A little over two years ago, when Sony announced it was making a movie about Spider-Man’s alien nemesis Venom, audiences were intrigued. For one thing, Sony had only ever focused its efforts on rebooting the Spider-Man franchise (again and again), so making a feature film for a character like Venom (a villain) seemed off-brand. Secondly, Sony owned the rights to Spider-Man, not Disney, so while Spidey could be loaned out occasionally for use in the MCU, Venom could not, and would exist outside of the MCU completely. What did this mean? Longtime fans of Venom wanted a gritty, dark superhero film more akin to Logan. Venom is, after all, a particularly violent character known for biting people’s heads off. New fans wanted to to see what all the fuss was about, considering until Spider-Man:Homecoming, most of the Spider-Man movies have, well, sucked.
What arrived in theaters was a film as schizophrenic as its dual leads; that is, it didn’t know what movie it wanted to be, and passably succeeded at pleasing both archetypes. It has action. It has suspense. It has (some) gore. It has romance. It has humor. It has all the hallmarks of a typical superhero movie, while being completely isolated from the goings on of any other superhero movie. That being said, it can get away with certain plot elements without concern for a wider interconnected universe (for now). And while it may have issues with pacing and tone, it has a truly likeable main character in Eddie Brock/Venom played with panache by the inimitable Tom Hardy. To watch a normally serious thespian like him let loose with the character, truly embodies the chaos that makes Venom so beloved.
WARNING: Major spoilers for Venom ahead!
20 LIKED: THE HORROR ELEMENTS
From a visual standpoint, Venom is a scary character. With his razor-sharp teeth, clawed hands, and long, snaking tongue he’s the stuff of nightmares. Therefore, it’s appropriate that in the film, certain horror elements are not downplayed. All the classic hallmarks of a truly unnerving horror film are presented just enough to make the audience feel that Venom is dangerous.
A few standout moments occur when test subjects are introduced to the symbiotes to identify viable hosts, and when Eddie Brock is in the laboratory and first encounters the symbiote test subjects in all their creepy glory. Even the careful use of ambient lighting is used to great effect in achieving a scary atmosphere.
19 DIDN’T LIKE: THE PACING
Whether or not audiences are going to Venom to learn about the title character for the first time, or see how a longtime favorite character is handled in his own feature film, they’re all looking forward to one thing; when he first makes his appearance! That being said, the pacing of Venom gives us two distinctly different films; pre-Venom and post-Venom.
It should be noted the first 20 minutes establish his human host, Eddie Brock; his career, his love life, and his personality. The next 20 establish how that’s all taken away. It’s not until about the 40-minute mark that Venom appears, making the flurry of action afterwards seem jarring given the molasses-like pace of all the events before it.
18 LIKED: TOM HARDY
After seeing a serious actor like Tom Hardy star in The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Lawless, it was a delight to see him play such a different character in Venom. With a heavy emphasis on body language and physical comedy, Hardy does an excellent job portraying a man possessed by an alien lifeform.
Not only does he make Eddie Brock a fully realized character, he also does a fine job conveying that there is a completely other fully realized character inhabiting him. No simple task, he carries it off as only someone known for getting into the headspace of a character can. Hopefully he won’t shy away from similar roles in the future.
17 DIDN’T LIKE: IDEALIZED SAN FRANCISCO
Most superhero movies take place in some version of New York City or Chicago. Black Panther showed a little bit of Oakland, and Ant-Man showcased San Francisco in a way that correlated the whimsy of its hilly streets and colorful housing with the wacky premise of a man that can shrink down to be the size of an ant.
In Venom, every other scene of Eddie/Venom is a shot of a street, or a vista, in San Francisco. Except this San Francisco is an idealized version, with a slight mention of the homeless problems that has become epidemic to the city for the last decade. That gritty realism, if shown more, would have better matched the dark subject matter.
16 LIKED: VENOM
One thing that was not successfully telegraphed in the trailers but came as a happy surprise during the film was just well-conceived the Venom character is. While the Venom symbiote is to some extent a reflection of Eddie Brock, Venom has his own “personality” and his own sense of humor.
And for any fans concerned about the extent to which Venom is allowed to well, be Venom, the film pushes the extent of the carnage he inflicts just as much as the PG-13 rating will allow. Venom is even given a spectrum of emotions and ideologies beyond just rage, and it makes for a truly unique character.
15 DIDN’T LIKE: NO MENTION OF SPIDER-MAN
It’s odd that Sony owns the rights to Spider-Man, a Marvel character, and only “loans” him out to Disney for the Avengers films. It’s odder still that Sony owns the rights to Venom, and makes his feature film with no mention of Spider-Man. This means (and Sony has said as much) that Venom takes place outside of the MCU, and it definitely feels isolated from other superhero world events.
