Venom first appeared in Marvel comics in 1984, but he became one of my favorite characters during his appearance on the 90s animated Spider-Man cartoon.
In that version, astronauts accidentally dug up a gooey life form. Hitching a ride back to earth, the life form gets attached to Peter Parker’s Spider-Man, literally. The alien symbiote gives Peter some added strength, making Spider-Man stronger, but also encouraging some of his darker urges. After almost throwing a bad-guy off a roof, Spider-Man realizes the suit is dangerous, and figuring out that sonic vibrations harm it – uses sound to remove it. At the same time, Peter Parker was going through some issues with rival reporter Eddie Brock. Because Peter helped expose Brock as a fraud, Brock loses his job and career. He ends up trailing Spider-Man, and happens to be in the right place at the right time to pick up the symbiote. Instantly bonding over the shared hatred – Eddie hates Peter because of losing his job, and the symbiote hates Spider-Man for rejecting it, the two become Venom, bonded and an enemy of everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Eventually, Venom helps Spider-Man defeat Carnage and moves to San Francisco, becoming a bit of a dark, anti-hero type protector of the city.
This movie encountered some fan criticism early by stating there would be no Spider-Man. It’s really difficult to have a character like Venom who exists because of Spider-Man in a movie that has no Spider-Man. Once you get past that issue (it’s a tough thing to get past for any fan), the movie is pretty entertaining!
This movie picks up with the genius billionaire Carlton Drake as he and his team watch their shuttle crash on its way back to earth with some “samples”. One of the samples, which are symbiotes, gets loose and wanders around Malaysia for a bit, biting off eel heads. The others are collected by Drake’s Life Foundation. Meanwhile, reporter Eddie Brock is enjoying doing his reporting TV show, or perhaps web-series? It’s not really clear. He’s living with his finance Ann Weying, a lawyer who is working with the Life Foundation to defend against some wrongful death suits. Eddie gets an assignment to go interview Drake and mentions the wrongful death suit that he found out about by breaking into Anne’s email, and promptly gets kicked out, and then fired, and then dumped, as Ann also lost her job.
Six months later, Drake has secretly started to try to bond symbiotes with homeless human ‘volunteers’, which is not going well. Eddie has nothing going for him, but Ann has moved on with generically handsome doctor Dan. One of Drake’s associates, Dr. Skirth, reaches out to Eddie for assistance when the ‘volunteers’ start dying. When Eddie joins her on a midnight trip to the lab, he breaks out one of the ‘volunteers’ and promptly gets symbiote-d.
Drake sends all sorts of disposable henchmen after Eddie to get back his symbiote, but Eddie starts talking with the symbiote, which introduces itself as Venom. They begin to bond to become a pretty good fighter. While Venom is bouncing around San Francisco eating heads and driving Eddie nuts, the wandering symbiote, Riot, arrives and bonds with Drake in an effort to finalize their mission of getting back on the rocket/shuttle, going to collect more of them, and coming back to invade earth. After some initial difficulties, Eddie and Venom work together to stop Riot.
The movie is directed by Rueben Fleischer, who previously did Zombieland and Gangster Squad. The movie is a little choppy, but honestly, I enjoyed it so much more than I was expecting. Again, getting past the lack of Spider-Man is a huge hurdle, but once done, the back and forth between Eddie and the symbiote is really what sucked me in. It’s much funnier than I was expecting, and I think the choice to go PG13 instead of R was actually a good move. They also reworked scenes so that the word symbiote is pronounced correctly according to Marvel. Early trailers had it pronounced symb-eye-ote, as opposed to symb-ee-ote, which is the way it had traditionally been said. Kudos to the producers to listening to their focus groups and making that change. It’s small, but it matters to listen to the fans. There is a motorcycle chase sequence that goes on a bit too long, but aside from that, I really enjoyed the action – I particularly enjoyed seeing Venom in full-out Venom mode, gleefully jumping through the city and biting off heads. Yes, the final battle is symbiote on symbiote, and is a bit of a giant CGI mess, but that’s to be expected, and didn’t bother me too much. The cast was really enjoyable.
- I was prepared to not care for Tom Hardy in this role, but he really won me over. The addition of more humor than I was prepared for is what sold me. He also did well with conveying that Eddie was not the best guy before bonding. It’s hard to take a dude who is a bit of a jerk and sell a movie on him being the hero.
- Michelle Williams does a good job as Anne, not taking any of Eddie’s crap, and moving on without him. I also enjoy that she was there was he was clearly in pain, and how she kept trying to reason with the symbiote when it was harming him. Again – surprised by how much I enjoyed her in this.
- Riz Ahmed plays Carlton Drake as completely and horrifically evil. He thinks nothing of advancing his science at the expense of the humans around him. Once bonded with Riot, he’s even worse. He’s great as a villain, but honestly, could have chewed the scenery a little bit more.
- Reid Scott plays Dr. Dan, who is charming and pleasant as Anne’s new boyfriend. He does the best he can to help out Eddie, even though he accidentally pisses off Venom by giving him an MRI
- Jenny Slate plays Dr. Dora Skirth whose crisis of conscious brings Eddie into contact with the symbiote.
- Spoiler Alert from here down!
- While my fantasy casting for Cletus Kasady has always been Cillian Murphy, I have to admit, Woody Harrelson is a really interesting choice. He doesn’t change into anything else in this and only shows up post credits – so slight spoiler that I am really looking forward to what he could do in a potential sequel. I had no idea he was in this, and so was blown away by this post-credits bit, which is done almost exactly the way I would have done it.
Overall, I really was shocked by how much I enjoyed the movie. I have always loved Venom, and the Spider-Man bits were a lot of what I loved. Honestly though, that storyline warrants an entire movie to tell correctly – so I much prefer that they simply omitted it, rather than half-assing it.
8 out of 10 – I love the shots of Venom venoming: Bouncing around the city, climbing up buildings, biting off heads, and the hilarious back and forth between the symbiote and Eddie. It’s definitely worth checking out for yourself.