I’m going to get down to the core of this piece and tell you that I hate superhero movies.
I don’t mean in an “oh, they’re just not for me” type of way. Honestly, I think that there needs to be a cap on the amount of comic book adaptations released per year and for me, that number should be zero.
Before you accuse me of censorship or elitism, let me counter by saying that the only purpose these films serve is to make money. A lot of money. For people who already have millions of dollars.
It’s not just the money that annoys me though. These movies lack any imagination. Every one of these films follow the same plot beats to the point where you could overlay every story on top of each other and find the exact same formula. Please spare me the argument that every story is the same, there are still ways to make familiar stories feel like something new.
I’m sick of the Marvel universe and its strangle-hold on blockbuster movies. I’m sick of conspicuous CGI. I’m sick of the idea that stuffing more characters into a screenplay is a replacement for character development and world building. These films are capitalist propaganda, churning out predictable screenplays that are created without any creativity in order to placate the masses.
Anyway, whatever, I still I went to see Venom last week.
Because my hatred for superhero movies didn’t always exist. When I was a kid, I loved comic book worlds. I was obsessed with X-Men, Batman and Spider-Man (specifically the animated series’). So I know, okay? I know what it’s like to like these films. I understand the excitement that comes with seeing your favourite characters lit up on the big screen. But after seeing Venom, I feel like I’m being insulted by the studios. The fact that they could even release this shit with the amount of hype they did, as if they already knew that it would still make insane money despite how inept it was, feels like they know I’m a sucker. And I don’t like that. Because Venom had a lot of problems at a really basic script level that any screenwriting student could point out.
Why are you trying to insult me, Sony?
Not to be really dramatic or anything, but I feel like I gave up my values when I went to see Venom in theatres. But I did it and I did it because of nostalgia. Venom was actually one of my favourite characters, not just in the Spider-Man universe, but out of all the comic book series’ I consumed. My favourite was Batman (I know Batman is DC, okay?), but Venom was a close second. As a kid, I loved that he was a tabloid journalist – probably because it’s the only job I really understood at the time (my family read a lot of tabloid magazines). I thought his alter-ego was creepy as hell, but I liked that he was tortured. It made it all very complex. In short, Venom was cool.
Also, this movie was all I heard about for weeks on end. I can’t be blamed for being duped by an aggressive marketing campaign. I work somewhere that is tangentially, slightly, barely related to the film industry and I also consume copious amounts of media, so this movie was everywhere. Venom, Venom, Venom. It became a mantra. But I wouldn’t say that I had any expectations going in to this movie. I read the reviews and knew that the plot was non-existent and that the film was bad and mostly boring. But still, I gave it a try because Venom, Venom, Venom. And a lot of critics don’t like movies that I really enjoy, so maybe I would like it?
I was wrong. I should have known better than to trust a superhero movie.
Venom is all kinds of mess. It starts from the beginning where we got too much backstory. I understand this is an origin movie, but do we really need to know exactly where this alien came from right now? Obviously there’s going to be a sequel, so there can be a little mystery here. Instead, the movie goes right off the rails thanks to the usual problems that superhero movies face: too much plot and too many side characters.
First we have the evil scientist, Carlton Drake (how is this even a name?) played Riz Ahmed. Drake wants to genetically modify human to save humanity, but also because he believes humans have a weak design. Drake finds the symbiote that eventually attaches to Eddie and wants to use it make humanity stronger or something I don’t even know why I’m typing this out because it’s so contrived. Anyway, Eddie tries to expose the human tests that Drake is conducting and they become enemies.
There’s no real motive given for Drake’s actions other than the fact that he’s rich, I guess. I just don’t understand how we go from “saving humanity” to “fuck it, test it on humans even if it’s killing them” in twenty minutes, but here we are. Eventually, Eddie breaks into Drake’s lab and the symbiote attaches to him, making him Venom, and then chaos ensues with Eddie/Venom trying to stop Drake from going to the moon or something (the climax involves a rocket because – I don’t even remember why).
Then we have Michelle Williams playing Eddie’s ex-fiancé Anne, a district attorney who gets fired after Eddie uses private info from a case she’s working to go after Drake. So then we have this whole will they-won’t they romantic drama that no one cares about. Williams is utterly wasted in this role and spends most of her time running after Eddie in a plaid skirt and boots and it’s like, isn’t this woman an attorney and not a schoolgirl? My favourite part is when she helps Venom after being told that she can’t come because the conflict will get “too gross” (seriously) and she says, slyly and to no one, “told you I could handle the gross stuff”. Tee-hee. This is why I hate these movies.
If you couldn’t already tell, the entire tone of the movie is really off. It’s not that funny so it’s not really a comedy. It’s dark without being actually scary (Venom chomps off people’s heads, but there’s no blood or gore). The stuff with Tom Hardy and Michelle Williams plays like a 90’s rom-com and the science part plays like a Neil Breen film. It’s like no one had any idea what they wanted this film to be, so they just threw everything at the wall to see what would stick (spoiler: none of it stuck).
My entire complaining rant aside, I will say that the best parts of the film are when Eddie grapples with his new alter ego. Like I said, the film isn’t funny, but Venom has some good lines that probably could have been punchier if the filmmakers had decided to focus on what’s most important in this story: the conflict within Eddie.
The solution to all the problems is so simple I really don’t understand how we got this sloppy movie to begin with. Why are we focusing so much on outside conflicts when the only relevant clash is between Eddie and the monster he becomes? The film as it is spends no time focusing on why the symbiote chooses to bond with Eddie other than the fact that it says it likes his body and that’s that. But it really could have gone deeper and made the movie an actual movie instead of a shitty amalgamation of half-baked ideas.
In the original iteration of the character, Eddie was ousted from an environment where he felt accomplished and accepted (respected journalism) much like how the symbiote that is Venom is extracted from its home planet. But even before Venom, Eddie became a shadow version of himself – a shady tabloid reporter spewing venom (get it?) to make a quick buck instead of exposing truth and justice. In fact, he was about to kill himself before the alien found him.
All of this conflict is what made him Venom. By the end of the movie, I started to seriously wonder whether or not the people involved in this project truly understand what an anti-hero is. Why are we trying to make Venom a superhero? What is with this constant ideology that good people do only good things and evil people are just evil all the way through – where is the nuance?
Considering all of this character backstory plus the fact that Eddie is a journalist from New York, why wasn’t this movie a dark neo-noir instead of a comedy? The reason this movie is so bad is that none of the choices make any artistic sense. It’s like they just fed paper into a computer that mashed together a script based on algorithms of what made other superhero movies a lot of money.
But that’s really what it comes down to. I’m sure the sequel will do very well and Tom Hardy will make a lot of money doing it. Between now and then, we’ll have a whole slew of other superhero movies that will dominate the box office and media just like this one did. I will go and see the next one that piques my interest even though I know, just know, that it will be bad and I will not like it. Afterwards, I will leave the theatre wondering why I continue to allow myself (and my wallet) to be duped by studios feeding off my childhood nostalgia and desire for escapism. And everything will be the same as it ever was.