Venom Review: We All Need a Terrible Superhero Film Every Once in a While

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Venom Review: We All Need a Terrible Superhero Film Every Once in a While

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

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or most of today’s movie-going audiences, their first brush with superhero films was 2002’s Spiderman. It was the genre’s first bonafide blockbuster, and it spawned two sequels as well as indirectly led to the rise of the Marvel-worshipping culture we now live in – where today’s schoolkids think Iron Man is Tony Stark, not Sardar Vallabhai Patel. The original Spiderman trilogy drew to a close in 2007 with a disappointing third instalment that featured the webslinger’s greatest nemesis, Venom as the antagonist. So naturally, comic book fans were excited that Venom was returning to screens with a standalone film of his own, over a decade after his last appearance.

It wasn’t worth the wait.

As a film, Venom is a 112-minute slog through one major letdown after the other. The hype surrounding the film in the run-up to its release is much like the hype that surrounded Acche Din four years ago – completely unwarranted. With a central character who, in the comics, is a ravenous, remorseless alien symbiote, Venom promised viewers one of the darkest explorations of the superhero genre yet. However, it fails even as a simple superhero origin story, as this is a film that does not know what it wants to be.

In its first act, it’s a tense, sci-fi influenced horror story. After the interval, when Venom makes his first appearance, it mutates awkwardly into an odd-couple comedy, relying on the symbiosis between host human Eddie Brock, played by Tom Hardy, and the titular alien parasite for laughs. And finally, the ending is a CGI-heavy affair, made harder to watch by 3D, which feels more like a video game cutscene than a climactic battle fitting a superhero movie.

All scope for exploring the darkness inherent in Venom’s character is ignored, and what we have on our hands is a superhero film that harks back to the genre’s cringe-inducing past.

One of the hardest things to stomach about Venom is how it’s proof that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Viewed separately, so many aspects of the movie seemed promising. There was director Ruben Fleischer, who helmed the brilliant, genre-bending road movie/survival horror crossover that was Zombieland. The cast prominently features a trio of critical darlings. There’s regular Oscar nominee Michelle Williams, whose character provides a link between the two remaining leads: Riz Ahmed – brown people’s answer to Childish Gambino – and Tom Hardy, an actor who’s magnetic to watch, but still can’t rescue this dumpster fire of a film. In fact, Hardy provided one of the most damning indictments of Venom himself, when he stated during interviews that his favourite parts of the film ended up on the cutting room floor.

Hardy’s interview statements are the showbiz equivalent of a witness turning hostile in the box. It’s similar to sentiments expressed by Jared Leto when he played Joker in Suicide Squad, who also felt his iconic villain was let down by the film’s editing. It makes sense, as Venom will go on to join Suicide Squad as an anachronistically, indisputably, abjectly bad superhero film in what is a golden age for the genre. While films like Infinity War, Black Panther, Logan, and Deadpool are all pushing the boundaries of what a superhero film is capable of achieving as a storytelling medium, Venom seems like a throwback to far-off 2007 and the days of Spiderman 3, another film that arrived in theatres riding a tidal wave of hype and potential, only to watch it all go down the drain. That film killed the original Spiderman franchise, which hopefully means Venom won’t be getting a sequel either.

If this is to be our farewell to Venom on the big screen, then for me, as a fan, it’s a bitter goodbye. Venom fails to do any justice to its namesake. Imagine a James Bond film where 007 doesn’t show up until after the interval, and when he does, he fails to drink any martinis, drives an Ambassador instead of an Aston Martin, and forgets how to use a gun. That’s how neutered the film’s version of Venom is compared to the comic book anti-hero, who serves as a moral counterpoint to favourite sparring partner and friendly neighbourhood goody-two-shoes Spiderman.

Unfortunately, all scope for exploring the darkness inherent in Venom’s character is ignored, and what we have on our hands is a superhero film that harks back to the genre’s cringe-inducing past. The only way to enjoy Venom is to imagine that the rocket taking off into space during the finale is carrying all copies of the film off the face of the Earth.

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