed in fire, which has just killed our Riot, and then in the next scene he’s back with Eddie. I guess he didn’t get *too* engulfed in flame. Either way, we all knew Venom wasn’t going to die so…whatever. For some, I’m sure the shifts in tone feel jarring (the score for the movie is solid but often feels out of place, as if it was from a darker, more serious cut of the film), I’m sure some wanted to see Venom be scarier, or to see him eat more people. For me, I’m just delighted by the odd choice to make him into a loser from a different planet who find a kinship with the down on his luck Eddie. I mean hell, they even end up kissing at one point, which is wild.
The silliest thing for me though has to be mid-credit scene, where Woody Harrelson makes his first appearance as Cletus Kasady (who will eventually become Carnage). Not only is he wearing some weird wig that belongs to the logo for Wendy’s, but he even says, “there’s gonna be Carnage” before we cut back to the credits. I don’t know how you’re supposed to take this seriously…and guess what? That’s the point.
Venom is a movie that has *just* enough budget to deliver on its plot, making it look as if it has the best effects from 2005, despite coming out in 2018. At its core it is about about a loser and his new alien bestie. It doesn’t always make sense, but the action lands well and the comedy hits for me more often than it misses. It’s hard to tell how much of this was *supposed* to be funny before Tom Hardy decided to play Jim Carrey playing Eddie Brock in several scenes, but what came to be is probably more entertaining than the straight forward, self-serious version of this script. To cap it off, a rather goofy and weird Eminem song plays over the credits. That wouldn’t really work in a “grounded” version of this story. Amongst this other madness, however, it blends right in. I welcome this bizarre take on the character.