Some time in the far future, there will be deep debates about the impact the Spider-Man universe had on superhero cinema.
First film to ever have a $100 million dollar weekend? “Spider-Man.” One of the greatest superhero movies of all-time? “Spider-Man 2” must be in that conversation. A superhero played by a Brit more than once on screen? Your friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, of course. A hero so iconic Marvel Studios just had to get him back (in a shared capacity) from Sony’s grasp? That would be one Peter Benjamin Parker.
“Venom,” directed by Ruben Fleischer, at no point now, or 100 years from now, will ever be a part of those debates. It should also be noted that this is not a Marvel Studios film. Whatever agreement Sony and Marvel Studios had for “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and future sequels (“Spider-Man: Far From Home” and beyond) has nothing to do with “Venom.” “Venom” is all Sony.
This film, starring perhaps the most popular villain in Spider-Man’s deep and legendary rogue’s gallery, isn’t deep, is very predictable and might even be the type of movie that will add fuel to the words of grumpy film critics who are tired of superhero films.
There are no plot twists — you can see everything coming from a mile away, despite the hilly San Francisco setting. Michelle Williams, who plays Eddie’s love interest, Anne, seems to be around just for one sure-to-be-talked-about moment and to make Eddie feel like a loser for being dumped (he deserves it). The villain is not the antagonist Venom fans want to see (more on him in a minute) and feels exactly like the type of template “he’s not going to be around for long” movie-supervillains we’ve seen before. And where the heck is the giant white spider logo? That’s the best part of Venom’s whole look.
But despite all that, “Venom” is surprisingly enjoyable. One might almost feel a sense of guilt gushing over “Venom.” It’s the kind of movie you’ll instantly call your friends about to see if they liked it too, just to check and see if there might be something wrong with you.
Leading the way in your confusing “Venom” viewing experience is Tom Hardy. Already a legend in comic book movie fandom for his mumbly and intimidating performance as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises,” he at least feels more like Eddie Brock than Topher Grace did in “Spider-Man 3.” (We promise there will be no more mention of “Spider-Man 3.” You’ll notice it was omitted from all that Spidey movie praise above). Hardy looks like his Eddie Brock could have been drawn by Todd McFarlane (perhaps no one drew a better Venom/Eddie Brock combo in the comics). Given how intense Brock is in the comics, you’d think Hardy would bring a few Bane-isms in his performance, but he spends most of the time in shock, being scared and confused, while forming a bond with his gooey black alien symbiote, which is just as weird to supporting characters around him as it is to the audience.
“Venom’s” action is plentiful but not spectacular. Venom’s fight with the other symbiote, Riot, who bonds with heartless bad guy scientist/philanthropist Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), is at first the moment you think you bought your ticket for, but you realize you’d rather see Hardy just chatting with Venom. Those conversations are perhaps the best part of a movie that doesn’t have many best moments. Another big surprise? This is a pretty scary character. And while there are plenty of scenes where Venom is biting someone’s head off as viciously as a PG-13 movie will allow him to, there are no attempts to make this a horror movie, as some would have expected from a lead character with so many fangs and an October release date.
“Venom” almost feels like “Deadpool”-light. The thing with “Deadpool” movies is that you knew it was going to be funny. The laughs in “Venom” are there in part because you probably didn’t expect to laugh in the first place. The intensity was left in the editing room, apparently. As for the villain everyone wanted to see, Carnage, well, I get what Sony was doing here. Why put the only other symbiote who’s just as popular as Venom in the first Venom movie if you’re trying to make more? So if you’re hoping to see Cletus Kasady, you’ll have to join Sony and hope this movie performs well enough for a sequel.
Also, keep your eyes and ears open for special guest cameos — and yes, there is a post-credit scene that is as predictable as the movie was.
Hey, it’s not as great as what Kevin Feige typically scribbles on his calendar on a Tuesday afternoon in Burbank. But a good time? Yeah, that can be had here. You won’t be deeply moved. You probably won’t see it more than once. You’ll probably pick up the Blu-ray and not tell anyone. Venom is not “Spider-Man 2,” but it’s also not “Elektra” or “Green Lantern.”
You just may find yourself realizing you’ve watched the greatest guilty pleasure of the modern superhero movie era.