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Arts in Review

Venom: it’s a feature, not a bug

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Venom is a garbage fire of a movie, and it is irresistible.

Watching the film, one can’t help but wonder exactly what anyone involved with it was thinking: were they proud of their final product, or were they simply hoping to break even by the end, aware that many comic-savvy audiences were going to shun the idea of watching Venom without the possibility of Spider-Man? How did they convince Tom Hardy to do the world’s most bizarre Brooklyn accent? Furthermore, how much did they pay the production assistant who had to keep Mr. Hardy lightly misted for about an hour of runtime? Beyond any of that, what does this movie think it is?

A significant amount of publicity has been devoted to the divide between the critical consensus and audience reviews of Venom (currently sitting at 33 per cent [Rotten] and 81 per cent [Fresh] respectively on Rottentomatoes.com).

The dichotomy of Venom’s entertainment value begins with the fact that it is, indeed, a shoddily made film. The writing is lackluster and often cliché, the editing tends toward the slapdash, the score is neither interesting nor innovative, the colouring is all in shades of blue and black — fitting for the darker tone of the film, but it does make it difficult to see the all-black hero and dark grey antagonist — and, perhaps most egregious for an action movie, the shaky handheld camera effect makes it nearly impossible to track what is happening in any given scene. It hearkens back unintentionally to a dark period of superhero film, before Marvel tightened up their quality control. Venom has more in common with movies like Elektra than it does with Thor: Ragnarok.

Thankfully, everything that could annoy a moviegoer about this treasure of a film can be overlooked the moment Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) and the symbiote (also Tom Hardy, but drippy) become one. From the first time the symbiote speaks to Eddie, demanding food and attention in monosyllabic commands, the movie kicks into a delightful, madcap buddy cop disaster. The film’s hurried plot works both for and against this dynamic; Tom Hardy claimed in an interview with ComicsExplained that 40 minutes were cut out of the film in the final stages of editing, and it’s painfully clear that all of the most important bonding scenes between symbiote and host have been lost.

On one hand, that leaves us with a relationship that ostensibly makes no sense in the context of the film. On the other, we are granted a characterization of the symbiote whom, within the span of 36 hours, decides that it completely adores Eddie. By the climactic battle that affection is fully reciprocated: when asked why they’ve changed their mind about invading and devouring Earth, the symbiote tells Eddie it was him that convinced them to stay and coexist, and when symbiote and host are briefly ripped apart, both reach desperately for the other.

Venom is the only truly symbiotic pair shown in the film. Riot, another symbiote that bonds with the antagonist Carlton Drake (played by Riz Ahmed with the energy of a deranged Elon Musk), has to be encouraged to use the term “we” when referring to themselves post-symbiosis; Venom uses the term within about 12 hours of absorbing into Eddie, never fights him for control of his body (after they get him out of a deadly situation), and takes immediate offense to the assumption that they are using Eddie in any way.

To say that the symbiote and Eddie love each other is not outlandish — after all, they’ve been using terms like “my darling” to refer to one another in the comics since the ‘90s. This film only brushes up against the potential depths of their relationship, and it features a scene where Eddie and the symbiote make out, which is something no one thought they were going to have to write in a review. I absolutely do not have enough space to tell you exactly how fun this movie is, and I can only urge you to go and see it for yourself.

Simply put, Venom is a mess. It hits all of the beats of a classic superhero origin story, and then immediately forgets about those plot points so it can show you Tom Hardy biting the head off of a lobster. It is a treasure, it demands to be watched and rewatched just from the sheer disbelief of it all, and — most importantly — it has introduced an entirely new generation of comic readers to just how beautiful the bond between a burned-out New Yorker and a goopy, bloodthirsty alien can be.

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