It‚Äôs Villain Week here at Mashable. In honor of the release of Venom, we‚Äôre celebrating all our favorite evildoers from film and TV all week long. Spooky, scary!
The first act of Venom suggests we’re in for one of the worst films of 2018. Not in a fun way, mind you, but in that dull, dispiriting way where the lack of effort starts to feel like disrespect.
Then Venom gets his man and a movie that initially seemed just-plain-bad becomes so-bad-it’s-good. Or maybe it’s just plain good. It’s been a full day since I’ve seen it, and honestly, I’m still not sure. Either way, I laughed a lot.¬†
The story centers on Eddie (Tom Hardy), an investigative journalist, whose body is invaded by Venom, an alien parasite. The latter has been brought to Earth on a spaceship owned by an evil CEO, Drake (Riz Ahmed), who is after world domination or whatever evil CEOs in superhero movies are always after. So, tl;dr: Eddie has Venom and Drake wants Venom, which means Eddie (with Venom) spends most of the movie fleeing or fighting Drake and his goons.
That’s the premise of the movie. But the point of the movie, the thing it’s most interested in and the thing that’s most interesting about it, is the bizarre relationship that develops between Eddie and Venom.
I giggled for several minutes, but I couldn’t tell you if the humor in that moment was entirely intentional.
Venom lives inside Eddie and hijacks Eddie’s body whenever he feels like it. With Venom in the driver’s seat, Eddie beats up henchmen, flies out of windows, and tears through a restaurant in search of living creatures to devour. Hardy is great fun to watch here, his face whipping through horror and bewilderment and exhilaration as he watches his own body move in ways he can’t comprehend or control.¬†
He’s even more entertaining once Eddie realizes that Venom is less interested in hurting him than saving him, in large part because Venom needs a host. Why this particular host, though? What makes Eddie so special? Venom makes a half-assed attempt to offer a “scientific” explanation, but the real answer seems to be that this alien just … really likes Eddie.
Venom seemingly views Eddie as a friend, even before Eddie has quite processed what’s going on. This powerfully dangerous extraterrestrial opens up to Eddie, rambling on about his goals, his weaknesses, his previous life on his home planet, his dislike of the word “parasite.” He encourages Eddie to reconcile with his ex (Michelle Williams), and lends Eddie his otherworldly superpowers whenever Eddie asks.
Their dynamic falls somewhere between “buddy cop comedy” and “boy and his dog.” It’s oddly sweet when Venom confesses the real reason he wants to help Eddie save the day, and also extremely hilarious. I giggled for several minutes, but I still couldn’t tell you if the humor in that moment was entirely intentional. And oh, man, I haven’t even gotten to the part where Eddie makes out with Venom.¬†
The reason it’s so difficult to tell exactly how funny Venom wants to be is that outside of the Venom/Eddie relationship, for which Hardy’s physicality is doing most of the heavy lifting, nothing about Venom suggests it’s remotely clever or competent enough to be that funny on purpose.¬†
The characters are all vague stock types given vague stock dialogue. One of Eddie’s favorite platitudes is “No such thing as can’t,” and this is, apparently, supposed to count as a personality trait. We know that many of them are supposed to be uniquely brilliant, because they’re constantly telling each other they are, and yet none of them demonstrate even a lick of common sense.¬†
Personality and mood are both absent as well. Venom makes sure you know it’s set in San Francisco, but demonstrates no interest in the city’s quirks or rhythms. (Eddie, ever the intrepid journalist, does report the breaking news that homelessness is increasing “into the thousands!” You don’t say.) It brings in talented actors like Williams and Ahmed, and asks them to do little more than recite dialogue and stare blankly.
Venom, after a dreadfully tedious start, evolves into something surprising.
Where, then, did the humor in Venom come from? And if director Ruben Fleischer and his team were smart and engaged enough to make the Eddie and Venom bits that fun, where the hell was the energy during the rest of the movie?¬†
Maybe it doesn’t matter. Whatever their intentions, the end result is that Venom, after a dreadfully tedious start, evolves into something genuinely surprising. I found it strange and amusing and occasionally endearing, even as I cringed at the clunky dialogue and covered my notebook in “WTF”s every time the characters did some dumb new thing.
It’s like Venom’s most memorable turn of phrase, “turd in the wind.” We don’t know where it came from or why it’s here, and it’s obviously very stupid. (What even is that? How is a turd in the wind different from a turd anywhere else?) But whatever you think of it, you have to admit: It was definitely good for a laugh.
(Also, PS: Yes, there are credits scenes ‚Äď two of them, and you’ll need to stick around allll the way through the end for the second one.)¬†