The Marvel Comics ‘Verse movie VENOM is about dancing in and with one’s darkness, all while learning to have it support the light.
Tom Hardy plays Eddie Brock, a ruggedly handsome, sympathetic journalist based in San Francisco. His heart is in the right place as he goes about bravely interviewing and exposing corrupt public figures, including a somewhat Elon Musk-inspired Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed of 2016’s ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY). Drake is a wealthy big pharma. industrialist and researcher who focuses his resources on exploiting the capabilities of dangerous alien creatures labeled “symbiotes,” slimy life forms he has captured via a manned probe sent far out into space before returning to crash-land in the Malaysian countryside. This is where the movie begins. These symbiotes must live inside another body or “host” in order to survive. If the body tolerates the symbiote well without getting drained and eventually killed by the foreign organism, which usually happens, then the match is perfect and a powerful symbiotic relationship of two sentient beings occurs.
While all other characters exist in the film to react to the protagonist and villain, most of them are not particularly multidimensional or interesting, except for Venom as he develops inside of Brock, and, to a lesser extent, Riot, the more power-hungry symbiote who enters Drake later in the movie. The one exception of a notable, off-beat supporting character is an older Asian female who owns a convenience store that Eddie frequents. Often largely dead-pan and clearly enduring her lonely existence like a sentinel, she is a caring bystander and brief foil for Eddie as he grapples with loneliness and an encroaching cynicism.
Predictably, our hero ends up becoming a host while he is snooping around Drake’s high tech. facility. Venom finds Brock’s body a suitable match. From there, Brock must soon contend with more than his own grief-filled, depressing thoughts. Eddie’s fiancee had recently left him on the same day he’d been fired from his job for, you might have already guessed it, being too probing of the deeply corrupt Drake while interviewing him for an online news outlet. Now, Eddie wonders if he is going insane as he hears an internal voice shouting commands at him, such as to eat living flesh. In a particularly hyperactive scene inside a high-end restaurant, he obliges Venom by jumping into a tank of fresh lobsters and eating one with gusto. I couldn’t help but wonder how much fun Tom Hardy had doing that and other scenes in this often gritty yet refreshingly campy movie.
Much of the film had me laughing now and again as Drake and Venom get to know each other and negotiate how to function together inside a shared body. The action scenes, including a prolonged multi-car chase of Eddie/Venom on a motorcycle, are often routine but fun nonetheless. Venom is basically invincible, except from flames and certain high frequencies of sound. All this power for down-on-his-luck Eddie eventually, and understandably, becomes appealing to him. One-liners, such as when Venom mentally calls Brock a “Pussy!” in his deep, mechanically enhanced voice are quick little surprises of patter along with the intense action. This makes for a clever mix of adrenaline and laughter-induced endorphins for the viewer, a real rush of a film.
It becomes clear that, while Venom has somewhat of a core personality, it gets further developed and tweaked by Brock’s own. The reverse is the case as well. Venom’s plasticity of body and, hence, Eddie’s too, make for great CGI. All black, multi-fanged, possessing huge white eyes like a bug’s or snake’s, and able to grow far larger then a tall human, Venom at first scares Eddie as he looks at his/their reflection. Getting to know one’s shadow parts is like that at first.
I am satisfied with how Eddie and Venom believably decide to work together to defeat the villain Riot, who intends to return (via his host Drake’s manufactured rocket ship) to his place of origin in outer space and retrieve millions of more symbiotes. Why does he do this? Well, to bring back and take over earth completely with his own kind, of course– a cliche of a plot if ever there was one. Frankly, I didn’t care. The main characters and creative visuals are all that really matter here.
There is some racism in the film, most unfortunately. The protagonist and his girlfriend are white, while the villain (Drake) is portrayed by a dark-skinned, albeit beautiful, man of Pakistani descent (Ahmed). A thuggish store robber is played by a Latino man, very much a stereotype. When there is more interchangeability of roles in movies, such as where superheroes and their leading love interests are portrayed by people of color and said people of color aren’t relegated yet again to so often playing unseemly stereotypes, the movie industry will have made further progress towards representing real people in the real world more. This was no ground breaker film by any means like, say, BLACK PANTHER was. We still have quite a ways to go.
The universal, existential struggle of wrestling with one’s own inner darkness and, if one so chooses, getting to know and work with it for the good is both an ageless myth and reality. I very much enjoyed this latest telling of it in the dark hero movie VENOM, even though the script is often predictable and unoriginal and racism reared its too familiar, ugly head in places, far uglier than VENOM. Tom Hardy, who is particularly adept at playing mentally disturbed leading men, successfully carried the film and its deeply relatable premise.