Just when I think we’ve reached peak superhero, along comes another entry into the genre. The staggering success of movies like Black Panther and Wonder Woman inspire selective amnesia for the studios and their more forgettable releases. So, here we are. Another marginally-famous, though well regarded Marvel character takes his turn in the spotlight. That this movie got made isn’t entirely unlikely; Venom (Tom Hardy) is a pretty badass character, truth be told. Venom, as a movie, does some things well, does some things not so well, and inherits the complications of Marvel’s rocky financial past. The result is a mix of expectations for Venom that are too high for the superhero-veteran Tom Hardy and indie-darling Michelle Williams to completely overcome.
Much like Spider-Man: Homecoming in 2017, Venom is a joint production between Sony/Columbia and Marvel Studios. Whereas Spider-Man enjoyed a boost of star power from Robert Downey, Jr., Venom is a true stand-alone flick. Hardy is a big enough star to carry a movie of this caliber, so the real missed opportunity here is the lack of integration into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Now that Spider-Man found his way back into the MCU, it’s going to be harder to justify, from the fan perspective, a handful of Marvel franchises in silos. This isolation is especially conspicuous for Venom, whose history is extensively linked to Spider-Man. Whether fair or not, the expectation of franchise tie-ins, coupled with the years-long crafting of a loose narrative spanning every film in the MCU, and the bar simply is higher.
For all the challenges it faced, I was surprised that Venom avoided the pitfalls I expected it to. Superhero movies often struggle to establish compelling villains. It’s usually a scary-strong, scary-looking monster thing that spends most of the movie being equal parts evil and invincible while pushing forward a diabolical plan of some kind. The approach here is more original than I expected. That said, the dialogue from our villain, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), can get a little heavy-handed. On the whole, Venom seems to be suffering an identity crisis. It isn’t clear it’s meant to be a dark movie with funny moments, or a funny movie with dark moments. The lines are too blurred to tell. The distinction isn’t important, per se, but the shifts from one to the other are jarring at times.
Plot holes and clumsy dialogue notwithstanding, Venom is pretty fun. It delivers action that leverages its protagonist’s unique powers, with particularly exciting effect in a second-act action sequence that in a lesser movie might have strayed into cliché. While contractual obligations appear likely to steer Venom well clear of the Avengers any time soon, Sony appears determined to start its own Marvel Cinematic Mini-verse, with movies filled with as many characters as they own rights to. I’d be all for that, assuming they are able to come up with a novel approach. Through the MCU, Marvel has not only defined the genre, but continues to redefine it. With so many superhero movies available, for me, the central question becomes, “Would I watch this movie’s sequel?” My answer here is an unqualified yes.
|GENRE:||Action, Horror, Sci-Fi|
|RELEASE DATE:||October 5 2018|
|AUTHOR:||Jason M. Brown|
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