In defence of Venom

Spoilers ahead.

I was never hyped for Venom. Its existence puzzled me. Sony already surrendered the Spider-Man keys over to Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, so to continue with an Eddie Brock movie felt like they kept the spare tyre just out of pettiness. Or neediness. Who can tell?

Nevertheless, they held onto this wheel and were thus given a chance to reinvent it. Against the odds, I actually think this Peter Parker-less Venom film did that more than it’s currently being credited for.

But let me stab this flag in the ground first: Venom is not a great movie. As our own Daniel Rutledge said in his 2-star review: “The horde of poor filmmaking choices could be forgiven if it at least delivered on the action, but it sure as shit does not.” This is particularly telling of the confusing, craptastic climax between Venom and Riot. You could throw two wet bed sheets and a ball of black yarn into a dryer and get the same result.

Superhero scrap or spin cycle?

The beginning is almost as rough as the ending with a corny, unconvincing and somewhat dated montage of television segment The Brock Report. If you want the audience to buy him as a rockstar journalist, at least reflect the way modern media works.

There are also some puzzling reaction shots, a mostly-wasted Riz Ahmed, a completely wasted Jenny Slate, a stinker of a stinger, and the unexplained six month period Riot spent wandering around as an elderly lady. It’s sloppy stuff.

I’m not trying to convince anyone that Venom is a misunderstood masterpiece. However, the ultra-brooding and super-serious trailers misrepresented what the film actually is: a comedy that warps the Peter Parker origin story.

This is where the movie finds some success and it’s largely thanks to Tom Hardy’s go-for-broke dive into physical comedy—a side we haven’t seen from him since 2012’s This Means War. The sight of a grown man jumping into a water tank and devouring a living lobster may or may not tickle your bones—my ribs felt it—but there’s no denying that Hardy does the absolute best job anyone could have done with the material.

More importantly, the interplay between Brock and Venom works. They share the soul-bonding connection of being fucking losers. For Brock, it’s when he shittily betrays his girlfriend—who he never wins back—for a scoop he fails to nab. For Venom, he… well… it’s not explained why his home planet thinks he’s a loser (more sloppiness).

There’s a key difference though. Brock grovels in the fact that he’s a loser while Venom embraces being an asshole. This contrast between Brock’s reluctance and Venom’s impulsiveness lays the comedic groundwork for the film to capitalise on. So when Venom calls Brock a pussy for taking an elevator like a responsible human instead of jumping out the window, the joke lands.

This comedy is vital to making the character work because Venom simply looks silly in CG motion, no matter how much money you throw at him. In order to get audiences to buy into this goofy glob that bites heads off, the film needed to show some willingness to be goofy as well. To make a 100% serious horror out of Venom would have sunk the film to the depths of 2015’s Fantastic Four.

The interplay also works on a thematic level. Once the people’s champion, Brock accepts his disgrace and rejects playing the hero on numerous occasions. The scene with the first dairy robbery is most telling with Brock doing the exact opposite of what Uncle Ben did in The Amazing Spider-Man.

With great power comes great responsibility. Brock was irresponsible and lost his power as a journalist. He accepted his fate as a sort-of reverse Peter Parker until that dickhead Venom came along to grant him the second chance he never wanted.

In its own strange and often flawed way, Venom is an alternate play on Uncle Ben’s immortal line. Brock knows the necessity of responsibility. Venom is nothing but raw power. While we admire Peter Parker for holding this lesson dear to his heart, there’s genuine comedy in seeing two beings on opposite sides of the spectrum tussle to get the balance right.

And balance is everything to Brock. It’s why he fought against inequality. It’s why he gave Deepak Chopra’s meditation methods a go. It’s why he discusses rules and regulations about ethics and heroism to Venom. You know, right after they bit another dude’s head off.

That’s because, near the end of the film, they still suck at being a superhero—they just suck a little less than before. In essense, Venom is a shitty Spider-Man. That’s why the film is a comedy. That’s what makes it funny.

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