Generally, a 30% Rotten Tomatoes score is not going to get me to a movie theatre. But, when a coworker told me Venom was Halle Berry Catwoman-Level bad, I knew I had to check it out. Comparing Venom to 1990-2000s superhero movies is a spot-on comparison. The plot feels together with strings and paperclips. All movement forward depends an underdeveloped character having a sudden change of heart. The actors did their best with stilted dialogue, and a script that felt like a first draft. The cast infused the film with enough heart that it can be enjoyable – if you go in expecting crack fanfiction.
Luckily, I did.
I’ve got AMC A-List so I didn’t have to buy a ticket to go. Plus, I got to see it on an IMAX screen. All the better for seeing the sweaty, sickly look of panic on Tom Hardy’s face. I prefer character-driven stories to excessive plot. The bizarre (and humorous) relationship between symbiote and host saved the movie for me. However, for a story about a man and his parasite, the development of that relationship needed more. Unearned. Every major development in the movie only ever scratches the surface of something.
It makes me want to dumpster dive for the story that could have been. I’ve picked out the three main subjects that could have been developed into something better.
Beware, spoilers below.
Riz Ahmed has the dubious honor of playing Carlton Drake, our villain and the only person of color in the movie. (Something I thought we would have been past in 2018.) Drake is a young tech genius who works in both pharmaceuticals and apparently space exploration. The movie makes a vague attempt at pointing out that this is a weird combination of subjects. Early on, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) asks about the strange combo in an interview but is quickly shut down. Brock’s fiancee, Annie (Michelle Williams), is defending Drake’s company, The Life Foundation, in a wrongful death lawsuit. How ironic.
His motivations are spoon-fed to the audience through monologues. Typical villain monologues about “daring to ask questions” and how humanity is making earth unlivable. On the surface, it seems like he shares a point of view with Brock. Brock was an investigative reporter who built his reputation revealing the indifference of those in power.
You’d think we could get an interesting dialogue on humanity’s darkness. Brock’s ability to still see the good in people versus Drake wanting to leave it all behind.
It would be a great concept if they ran with it. In a movie about a parasitic organism, one could have fully-developed conflict around how to handle the parasite of humanity destroying its host, the Earth. But, we don’t. Instead, we have Riz Ahmed wanting to get super cozy with alien goo creatures so he can live in space. Never mind that there are only three of them in his lab, no way to know he is a match for one, and has no way of replicating them.
In the end, Drake’s ambition and villainy plays very little role in the climax of the film. Additional one-dimensional symbiote, Riot, takes over Drake’s body leaving Riot and Venom to goo-battle it out. Drake’s undoing comes at the hands of Riot, which feels like a really weak ending for an already weak villain.
I understand the scientists in the movie are still discovering how the symbiotes bond with a host. The problem is, it does not seem like the writers had a cohesive idea either. Beyond the concept of needing a match, much like an organ transplant, the writers did not seem to have a clear idea of what happened once they bonded. It appeared that the host human body did break down over time, but sometimes it failed spectacularly. Even Eddie, who seems to be a match for Venom, is experiencing damage to his internal organs. At one point in the film, it is revealed that Brock’s heart has atrophied. Venom insists he can fix it and that he does not need medical help. The scene is immediately interrupted by PLOT, and is never resolved.
Symbiote implies symbiosis. In turn, that implies that the relationship is the mutual benefit of both creatures. Venom gets the perk of not dying in an oxygenated environment. What Eddie gets out of the relationship remains unknown. In fact, Venom seems to be more of a detriment to him than anything else. If Eddie needs Venom to keep him alive, we needed some sort of set up to that.
What Venom needs to eat is unclear. At first Eddie gets sick eating a cooked chicken and steak, even exclaiming “this is dead!”. He only seems sated after eating a live lobster. Early in the film, Riot fed on a live eel. Heads definitely seem to be a theme. But, Venom also seems weirdly chill about eating tater tots, which are definitely not alive — right?
180-Degree Motivation Changes
The two most egregious examples of this change were from Doctor Skirth and Venom, himself.
Skirth goes from scientist doing good for humanity (I think?) to shocked at her boss’s cruelty surprisingly fast. Especially considering he already has a wrongful death suit against him. There does not seem to be a discernible line in the sand. Which death-for-science is okay with her and which death-for-science is not. Her only motivation is Drake threatening her children, who we never see.
It’s not surprising that Eddie doesn’t trust her when she shows up to corroborate his story. Maya Hansen’s change-of-heart in Iron Man 3 was more convincing – and she was one of the bad guys!
Venom, as well, has a sudden change of heart. Though it’s not clear what his intentions were to begin with. For a moment, hanging out on a skyscraper, he says that Earth isn’t as disgusting as he thought. (Really? City at night changes his mind? Not like… any of the amazing natural wonders of the world? Okay.)
He also says Brock made him change his mind about humanity. Yes, Brock is a pretty good dude. But there did not seem to be any particular moment that this change occurs. All at once, Venom wants to stop Riot from bringing millions of their kind to destroy Earth.
Because sure, why not? The movie leans heavily on humans destroying their planet, adding an alien menace makes total sense.
Oh and did they mention the symbiotes were on their way to Earth already?
I suppose the end of Eddie and Annie’s engagement might fall under this category as well. Yes, the plot needed Eddie to fall hard and fast because of his own stupidity. Still, the speed at which they split makes me feel like that relationship would not have worked out in the end anyway. Really? Not even an “I need some time to think”?
I still didn’t hate Venom
Despite the plot holes you could drive a truck though, I am here for the wacky antics. As a friend of mine put it, not every superhero movie needs to be Captain America: The Winter Soldier. We’ve definitely been spoiled by what comic book movies can be, and I know my expectations for a Superhero movie have grown since the Marvel Cinematic Universe hit the big screen.
If you are willing to accept the plot holes, unanswered questions, and lack of a cohesive theme, Venom might be the rainy day movie for you. Especially if you want to watch Tom Hardy bite the head off a lobster.
Final Rating: 6/10 — would rather rewatch Venom than rewatch Thor: The Dark World.
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