We’ve been spoiled when it comes to superhero movies. Our culture has come to a point where these particular flights of fancy need to be exceptional. The superhero is our unique slice of American mythology, and we simply don’t have the patience for tales that don’t showcase our spandex gods in the brightest of lights. This is an unfair standard we’ve erected, and Venom is definitely a victim of the superhero juggernaut. Because Venom isn’t a bad movie. But, it isn’t a particularly good one either. And by today’s superhero standard, that paints it as a travesty.
While I’m not here to champion Venom as some misunderstood gem, I do think the critical reaction has been unduly harsh. It’s not hard to see why: Venom exists in this nebulous area of the Marvel universe and its outsider status doesn’t allow it the massive leeway Mickey’s Marvel movies are given. Honestly, Venom is on-par with the mediocre MCU flicks like Thor: The Dark World or The Incredible Hulk. It feels very old-fashioned in our world of formulaic quality control. That throwback structure and style isn’t a benefit to Venom, but it’s not a hindrance either. It’s just… well, okay.
The same can be said for the majority of Venom’s moving parts. The pacing? Fine. The plotting? Fine. The dialogue? Mostly fine with a few above-average and below-average standouts. So much of Venom is passable and that’s not going to cut it when compared to the competition. That’s a bummer because the things that do work in Venom are going to be overshadowed by its middling elements.
The biggest thing that works is Tom Hardy. I can’t believe I’m saying this wither, but his performance as Eddie Brock is shockingly gonzo in a way that becomes genuinely entertaining. This isn’t a mocking appraisal; Hardy does his usual accent shtick but his bewilderment and even enjoyment of his superpowers becomes effective. It’s not monumental acting but it’s fun. And the banter between Brock and Venom has enough life in it to make you like their dynamic. Granted, there are clunky bits and awkward jokes but it never sinks the movie. For the most part, Hardy and his goopy alien pal are the best thing about Venom, and that’s how it should be. When Brock feverishly dives into a restaurant’s tank of lobsters and bites one of their heads off, I knew I could never hate this movie.
The worst aspect of Venom is the symbiote effects. They’re tolerable for most of the running time, but the climactic showdown becomes a literal pixel soup of indistinguishable goo. Coupled with an untethered camera and poor design between the battling characters, Venom builds up to a smackdown that feels like you’re tumbling through an atmosphere made of Gak. It definitely taints the ending of the film and will leave a lot of audiences on a sour, disappointing note.
Venom doesn’t measure up to our view of superhero cinema, and that’s both damning and unfortunate for a cookie cutter flick like this. It’s the kind of superhero movie aimed at 10-year-olds and not adults who ascribe mythic importance to these stories. Because of that, Venom turns out to be digestible but unappetizing. Like the head of a live lobster.