In a packed theater, The Summer Man and I took our seats to partake in a press-screening of Sony’s Venom, which is set to be the first film to help build up their Spider-Verse, aligning itself to their ultra-successful 2017 film Spider-Man: Homecoming, but somehow not at all a part of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. How will that work exactly? Who the hell knows, but based on early reviews of Venom, the bigger question was if this Tom Hardy-starring vehicle would work at all.
The problem with these press screenings is that once a narrative has started to take shape—like, say, a litany of terrible tweets, 29 percent on Rotten Tomatoes—the hivemind has most of the audience already hating the film (or do they?). That leaves us a) having to cut through their bullshit to find the real while b) forming our own opinions on a film that we assumed would be type-trash after seeing the first few trailers.
After letting the film marinate, I reconvened with Frazier to get his thoughts on this film, which could be one of the most awfully enjoyable times I’ve had at the theater in 2018? Here are our thoughts on Venom.
khal: Before we get too deep into anything, I want to give a big FUCK YOU to the critics who, after seeing what everyone already tweeted, did the absolute most during every...fucking...scene. Like, was laughing when the made “in association with Marvel” flashed on-screen really necessary?
That aside, I was conflicted. For many reasons, this film doesn’t work. I’m not sure what the tone of the film was supposed to be, but it felt like Riz Ahmed was acting in a different film than Jenny Slate, who was in a different film than Michelle Williams. Tom Hardy really rode a wave in this film though, and I kind of wish the film played more to the insanity of his character than it actually did.
Frazier: It’s here that I have to out myself. I, am the 'I' in the headline. This movie is a complete bastardization of every aspect the source material has to offer, a waste of Oscar-worthy talent, and a regression of every cinematic stride superhero movies have made in the last 10 years—I loved it!
Really, there’s no way you can convince me Venom wasn’t directed in 2002 by, like, Joel Schumacher and stashed in a vault until now. That revelation would go a long way to explaining things like the special effects, the script, why Academy Award nominee Tom Hardy and *four* time Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams would ever even go near this script, Eminem as the soundtrack's lead artist, etc.
However, this movie is being compared to the basement level bar-setting instance of an Academy Award winner inexplicably resigning herself to an objective heap of trash. And to compare Venom to Catwoman is, having seen it now, reductive. That movie is an interminable slog, watching Venom is like eating a bag of jelly beans knowing you're going to get nauseous in a half-hour, but that's half-hour-from-now-you's problem. Which is a Frazier way of saying, it's enjoyable in the moment. Once you settle in, accept that director Ruben Fleishcer and credited screenwriters Jeff Pinkner (who wrote some of my favorite episodes of Fringe and Alias!), Scott Rosenberg and Kelly Marcel were clearly on dust and pixie sticks when they made this thing, it becomes a pretty fun, mind-numbing ride. And as much as this movie didn’t need to be any longer than it is, it really ends just as it gets going! Sure, some of our snobbier peers laughed at moments they never would’ve laughed at home, but after a certain point Venom truly does become a riot. Symbiotes! They’re hilarious! What could’ve been a badass movie about a badass villain instead became a schizophrenic take on the buddy comedy that Tom Hardy was born to play. (At one point, Venom baldly declares a sudden change in character motivation is because he's actually a loser, and man, did I lose it). Who knew?
khal: Well, don’t forget, they aren’t just comparing this to the fact that Oscar winners are in the film; it’s being compared to the 10 years of MCU films, which have reinvented what it means to be a comic book film. And even on that scale, sure, this isn’t as major as Winter Soldier or Infinity War, but this also isn’t as asinine as, say, Suicide Squad. I will say this, though, and I guess we are going to be entering spoiler territory, but there are some gaping holes in this story.
For instance, and this is a pet peeve: in the beginning, after the Symbiote makes the car its being transported in crash, it inhabits one of the medics and...just walks down a dark road to civilization? In which it then eats part of an eel and inhabits an old AF woman. Then, six months later, this old AF woman just waltzes into an airport to inhabit a little girl, who then boards a plane to head to Riz Ahmed? What the hell was the Venom symbiote doing for six months? Was there a rash of murders we’d not heard of?
Also, am I the only ultra-nerd who was confused at Michelle Williams referencing Kryptonite (DC-lore) in this MCU-less Marvel film? Am I supposed to believe that this universe might not know who Captain America is, but they know what element is said to fuck up Superman? Shit like that doesn’t sit well with me, which is how I felt about other elements of this film, including Hardy’s weird accent shifts.
That said, I think this film would’ve been way different if it wasn’t Tom Hardy in the suit. I thought I was going to be confused whenever Venom (who really is a whole ass character in this film) spoke, based on the garble of the trailers, but their interactions made for the best part of this film. The lines about Venom learning that he wanted to stay on Earth were mad corny, but they really did a good job of, at the very least, making me want to see Tom Hardy continue on. He’s contracted on for three movies, so it’ll be interesting to see.
Frazier: Venom climbing to the top of the skyscraper, gazing at the beauty of nighttime San Francisco and remarking that Earth isn’t so bad or whatever was my first real laugh-out-loud moment of the movie I think. I can’t put into words really what Tom is doing—on either voice, truly because wtf is that American accent lmao—but he is committed and that’s what counts.
I want to be clear here. This presentation of Venom is an absolute brick. It’s a big loss as per what we could’ve gotten. It always bugs me out when the 90s cartoons from my childhood do better by the source material than a nine-figure budget movie. But this is what we got, and it’s what we’re stuck with because over in MCUville they’ve finally hit a Spidey we all like. We’ve seen three Peter Parkers, three Eddie Brock’s is just ludicrous.
So fuck it! Lean into this one. Hardy’s Venom is charming, bizarre, and oddly compelling in his own trash right. Greenlight that sequel, smash the R rating for real this time, and grab like David Leitch and/or Chad Stahelski to direct—someone who’ll lean right in alongside Tom and dial up the violence, but make actual setpieces out of it. Someone who can dial up the absurdist humor, but make us laugh with instead of at. Someone who can mine whatever weirdo ventriloquist act Tom is doing and re-frame it as art. Someone who will hopefully burn [spoiler] Woody’s Cletus wig! What I’m saying is, when life gives you symbiotes make the best Venom you can out of it.