Film Review: Venom

Despite having his head bitten off by critics, Venom is living his best life at the box office.

Tom Hardy plays the lead role in the film. Photo: Flickr/Gage Skidmore.

But why are reviewers and the general audience so divided over Sony’s latest entry into the Spiderman universe – and is it worth catching before it leaves the big screen?

Venom’s leap from Spiderman’s rogues’ gallery to a leading role in his own movie is a reminder that you don’t have to be critically acclaimed to be commercially successful. Yet it’s not difficult to understand why critics have taken a dim view. Venom is as contradictory as its audience and critic scores, promising electrifying chaos as the hulking, sharp-toothed alien symbiote is unleashed on San Francisco, but delivering an oddly sanitised mess.

Much of the promotional material focused on Venom’s sinister grin and appetite for human organs, yet the movie flinches away from the visceral consequences. Watching the anti-hero wreak havoc lacks satisfaction, as bad guys bounce back from bone-crunching blows and, despite having teeth straight out of a warning poster on your dentist’s wall, Venom’s bite is the cleanest you’ll ever see. Hardly a drop of blood is spilled when he devours a man’s head.

While this is primarily a bone of contention for gore fans, it points towards a larger problem: ironically, the movie has its own identity crisis. Despite containing elements of horror and menace, it feels like Venom is constantly pulling its punches when depicting the terrifying nature of a bloodthirsty alien symbiote. Some of the most compelling scenes stem from the rapport between Eddie Brock, the journalist-turned-symbiote-host, and the symbiote infecting him, Venom (both played by Tom Hardy), yet the movie isn’t a split-personality buddy comedy either. Venom refrains from revelling in the opportunity to take a darker, grittier stance on the superhero genre, and ends up occupying an indistinct middle ground, where the anti-hero eats people but it’s fine because he’s charming and doesn’t make a mess. There is a real sense that, in trying to appeal to fans who want a more mature superhero movie, while also attempting to attract a mainstream audience,Venom has ended up as a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none.

Tom Hardy’s dual role is the glue that holds the film together. Seeing Brock attempt to reconcile being a symbiote host with regular life – and, likewise, Venom’s struggle to conform to human society – is both amusing and engaging. Unfortunately, these are the only dynamic characters in the movie, although some praise must be reserved for Reid Scott’s performance as Dr. Dan Lewis, the likable ‘other man’. The rest of the characters feel disappointingly flat. Brock’s love interest, Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), is notable only for being Brock’s love interest, while Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), an eccentric CEO from the Elon Musk cookie cutter, comes across as a rather one-note villain.

And yet, despite these flaws, audiences generally seem to like Venom. Although film critics and the average moviegoer typically get along like snakes at a mongoose convention when it comes to taste in movies, there are a few valid reasons why Venom has been such a success at the box office.

As one of the most iconic and riveting characters in the Spiderman universe, Venom has a magnetic quality that comes across on-screen, even without Spidey to fight, thanks to the strength of Hardy’s performance. In marketing terms, the movie has also struck at the perfect moment, in an autumn starved of superhero movies, while audiences still appear to have an insatiable appetite for comic book heroes and villains on the big screen. And, ultimately, Venom is a fun popcorn flick. The plot is rather formulaic and does little to break new ground, but it moves at a decent pace and has enough variety to hold the viewer’s attention.

Venom may be lacking in identity and depth. It may even feel like a missed opportunity to create something special, if it had been more refined. But you’re likely to find it engaging – and sometimes that’s all an audience needs.

If your action sense is tingling and you’re in need of something that isn’t loaded with drama or jump scares this autumn, you might well form a symbiotic relationship with Venom. But it may be worth waiting for it to find a new host first, like Blu-Ray or Netflix.

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