Review: Venom Is Weird, Dated, And A Waste Of A Perfectly Good Riz Ahmed
2.5 turds on the wind
Reading other reviews of Venom, I was not sure what I was getting myself into when I settled into my seat at the theatre. People seemed to really hate it, but also really enjoy themselves while watching it. Also, according to Twitter, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) and Venom made out, so I was pretty down to see how that played out on the big screen, because I know about the Internet’s obsession with Venom’s tongue. Plus, my favorite actor Riz Ahmed is in it, so how bad can it be?
The answer: very bad, but also extremely hilarious.
Other reviewers are right: this film does seem like it crawled straight out of a wormhole from the early 2000’s. While superhero films have mostly advanced beyond the basic “hero gets powers, hero tests powers, hero punches bad guy” template, this film revels in it. The big “twist” on the formula is that Venom is supposed to be an anti-hero, but outside of having a more brutal way of taking out bad guys (yes, by biting off their heads on occasion), he is more of his “Lethal Protector” persona than tortured anti-hero. He and Eddie are mostly in sync in their mission, and it takes seeing San Francisco at night just once to get Venom to go from wanting to help destroy the world to wanting to save it,.
The motivations aren’t particularly there, but that’s not the point of the film.
Tom Hardy definitely has a blast as Eddie, particularly once Venom hitches a ride. The role is part physical comedy, part playing the straight man in conversations with yourself, and Hardy gives it his all, be it leaping into a tank of live lobsters at a restaurant or trying to convince Venom that he needs to put his hands up in a dangerous situation. Venom himself comes across as less of a parasite (he really hates that word) and more of a rambunctious roommate. At one point, he tells Eddie to bite off the heads of a bunch of men who attacked them and put them in a pile; “why would we do that?” Eddie replies frantically as Venom singsongs “pile of heads, pile of bodies.”
The theatre absolutely howled at that. And at many of Eddie and Venom’s little exchanges. Hardy might not have chemistry with anyone else in the cast except himself, but when it’s him and Venom goofing around, the film actually becomes campy fun. Unfortunately, the plot gets in the way.
Poor Michelle Williams is regulated to the worst movie girlfriend role I’ve seen in a long time. They eschew more of the damsel in distress tropes for her to give her a vague sense of empowerment, but it’s still a thankless, thankless role that mostly requires her to cry and worry about a guy who ruined her life. I mean, I wasn’t expecting Venom to be a feminist masterpiece, but really? Also, Jenny Slate gets what is essentially an extended cameo, which is a shame because she’s a talented actress who deserves better than the scientist role given to her here.
And then there’s Mr. Ahmed as Carlton Drake. The writers needed a villain for their story, but didn’t want him to overshadow Venom, so they gave Ahmed the role of a bad guy whose mission is … saving the world? At least, that’s ostensibly what his goals are as he stalks around his foundation, monologuing about the state of the world at every chance he gets and engaging in some nasty human testing. There’s one particularly memorable monologue where he talks about the story of Isaac and Abraham that had the audience giggling, but for the most part, he gets so little to do that it’s hard to see him as a threat. Villains in superhero films also really work if the actor playing them is having fun, and Ahmed is definitely playing it a little straight.
Of course, the trailers have already spoiled that he becomes Riot, so he and Venom exchange a few punches. Riot has his own plan: taking over our world with an army of symbiotes, which Venom decides to oppose at the last second because we need a sequel and because he’s a “loser” on his homeworld. There could have been a real sense of tragedy to Drake’s story after he gets taken over by Riot, since a short conversation between the pair make it clear that he’s just using him to take over the world; while Eddie and Venom are in sync, Drake and his symbiote are not.
But the film doesn’t want to dig that deep and give Drake a richer character, so instead, we get a CGI battle that is one hell of an eyesore. I know that all superhero movies are required by law to end with a big battle scene, but really, this one was not fun to watch at all. I kept losing track of who was who and which symbiote was where, and really, I just came here to watch Eddie and Venom make out.
(Spoiler alert: they do kiss, but Venom is in the body of Michelle Williams’s character Anne—which is made super obvious by the hyper-feminine figure. Later on though, Anne tells Eddie that it was Venom’s idea to kiss him, so your slash fiction dreams aren’t dead!)
Venom doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. Is it a comedy? Is it an action film? It makes no pretense of being anything more than a superhero film, that’s for sure, trading the thematic material present in most major superhero ventures for biting off people’s heads. It definitely wants to start a franchise, as evidenced by the mid-credits scene that goes for the grimdark, but if it wants to exist on its own two legs, then it might need to find a set identity and soon.
Whether Venom will make enough money to kickstart a franchise remains to be seen, but at the very least, the film will likely become a cult classic to some degree. When “like a turd on the wind” isn’t even your most memorable line, you know you’re on to something, though what that thing is I cannot say. At least the memes that come out of this will be more than worth it, and you know the Venom cosplayers are going to have a field day at the next SDCC quoting this. So, at least someone’s having fun.
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