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It’s been over a decade since the release of Spider-Man 3, a film that made a lot of obvious mistakes that most superhero movies would be wise to avoid. However, one of those mistakes just got its own feature film in the form of Venom. We’re only two years into the newest film iteration of Spider-Man, and yet here we get a solo film for Venom, the alien symbiote that latches itself onto journalist Eddie Brock. All the Venom movie suggests is that the tagline is correct: the world has enough superheroes. Not every one of them ought to get their own movie.
Of course, Venom isn’t exactly meant to be a superhero. When Eddie is paired with Venom, in full form, he’s closer to an out-and-out monster. Venom is large, black, scaly, with a long tongue and sharp fangs. Venom speaks with a deep and presumably threatening voice. Hell, he even eats the heads off of humans because he’s just too hungry to function. By all rights, Venom ought to be the bad guy. When he was included as one of the bad guys in Spider-Man 3, he got lost in the shuffle with Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and the out-for-revenge version of Harry Osborn (James Franco). It’s not that the Topher Grace version of Venom was a great character, but some fans could take solace in the thought that maybe the black-suited super just didn’t get treated right by the filmmakers and studio at the time.
Venom would suggest that the time period doesn’t matter. Maybe the character just can’t bear the weight of his own film. The film faces dismal reviews, though it’s poised for box-office success. The origin story, as depicted here, doesn’t stray too far from what you might expect from a more generic superhero film. There’s a good-hearted journalist who pushes the wrong person’s buttons and gets in big trouble. The journalist can’t keep his nose out of where it doesn’t belong, and so he winds up getting transformed into a being with amazing superpowers and fighting the hyper-intelligent man who gets infected with the same symbiote that transformed our hero. There’s also a woman, Michelle Williams‘ Anne Weying, in the picture, one who our hero wants to keep out of harm’s way, and some vague threat from a scientific super-mind. Defenders can now fall back on the hope that Venom could shoulder his own movie, if only the people making the movie knew how to make him feel different.
Venom also proves that one performance isn’t enough. Tom Hardy is a lot of fun to watch as Eddie Brock, and there’s a shaky and sweaty quality to his performance in the second half — after Eddie is finally transformed into Venom — that recalls the work of loose-limbed comedians like Jim Carrey or Steve Martin, of all people. The good news is that, no matter what else is true, Tom Hardy is not taking a day off with this performance. He’s giving the role every ounce of energy, which then leads to the bad news. While Hardy isn’t doing so, every other element of this movie feels like it’s phoning it in. So much of Venom feels like a checklist of how to make a presumably successful Marvel Cinematic Universe movie (even though this is, to be fair, not an official MCU movie and makes no mention of MCU characters such as Spidey). The only element that doesn’t feel rote is Hardy.
The MCU is now just over a decade old. While it has caused a major shift in mainstream American filmmaking due to its success, we’re now wading knee-deep in all of the retreads of movies that worked in 2008 or 2012, or even earlier. It’s hard to envision a world in which Venom would have ever been creatively successful as it stands. This movie’s existence is akin to the way that Marvel would just throw out movies at random before the MCU came around; every once in a while, they got lucky with a film like Spider-Man (2002), but more often than not, they were releasing titles like Daredevil (2003) and The Punisher (2004) at random. Venom feels like another one of the random cases.
The marketing for the film is spot-on: the world has enough superheroes. And no matter how he looks, Venom is a hero. OK, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Eddie Brock has what it takes to be a hero, but it’s clear by the end of Venom that the alien will be guided by Eddie’s good heart. In a lot of ways, Venom is worse than a film its lead performance may have been inspired by, Deadpool. The title character of that film may swear a lot, but his intentions are clearly good from the start; Venom tries to vaguely attempt being a little edgy and daring, but is just the same old thing from nearly 20 years ago, no matter how hard Hardy tries.
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