Critics are very fond of making quick assumptions about a movie. And once one popular critic has made a decision about the quality of said movie, it seems that nearly all of his peers are required by some secret, shadowy critic law to follow suit. Admittedly Venom did not do itself much favours prior to release: review embargoes were lifted suspiciously close to the opening day, and the film’s star, Tom Hardy, seemed to be actively distancing himself from the finished article in press interviews. Be that as it may, nothing prepared me for the barrage of negative reviews that flooded my newsfeed once the embargo was lifted. “Venom is a listless dud” declared one movie review site dramatically, while another labelled the film as “aggressively loud and stupid”. Indeed, the negative press was so strong I entered the cinema with little hope that such a universally heralded mess could be anything but the dud that critics claimed it to be.
Entering a cinema with an atmosphere of trepidation, actively fearing the worst, is never particularly conducive to an impartial judgement and throughout the film’s first half an hour, my worst fears appeared to have been confirmed. The first act was excessively long, full of overused motifs and seemed just as long winded and non-sensical as I had been led to believe. Hardy’s portrayal of Eddie Brock, a man possessed of an odd and strangely hesitant American accent, seemed a tad contrary to his title as “San Francisco’s top investigative journalist”. One particularly awkward segment featured Brock giving a news report on some breaking scandal he’d uncovered, delivered in a fashion that suggested he was not particularly sure he wanted to be there. Similarly, his relationship with his fiancé (played by Michelle Williams) was just as lacking in passion or chemistry.
For all its supposed faults and the lack of stimulation provided by the first act, I was, like many other audience members I suspect, prepared to stick with Venom for the sake of Tom Hardy and because I was desperate for a good portrayal of Venom following the mess that was Spiderman 3. After Brock digs a little too deeply into the affairs of billionaire businessman Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed of Nightcrawler fame), who’s company are responsible for bringing Venom and his fellow symbiotes to earth, he loses his job, his apartment and his fiancé Anne, which is what really kicks the film into gear.
There has been a noticeable discord between critics and audience with regards to superhero films in the last few years. Yes, Batman vs Superman was a bit of a mess, but it was nowhere near as bad as the initial 11% it garnered on Rotten Tomatoes. Conversely, the movies Spiderman: Homecoming and Wonderwoman received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics but were, in my opinion and that of many people I’ve spoken to, both decidedly boring, especially the latter which despite a powerful performance from Gal Gadot in the title role, stole almost its entire plot from the first Captain America movie and was riddled with irredeemable cringery. Venom thankfully, definitely falls into the former category. Like Batman vs Superman it is a bit of a mess in parts but it more than makes up for it by being enjoyable, funny and in no small part due to the performance of Hardy, who seems to grow into the role as the movie progresses. The almost buddy-cop-esque banter between Brock and the symbiote inhabiting his body is delightful to watch, as is the protagonist’s slow realisation that he “has a parasite”, something which is amusingly illustrated by his increasingly erratic behaviour and the voice in his head which frequently bombards him with shouts of “HUNGRY”. Yes, the movie has problems, Riz Ahmed’s villain is a bit overplayed, the plot can be a tad nonsensical, but it is more than countered by the fact that the movie is self-aware and extraordinarily good fun once it gets going. If Venom took itself too seriously, the film would undoubtedly be a dud, but it is its cognisance that saves it from such a fate. Perhaps critics suffer in that they go into every movie expecting a masterpiece, which this movie is definitely not, but this strive for cinematic excellence also blinds them to the fact that an audience does not always want excellence. Personally, for a movie like this, I’d settle for good fun, and Venom has good fun in buckets.
Editor’s Score: If I’m gonna follow Rotten Tomatoes’ score system, this film deserves a solid 68%.