If you come into “Venom” with the comic canon in mind, you’re going to be expecting violence in large sums; Venom is known to be a creature with a penchant for bloodshed. But this adaptation of the antihero comic series proves to be much more tame than the likes of “Deadpool,” its R-rated counterpart. The film fails to meet the bloodsoaked expectations of its audience, and, with a multitude of other flaws, is ultimately an underwhelming and conventional contribution to the antihero genre.
After a mysterious crash landing, Ruben Fleischer’s “Venom” opens to scenic San Francisco and leaps into redefining Sam Raimi’s version of protagonist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), as seen in “Spider-Man 3.” In this adaptation, Eddie is less sleazy and more sleek. He has a comfortable job as an investigative journalist and a woman he loves, and he is a far cry from the petty, vindictive depiction found in the 2007 film.
With Oscar-nominated Tom Hardy at the helm, Eddie is authentic and sympathetic, with a strong moral compass guiding his motivations. The audience is meant to buy into his deep interest in servicing the greater good of mankind, and Hardy makes this easy to believe. But even with Hardy’s masterful depiction of Eddie, it is impossible to ignore a figure glaringly absent from the film.
Where is Spider-Man?
For a film about a villain whose very existence, in the comic books at least, is a direct result of the web-slinging superhero, there is a noticeable, Spidey-shaped hole in the film. There is not even a mention of the character to acknowledge the greater universe from which Venom comes.
Because there are so many different runs of so many different comic heroes, Marvel films oftentimes pick and choose storylines for the sake of more syncopated content. In comic book form, “Venom” similarly has multiple different storylines — from explicitly being Spider-Man’s antagonist to being an antihero struggling with his good and bad identities. Rather than choosing one of these versions, Fleischer’s film is an amalgam of the character’s in-comic history that fails to be a coherent on-screen narrative.
“Venom” often feels hollow and becomes more of a CGI-riddled smoke and mirrors show than the breakout reintroduction that many were hoping for.
The film also disappoints when it comes to the utilization of its cast. There seems to be some semblance of an effort made to create a diverse cast. But the people of color in the film are either inconsequential side characters or the most dangerous people in the film, such as Riz Ahmed’s Carlton Drake.
It is the all-too-often-seen trope of casting a brown person as the insidious, sociopathic villain. This might be easier to forgive if the character weren’t also so poorly written. Riz Ahmed does the evil Carlton Drake justice, but the character is such a compounding of every corny mad scientist we’ve ever seen that there’s little Ahmed can do to salvage him.
“Venom” repeatedly fails in compensating for moments of high action with any real emotional depth. The characters who are meant to elicit the most emotional response, particularly the women in the film, are underdeveloped and underutilized. Jenny Slate is a brilliant character actress whose career has consistently been on the rise, but her character is not integrated well into the film, and thus her actions as scientist Dora Skirth have little to no impact on the other characters. The audience isn’t given proper license to connect to her, or to any of the female characters, so any threat to them doesn’t feel pertinent.
For all its flaws, “Venom” still delivers as an action-packed and visually impressive film. Hardy’s comically nervous Brock lays the perfect groundwork for Venom’s reveal, and the two function as flawless foils for each other. Venom’s humorous characterization is largely akin to what Drax the Destroyer was able to accomplish for the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films as comic relief. If you come into the film looking for a laugh, look no further than the symbiote itself. “Venom” plays out much like a buddy cop film meeting “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”
If you’re willing to compromise substance for action and visuals, “Venom” is a worthy investment of your time. While the film is able to find success in witty quips and a demonstrated mastery of timing, “Venom” ultimately fails to bring the complexities of the antihero to the screen in an innovative way. It does little to differentiate itself from the all-too-similar titles that precede it.
With a tagline like “The world has enough superheroes,” the film is poisoned by its own inability to meet the expectations it sets up.