I’ve never been a huge fan of Venom. I’m a big superhero fan, absolutely, but Venom started as a supervillain who later became, at best, an anti-hero. He/they also have a very complicated history that needs to be greatly simplified whenever it’s adapted, for cartoons or the recent movie. In the film, they even change Eddie Brock, the human host for the Venom symbiote. For those who care, I’ll do Venom’s comic book origin in the next paragraph. If that’s not of interest, feel free to skip it.
In the mid-80’s, the two big comic book companies both did huge series that crossed over to many books. DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths rewrote decades of history, killed characters that had been around for a long time, and changed their entire line from that point forward. In Marvel’s Secret Wars… Spider-Man got a new costume. You can see the difference in magnitude. Anyway, that new costume, which Spider-Man came back with from Battleword, which the Beyonder created for a series of battles between Marvel’s best-known heroes and villains, had a lot of bad effects on the Web Slinger. It turned out to be an alien life form, which he needed a lot of help getting rid of. The symbiote eventually bonded with Eddie Brock, a photographer who had a grudge against… Peter Parker. Venom became a villain that caused a lot of problems in New York City, killing many. Eventually, because the character was so popular, they made him/them into a sort of anti-hero, after it spawned and created new problems like Carnage. All that’s too complicated, since it took years of stories, so the shortened version is generally “It came from space.”
In the movie, Eddie Brock is a journalist with questionable morals and bad decision making skills. He does something unforgivable that, in one fell swoop, costs him his job, relationship, and apartment. Ruthless genius Carlton Drake is conducting horrific experiments in his quest to make new discoveries (and get more money and power). He was a part of how Eddie lost everything, although Eddie did it to himself by his own actions.
Months later, Brock is a bit past down on his luck when one of Drake’s assistants contacts him after the research goes from questionable to outright homicidal. In spite of himself, Brock agrees to help her, although it’s arguable whether he’s trying to make a comeback, get some revenge, or actually do something good. He manages to get himself infected, and Venom is born.
From there, it’s largely a superhero (ish) origin story. Guy gets strange new powers, tries to figure them out, and has a powerful evil genius chasing him. Drake is a ruthless villain, killing whoever annoys him or disappoints him. And, as it turns out, isn’t the only threat. Does Brock have what it takes to save the day and master his new-found abilities? Well, given how much of a loser the man is in general, I’d bet against it.
There’s a LOT of carnage and mayhem. Venom is a violent, nasty, critter. He’s one of Marvel’s more violent creations, and that’s the same company that has the crazy Canadian with the claws. Venom is a long way from a hero, and so is Eddie. As someone or other described it, this is a Spider-Man movie without Spider-Man.
A few things save this from being a really bad movie. Eddie’s ex-girlfriend, Anne, is a lot more than a plot device, love interest, or damsel in distress. She’s a smart, tough, woman who pulls off some pretty cool stuff. Her new boyfriend, Dan Lewis, would have been easy to write as a jerk to make Eddie more sympathetic. Instead, he’s a cool, big-hearted guy who actually helps out a few times. And, credit where it’s due, Tom Hardy does a great job as both Venom and a very conflicted Eddie Brock. The interaction between them is actually pretty damn entertaining.
Venom improbably becomes a hero, saving the day (and the world) from a bigger threat. His journey from villain to sorta-hero is a lot more condensed in this movie than the years it took to play out in the comics. The end is a long, brutal (mostly CGI) fight. Eddie and Venom both take a horrible beating as they try and deal with the bad guy(s). The end of the movie is somewhat predictable, but that doesn’t make it bad. There’s also a Stan Lee cameo, one of his last, sadly.
This is the second time a Marvel spin-off company (not Marvel Studios, basically) has managed to take a character that I really don’t care for in the original comics and make an entertaining movie out of them. The other one is Deadpool. I liked this a lot more than I thought I would.
What I liked: The writing and humor was good. Tom Hardy impressed me as he joined the growing list of actors who have done live action for both Marvel and DC. His conversations with himself were really funny. Michelle Williams was really good as Anne Weying, the former girlfriend who was a very capable and strong character. Dan the new boyfriend was written and acted well.
What I didn’t: The movie is hyper-violent, even for a superhero film. While this was entertaining, I still don’t like Venom. He’s Spider-Man’s costume gone bad, and I can never really take that seriously. His origin is so tangled it has to be changed for anything outside the comics. It was really unclear if this movie shares a world with any of the others, which is a small thing, but the sort of thing I wonder about this day and age of shared worlds. The threat required to make Venom sort of a hero seemed weak and to come from out of nowhere.
I enjoyed this, contrary to my expectations. I’ll give it a 4 out of 5. Rumor is there will be another one. I’ll probably watch it, but on cable, like I did this one.