Okay, something that needs to be addressed up front is just how weird Venom is while trying its hardest to be the safest, most anodyne thing it can be. Not only is it the gayest straight movie I have seen since Alien: Covenant, but it is also the second somewhat mainstream movie that appeals to the monsterfucker demographic to come out in Australia in the year of our lord 2018. All this while being a throwback to the late 90’s-early 2000’s school of super hero film making, you know, before they were good. If we are to continue the comparison between Alien: Covenant and Venom, and I am writing this, so you can be damn sure we are going to continue the comparison, Venom feels like a much more interesting queer story haphazardly stapled onto a barely functional anachronism.
Venom starts off and remains for the majority of its running time a surprisingly ugly looking, boring thing that heavily deals in the aesthetic possibility space of pre MCU comic book cinema. It even has a licenced hip hop soundtrack! When was the last time you saw a comic book super hero movie that doesn’t star a black main character that has a hip hop soundtrack? The plot is a standard origin story and involves corrupt corporations and the whole thing takes too long and doesn’t do anything. Our hero Eddy Brock is a contemptible man. He makes so many questionable decisions, does not learn from his mistakes, blames others for them, and slurs his way through all his dialogue. The movie can’t wrap its head around how it wants to treat him, at one point actively pointing out he is a loser, but having many more instances of people lauding him for his integrity and investigative skills. Supporting characters exist solely to move the plot along from set piece to set piece, with only Riz Ahmed’s Carlton Drake having even a hint of an inner life. Carlton, like Eddy is a confused character. The film portrays him as an outright villain from the get go with few scruples to stop him from getting what he wants, but Ahmed plays him like a cross between a messianic figure and a techbro, insistent that the betterment of mankind lies in the wake of violent discovery and invention. Try as he might, there isn’t enough meat in the screenplay for that kind of a reading, because honestly, Venom doesn’t care to provide that material for its cast and its audience. For the most part every element of Venom, the super hero movie, is content to be serviceable when it is not outright phoning it in.
But Venom shows hints of something weird going on under the surface. An early sequence of a symbiote body hopping from Malaysia to LA reliably exhibits a mix of body horror and humour that would be missing in its 90s counterparts (the way this sequence pays off is pretty great, but I’m not sure in a good way?). Then there is Tom Hardy’s performance as Eddy Brock, which certainly is a thing. His attempt at a hard hitting American journalist plays more like a perpetually drunk fool who lied himself into the role and is desperately trying to convince people he has the goods while the world burns around him. It is hard to untangle what has been written that way and what was Tom Hardy imposing his will on an unsuspecting movie. From my understanding, a scene involving a lobster tank needed to be reworked when Hardy came on set, saw it, and announced his intentions. I wouldn’t be surprised if that wasn’t the only thing Hardy insisted on, because he is strangely committed to whatever it is he is doing with the character.
And when the Venom Symbiote bonds with Eddy Brock, a good 30 minutes or so into its slender 112 minute running time, something magical happens. Venom’s form begins to resemble the weird friction between two characters, both played by Hardy, coming to terms with the fact that they both reside in the same physical space and need each other in order to reach their full potential. For you see, this is when a queer romantic comedy forcibly binds itself to a humdrum comic book movie, threatens to overpower it, and eventually settles for periodic shows of extreme existence, much like the Venom Symbiote throughout the remainder of the movie’s hurried and cluttered plot. It’s this friction that makes Venom any fun to watch and transforms an irredeemably dull movie into a fascinating mess of conflicting motivations. Would that the rom-com did win out in the end, that would have been something truly special. Heck, there is a Chinese print ad campaign specifically touting Venom as good boyfriend material. The Shape of Water even showed the world that it is okay to be incredibly horny on main about your monsterfucking fetish. Avi Arad, I’m not sure how but this is your fault and you let us down again.
Okay but seriously, the romantic subtext between the two has become text in a particular run of comics, that if I were being 100% fair, no studio in their right mind would think of adapting. The idea of a complex relationship between Eddy and the Venom Symbiote leading up to the birth of their child would make good blockbuster fodder is preposterous. But that doesn’t change the fact that the growing relationship between the two in the film’s B plot is as charming as it is gonzo, and boy does it get gonzo in the third act. But as it is relegated to a B plot, and the film is committed to being simultaneously as zippy and overstuffed as possible, that third act comes along much too soon for any natural feeling emotional climax to be reached. I’m not saying that Venom should have been longer. I am saying they should have cut down on as much of everything that wasn’t Venom slowly having its Tsundere heart melted by Eddy’s compassion and moral fortitude as possible. Because as it stands now, with how Eddy Brock is being portrayed as a mostly selfish asshole with a saviour complex, it is incredibly hard to buy that he of all people, and not his ex-fiancée’s angelic new Doctor boyfriend is the one who would make Venom want to turn good guy.
If there is to be a sequel, as a stinger very hopefully hints at there being, please please please lean harder into the Eddy-Venom relationship. Please, it’s all this movie had going for it.