It feels that the term superhero fatigue suffers from a weary overuse of its own. Audiences and critics like to tweet the term whenever a new comic book movie is released that they don’t like the look of, however the box office often shoots down any worries that cinemagoers are getting sick and tired of the genre.
Sony have had a complicated relationship with their Spider-Man property. Having rebooted the franchise three times in over sixteen years, they’ve had grandiose plans for sequels and spinoffs that died quiet deaths. The idea of a Venom movie would not die and with Spider-Man now on loan to the MCU, it was announced that Ruben Fleischer’s movie would not, with eyebrows raised, feature Spider-Man or have any connection to the webslinger (TBC). A movie of this sort promises to be ambitious, ground-breaking and a potential game changer. Unfortunately, Venom is neither or these things.
That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable, it’s just not very memorable. There’s an inconsistency to the tone of the film that resonates with Suicide Squad, a similar premise where the spotlight is on the bad guys to save the world. There’s a brooding darkness that bubbles underneath Venom, one that’s neutered and kept on a leash. Much of the violence was toned down as Sony didn’t want to complicate the crossover appeal of other entries in its own, Marvel Universe (or indeed the MCIU) with Venom being the launchpad. The idea of Venom as an anti-hero is explored in the comics, it’s this incarnation that’s at the forefront. It makes the most sense from a narrative perspective but here it’s rushed and lazily written.
Tom Hardy is great as Eddie Brock and looks to be having fun in the role as he struggles to come to terms with this alien lifeform that’s co-existing in his mind and body. Hardy’s performance is wonderful as he channels the Jekyll and Hyde relationship of the two characters. Brock’s arc follows the typical fall from grace to redemption and while this works for Eddie, Venom is the one that’s just along for the ride as the movie hits the third act. Suffering from the usual origin trope of spending at least half the movie on the setup, the story then thunders along at an incredible pace so the final battle between hero and villain can commence in all it’s CGI glory. Riz Ahmed makes a formidable evil genius baddie. It’s a shame his Carlton Drake doesn’t seem as outlandish as a crazed scientist used to, in light of recent news stories.
It does provide some fun set pieces including a thrilling motorbike chase through downtown San Francisco. The CGI (which I thought was handled well for the most part) is dominant in the action, ticking all the run of the mill superhero tropes on its way to the climax. Venom’s biggest crime is that it is just another superhero movie. Yes, the main character here might want to eat people to brandish out justice but the plot and execution feel like wasted opportunities.
The mid-credits scene teases a very appealing sequel and one fans will be hoping happens. It’s a shame that such a unique idea, that could have given us something fresh, trods such familiar territory. The most ambitious aspect of Venom is it tries to be a standalone movie yet hold enough back so as to crossover with more family friendly heroes in the future. In the end it’s a victim of creative potential at the expense of a single vision.