If Venom was smart, it might have made more subdued and nuanced nods towards a very interesting part of the human condition. Many people carry their own dark passenger, a hidden demon or parasite that is capable of lashing out in anger or violence or fear. We might have subconscious conversations with it, seeking mastery of it and of ourselves. Yet, we do not always win this battle. For one reason or another, be it environmental or internal, we give in to our darker desires. And it feels good. Succumbing to that part of ourselves yields a sense of guidance or power—a hidden truth known only by ourselves.
If Venom was smart, it might have carried on with the movie it sets up for itself. We watch Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an investigative journalist, throw his job, career, and relationship away in pursuit of the truth. We see those journalistic ideals so often put on a pedestal discarded in the face of money and power when Eddie asks the wrong questions to the wrong rich CEO—Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). These ideals and relentless pursuit of what is true and what is right land Eddie in a shitty apartment and out of an engagement to Anne Weying (Michelle Williams). So, when Eddie is infected with the parasitic and extraterrestrial symbiote known as Venom (read: when he becomes something unrecognizable originating from some dark place within him), it feels good to watch him enact his (or its) own twisted version of personal justice.
If Venom was smart, it would have continued on this path—going for something darker and more carnal than what we’ve seen from superhero-affiliated movies up to now. It might take a Logan-like approach—pushing our hero deeper and deeper into the subterranean miasma of morality not often seen on the glossy pages of comic books.
If Venom was smart.
Unfortunately, this movie is not smart. In fact, it’s dumb. Right when it’s calling into question all of those terrible reviews and word of mouth, Venom’s own parasite reveals itself in the form of a terrible second half. Drake gets his own symbiote called Riot, because the movie needs a villain other than the unstoppable amorphous monster that has been wantonly killing anyone who attacks it up to now. Riot’s motivations for its villainy are to bring an entire world of “evil” symbiotes to Earth, presumably killing everyone in the process. Venom’s motivations for fighting it are that it likes Earth? Fine. Williams’ character Anne asks the audience to believe that she wants to willingly leap into battle without the protection of a symbiote (or the protection of anything for that matter). The film turns to the audience and asks “Do you believe this?” The audience responds, “Whatever.”
With this in mind, Venom stumbles into the last act, dragging its characters and viewers along for the ride. Fight scenes, explosions, one-liners, and callbacks ensue. Everything works out, because of course it does, and it seems like the movie has thrown away all of the good will it spent the first 45 minutes earning. It seems like that because that’s what happened.
Shortly put, Venom is good until it isn’t. The problem—well, one of the problems—is that it’s a pretty enjoyable ride until then. If you can sign on for its beleaguered follow-up, it’s probably worth seeing at matinee price, or with some sort of discount. If you’re a diehard fan of all things comic book, it’s definitely not the worst thing adapted from serialized stories of caped crusaders and their dastardly foes. But for a property like Venom, a Spider-Man villain that Spider-Man fans seem to love more than the hero himself, it’s not a very satisfying story once it turns on itself.
But maybe this is some meta-layer of meaning that Venom has decided to shoulder. Perhaps with this disappointing experience, Venom is seeking to show us what happens when you give in to your baser desires, to your own dark passenger. Things might seem to go well for quite a while, right up until they don’t. Once that happens, Venom, like the human condition it’s seeking to mimic, flounders and flails.
Or maybe this is just a mediocre movie that could have been good. A studio’s parasitic—and decidedly not symbiotic—attempt to feed on the wallets and hearts of audiences and fans, duped into seeing a movie because of its relationship to preexisting quality media alone.
It’s the second one.
Featured Image by Sony Pictures