A bigger concern to Venom canon is that Spider-Man has always been a major part of the Venom origin story; when the symbiote attaches itself to Eddie Brock, Eddie hates Peter Parker/Spider-Man for costing him his job at the Bugle, and Venom feeds off his hatred of Spider-Man, getting more powerful because of it.
14 LIKED: AMAZING SPECIAL EFFECTS
Looking at the ending credits for Venom, you’ll see that a solid five minutes goes by as the gargantuan list of crew members involved with special effects scrolls by. And it’s no surprise, given that the effect of Venom, Riot, and the other symbiotes wouldn’t have been achievable without a huge team.
From Venom using Eddie Brock as a weaponized killing machine, morphing parts of his body into cleavers, swords, and other instruments of mayhem, to every transformation scene when Eddie goes full symbiote berserker, there is an attention to detail that would have been lost in the large, bombastic battle scenes of other MCU films. Fifteen years ago and it would have been a guy in a rubber suit.
13 DIDN’T LIKE: SMALL STAKES
It’s become de rigueur in superhero movies now for the stakes to be monumental; it isn’t enough that the superhero saves whatever city they’re in -- they need to be saving the world. Audiences will accept nothing less, because anything less feels small, and unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
Because Venom isn’t part of the regular MCU due to licensing reasons, and so isn’t in “the scheme of things” at all. it’s disconnected from those world-ending plotlines. It comes off as having small stakes; Eddie has to deal with the Venom symbiote turning him into a crazy person, and vaguely about an abstract “alien invasion” of other symbiotes -- and maybe about a rival, bigger symbiote named Riot, but they don’t appear for SIX MONTHS.
12 LIKED: A STRONG FEMALE LEAD
Female leads take two forms in superhero movies: fellow superhero, or girlfriend of superhero. In Venom, Michelle Williams plays Eddie Brock’s ex-fiancee, who was set to marry him until he used her job connections to uncover confidential experimentation, getting himself (and her) fired in the process. She leaves him, but is prominent in the storyline because she’s central to plot development at various points.
Her character sticks to her principles, but she’s as compassionate as she is tough, and when Eddie displays signs of a complete mental breakdown, she’s mature enough to hand him over to her new doctor beau, who is part of a relationship that is treated respectfully. She saves Eddie’s life more than once.
11 DIDN’T LIKE: MAKING VENOM A GOOD GUY
While there have been times when Venom and Spider-Man have had to team up against greater enemies than themselves, Venom has remained by and large a villain in the Spider-Man universe. It is the Venom symbiote’s host’s hatred for Spider-Man that makes them stronger and more powerful, capable of delivering far greater damage to their foes than if they were good.
Venom insinuates that by bonding with Eddie Brock (who has no hatred of Spider-Man because he doesn’t exist in this universe), the symbiote has a change of heart, and no longer wants to eat every human it sees and witness Earth’s destruction. Instead it wants to stay, and be Eddie’s friend, and be a good guy.
10 LIKED: THE ODD COUPLE HUMOR
Some people have compared Venom to a romantic comedy rather than a rousing superhero romp. This could be because there’s quite a lot of humor in it, and a wonderful love/hate relationship between Eddie and his symbiote, Venom.
The “odd couple” humor keeps the film fresh, and fans of Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. I and Vol. II will enjoy the campy humor and inane banter. Because audiences could sit and watch Tom Hardy talk to himself nonsensically for hours (he voices Venom, too), it might explain the poor plot development in favor of the highly amusing commentary.
9 DIDN’T LIKE: POOR DIALOGUE
One of the highlights of the film is the dialogue between Eddie Brock and Venom, either when Venom is simply a “voice” in Eddie’s head, or separated from his body (in some rather jarring scenes). The rest of the dialogue, however, lacks any such pep or ingenuity. The dialogue from other supporting actors is trite and lifeless, intended only to move the plot along.
While the dialogue in superhero films isn’t always praised, the MCU is known for the spritely banter involving all of its characters, from Tony Stark’s classic zingers to Loki’s more tongue-in-cheek humor. Why should Eddie and Venom have all the fun?
8 LIKED: SWEET ACTION SEQUENCES
Say what you will about Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, but it boasted one of the greatest hand-to-hand combat sequences in recent superhero movie history: Batman whooping about ten of Lex Luthor’s henchmen in almost a single cut, utilizing some of the most brutal means necessary.
Eddie Brock does the same thing when Carlton Drake’s goons show up looking to retrieve the Venom symbiote now inside him. With Venom’s help, Eddie is able to dispatch them all promptly in some particularly brutal ways. That, along with some great high speed chases through the streets of San Francisco, make for an entertaining action fest.
