REVIEW: In defense of "Venom," it may be the antidote we need
Sony’s "Venom" is one of the most interesting movies to come out this year. It spotlights a villain without its hero and kicks off an entire cinematic universe without its traditional centerpiece.
It does this all during what is probably the superhero boom’s climax in both scale (think "Avengers: Infinity War") and cultural significance (think "Black Panther" and "Wonder Woman"). At best, it is fashionably late to the scene.
After its pre-release screenings, critics called it out as such, comparing it to early 2000’s superhero flops like Halle Berry’s "Catwoman" or Ben Affleck’s "Daredevil." Finding any positive reactions about "Venom" on social media before its Thursday night release was tough. Its Rotten Tomatoes score fluctuated between the upper twenties and lower thirties, the modern equivalent of a death sentence.
But during its opening weekend, "Venom" over-performed in every way. Back in September, Sony was estimating a 65 million dollar opening weekend, but the film landed at just over 80 million domestically. Contrary to early predictions, audiences loved it. To refer back to the all-powerful Rotten Tomatoes, it currently holds a 89% user score, with an average user rating of 4.3/5.
"Venom" is an anomaly. It is just short of scandalous, both in its efforts to build a Marvel superhero universe outside of the squeaky-clean Marvel Cinematic Universe and in its wild success in the face of critical negativity.
Recently, the Lee Clarion published a review that supported the critical consensus on "Venom," and I agree with a lot of it.
The film borders on soulless, lacking any real directorial vision and clearly working its way through Sony’s how-to-start-a-franchise checklist. It makes mistakes in writing a villain and love interest that the superhero genre is simply past. Character motivations are hazy at best and turn on a dime. For example, one particular sacrifice a character makes during the climax is baffling in how unnecessary it is and in how quickly and inexplicably it is reversed.
But I still believe "Venom" to be an objectively good movie.
Tom Hardy throws a monkey-wrench in Sony’s cold production by pushing the character of Eddie Brock to almost Jim Carrey-esque extremes. It’s an entertaining romp, and Venom himself doesn’t disappoint either.
Both in his almost romantic engagement with Eddie Brock and in his effects design, Venom is a joy to watch whenever he graces the screen, even if it's just his voice. After the half hour of redundant exposition, the lizard-brain joy ride starts up and carries through the rest of the movie.
Whether or not you can pin down exactly what is so good about it, something made people love "Venom." It scored the best opening weekend of all time for October, beating out 2015’s "Gravity" by a 65-70% landslide, proof that people wanted the movie. Its staying power through the weekend, along with the aforementioned audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, indicate that audiences weren’t let down.
I would argue there’s a place for "Venom." Even in its genre, it stands out by veering away from both the quippy, somewhat homogenized Avengers universe and the dark, brooding tone that the DC movies themselves had to step away from. "Venom" is shallow as a kiddie pool, but it is hard not to give in and simply enjoy seeing a big, violent, hungry alien adjust to life with an anxious has-been reporter and vice versa.
There is always a fear of big, silly blockbusters like this pushing out more meaningful films, but "Venom" is also proof that there’s a place for both. Even during its big $80 million weekend, "A Star Is Born" also overperformed, almost doubling its $25 million expected weekend to finish at $41 million.
People, myself included, still want poignant films with our blockbusters.
Last year about this time, my roommate and I watched "Sullivan’s Travels." A Hollywood director, tired of making comedies, sets out to understand the life of the homeless for a tragedy he is anxious to make. After being bailed out several times when the lifestyle becomes too difficult, tragedy actually strikes: he is found guilty of killing a man and is sentenced to prison. A local church invites the prisoners to a movie they love, a slapstick Walt Disney cartoon.
There is a lot of anxiety in America. Heated political divide, worrying statistics about global warming and a developing mental health crisis.
Sometimes, an emotional and effective movie can be cathartic and meaningful. For me, watching "Lady Bird" during my transition to college changed the way I think about and treat my family for the better.
But other times, we need to see an Oscar-nominated actor diving into lobster tanks and a slimy CGI monster biting the heads off criminals and a beloved indie actor playing an aimless Elon Musk caricature. Sometimes, that just really hits the spot. I would venture to say that "Venom," which does that so well, is unironically and genuinely good.
I cannot wait for seconds.