7 DIDN’T LIKE: UNDERDEVELOPED SUPPORTING CHARACTERS
Ant-Man gave us Luis, Black Panther gave us Shuri, and Venom gives us nothing in the way of a memorable supporting character. The bulk of the film’s attention has been given to Eddie Brock and Venom, with a little left over for Eddie’s ex-fiancee. The rest of the supporting cast (Anne’s new boyfriend, a doctor) are as fleshed out as cardboard cutouts.
The bulk of the characters are nameless henchmen, a bodega owner on Eddie’s block, a homeless woman that sells Eddie papers, etc. They exist to populate the world that Venom takes place in, but none of them feel like real people. Even the villain is not memorable, except as an annoying stereotype.
6 LIKED: IT DIDN’T TAKE ITSELF TOO SERIOUSLY
While many fans were hoping for a gritty, dark Venom film a la Logan or Deadpool, it delivers something more akin to Guardians of the Galaxy. And if we can’t get a gritty movie about Venom at least we can be satisfied that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Venom is nothing if not entertaining, and realizes that its subject matter can’t always be given weight in the real world. Any movie dealing with alien symbiotes that bond with life forms purely based on “blood type” and can cause them to morph into any shape imaginable surely has to be able to poke fun at itself.
5 DIDN’T LIKE: THE ORIGIN OF THE SYMBIOTES
In the beginning of the film, a spacecraft crash lands somewhere in “East Malaysia”. It’s been launched by Carlton Drake, an entrepreneur and futurist looking to make his mark on the sector of space privatization and colonization. He’s sent a team to land on a comet and collect samples of the lifeforms on it, believing that those lifeforms will help humans to be able to survive in space.
Later we learn that these lifeforms, or symbiotes, were already planning on reaching Earth anyway with an invasion force. When they’re captured, they simply plan a way to steal one of Drake’s spacecrafts again to reach their buddies, and continue their original storyline, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
4 LIKED: MAKING EDDIE AN INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER
Originally in the comics, Eddie Brock was a journalist like Peter Parker. And like Parker, they both worked at the Daily Bugle. Brock coveted Parker’s position at the Bugle as well as his reputation, and didn’t take too kindly to Spider-Man intervening with his breaking news stories (even if he didn’t report the facts).
In something of a character update, Eddie Brock is now an investigative reporter with his own show on a prominent network. He gets followed around by a film crew to uncover the latest scandals in San Francisco, thereby having a much bigger reputation in his own right, and establishing himself as an altruistic guy.
3 DIDN’T LIKE: WEAK VILLAIN
In the Age of Thanos, two-dimensional villains in superhero movies come across as blowhards. Thanos wanted to wipe out half of the universe in Avengers: Infinity War because he actually believed it would help ultimately save lives, but it doesn’t mean he was happy about doing it because it meant killing people he cared about.
As the head of the Life Foundation, Venom’s villain Carlton Drake pursues means for Earth’s inhabitants to survive the planet’s destruction. He talks about caring for humankind all the while engaging in antithetical behavior, like testing on the poor and sickly, and being primarily concerned with his own welfare. This is stock supervillain stuff, and his motivations seem like they should be more complex.
2 LIKED: FINAL BOSS FIGHT
By the time Eddie Brock has finally embraced Venom, and the two have decided to become one resolutely unstoppable killing machine, it’s time for the final boss fight. The leader of the symbiotes, Riot, has already achieved symbiosis with a host (Carlton Drake), and now it’s time for Venom to try to stop him from taking Drake’s spacecraft to reach the symbiote invasion army waiting to wipe out Earth.
The CGI used as the symbiotes fight is amazing, but there is one particular moment, when the symbiotes are partially exposed from their hosts, where it becomes an intricate and mesmerizing free-for-all of symbiote vs symbiote and host vs host that really pushes the envelope for all other climactic battles.
1 DIDN’T LIKE: EXPLANATION OF VENOM BONDING WITH EDDIE
In the opening scenes of Venom, a spacecraft crashes in East Malaysia. The spacecraft was returning from a mission where it landed on a comet to retrieve samples. These samples were for the Life Foundation, headed by Carlton Drake, who believes they could be monumental in helping humans live in space once Earth becomes uninhabitable.
These specimens, or symbiotes, need to bond with human hosts in order to survive. They are described as needing to “match” with their human host much like a donor transplant to its recipient. Therefore, it makes no sense why none of the experimental hosts Drake uses are a match, but when Eddie accidentally winds up in the laboratory, one bonds with him without him rejecting it.